There is usually a sense of detachment when we watch movies. Even as we enjoy what is on the screen, there is a part of us that reminds us that its just some highly-paid performers reciting lines from a script. But occasionally, there comes a movie like Kutty or Mahanadhi that makes us forget that. It involves us and manages to burrow into us and touch our hearts. Black is one such movie. It is at the same time tragic and triumphant; sad and scintillating; emotional and endearing. In short, it is a must-see.
Make no mistake, Black is a tearjerker. The two main characters in Black suffer from unimaginable personal tragedy. One has been blind and deaf from birth while the other ends up afflicted with Alzheimer's disease. But the handicaps are not the focus of the movie. They are simply obstacles to be overcome rather than foundations to build the story on. The former conquers her handicaps to achieve the impossible while the latter is with her, pushing and prodding and believing in her every step of the way. So the movie, inspite of the overt sadness, is at its core, about positive things like love, belief, hope, determination, friendship, loyalty and trust. And that's exactly why it has the effect that it has.
Michelle McNally is born blind and deaf and is surrounded by people who love her but are not sure about exactly how to deal with her. So she has grown up to be an 8 yr-old(Ayesha Kapoor) used to getting her way and throwing tantrums when she doesn't. Into her life enters a teacher Debraj Sahai(Amitabh Bachan) who believes in her and shows her, in his own non-traditional way, the path out of the darkness she has been living in.
The most heartening feature of Black is that it never goes for cheap theatrics or easy sentiments to evoke our emotions. I know I'm being repetitive but there is a positive undercurrent throughout the movie that obfuscates the sad and the tragic. Once Bhansali establishes that his heroine is blind and deaf, he pushes that aside to focus on the positive and the empowering. For instance, except for one, we don't get any scenes where a young Michelle is teased by other children. And this is a movie where the other students in college clap at her knowledge and join her in singing rather than isolate her for her handicaps.
The relationship between Debraj and Michelle is almost poetic. With only the sense of touch, he makes her understand the world. His teaching method may have been unconventional but his goal isnt. And it is clear that the pride evident in his eyes when he sees her sing is reward enough. The scene that marks the end of the their relationship is one of the best in the movie. Her request is understandable and his response, dignified.
Black is filled with scenes of great emotional impact. The scene where Michelle's mom knows that her daughter is blind and deaf, the one where she hears her call her for the first time, the scene where we see the first sign of Alzheimer's in Amitabh, the last scene are all powerful scenes. And you know a movie has truly touched you when mere words have an almost physical effect on you. The scene where Michelle's younger sister Sara opens up to her family is the perfect example. I physically flinched when she describes the way she treated Michelle. She is not bad. She is just human. And her actions were simply her way of taking revenge for Michelle stealing away their parents' love. It is a raw, powerful scene that moved me. Her act pains us but it also illustrates that she saw her sister not as a handicap but as a normal human being. As a competitor to their parents' affection. The movie is filled with such complex scenes of conflicting emotions.
The reversal of roles towards the end of the movie provides perfect closure for the story. As student becomes teacher and teacher becomes student, there is a sense of completeness that few movies achieve. Michelle finally understands the reason for her learning and knowledge and Debraj, though he himself doesn't know it, is experiencing the fruits of his labor.
Almost the entire movie is a painting and cinematographer Ravi K. Chandran has made it come alive with bright, broad strokes. True to the title, the color black is predominant throughout, be it in the dark interiors in the cavernous house, the dresses or the weather. There are some gorgeous visuals and picture-postcard shots and the sea of white in the last scene tells a story of new beginnings in itself. Chandran has truly brought to life what Bhansali visualized in his mind.
Rani Mukherjee is a revelation here. Starting from her Chaplin-style walk, she pours her heart and soul into her performance. Amitabh throws aside every hint that he is a superstar to deliver an astonishing performance. From eccentric teacher to weary old man, his transformation is believable every step of the way. His eyes convey every emotion from happiness to pride to anger to hopelessness. Ayesha Kapoor's is probably the best child performance I have seen since Shamili in Anjali. In a sense, she has a tougher job than even Rani since she is supposed to be raw. Unfettered. Almost an animal. And she carries it off brilliantly. Shernaz Patel touches ourheart as Michelle's mother. And Dhritiman Chaterji manages to make the role of Michelle's father human inspite of his almost barbaric act in the beginning.
Black is one of the best movies I have seen. See it for its positive approach in the middle of tragedy. See it for the performances of Amitabh, Rani, Ayesha and Shernaz. See it for its glorious visuals. See it for an example of what Bollywood is capable of producing. Just see it.