Tuesday, August 02, 2005


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.


At 11:27 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

in the same genre, khamoshi was one of my favorite movies. till i saw black. i think rani does remind you a lot of the lady who acts as the mute mom in khamoshi.


india's oscar entry ?

At 11:29 PM, Blogger Sriram said...

Black for Oscar!

Awesome review Balaji. You have echoed my views..thank you for the review.

At 1:22 AM, Blogger P.S. Suresh Kumar said...

Great revu on a great movie. I am eagerly waiting for my nxt chance to watch this movie. Definitely Black is one of the best indian movies ever made.

At 1:22 AM, Blogger P.S. Suresh Kumar said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 5:49 AM, Blogger NS said...

Awesome review! Reading it is almost like watching the movie... kudos:)

I havent watched it yet... shud do soon...

At 6:00 AM, Blogger Jam said...

Hey there,

Now, with a review like that how can one afford to miss the movie. Although I m sitting at Indore in a hostel, and a city in which the movie stopped running around 2 months ago, I m gonna make sure I ll watch BLACK before the end of August.


At 6:05 AM, Blogger IBH said...

It is one of the good movies in Indian cinema ...no doubt about it...but not trying to nitpick here...all the acting is good...extremely good..but this movie is a total take off from Miracle Worker....a movie which catapulted Anne Bancroft's career to extreme heights...When isaw that movie I was compeltely taken aback by the way it was taken..it came out in mid 60s i believe..

u shuld watch that movie too..
am not trying to blame this movie..but am just trying to say that the original is an already oscar nominated and winning movie ...

this is just my thought that occured after readin this post that is all :) am not being cynical here...it is just that we do lot of Plagiarise..that sometimes we shuld rethink!

At 7:32 AM, Blogger Arvind Srinivasan said...

Very true - and also that, the movie is only A+ centers - the mass, is, and can never be expected, to appreciate this kinda movie.

A tearjerker it is !

At 8:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

bb, i posted a coment last nite...i was half-asleep so, i wonder whether i clicked on OK!

anyways, black is one of the best movies of the year...strikingly different from anything i've seen in indian cinema....bhansali, rani, amitabh and ravi chandran have really taken cinema to a new level...

"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." -- true, it was a daring scene but i dont know how to describe my reaction to it...i thought about the scene for a long time after the movie had ended...i think i was disturbed...i also think i felt very sympathetic (thanks to Rani's emoting skills) towards Michelle...for wanting to experience a very basic emotion...it was *haunting* in every sense of the word...

btw, been reading your reviews for years now that i dont think i have to send feedback about how you write them anymore...but this one-- this was really special...one of your best reviews...i havent seen u get this passionate about a movie...and it reflected in your choice of words and tone...very well-written...

At 12:15 PM, Blogger pagala'k' said...

Did India really look like that during the pre-independence years? The speech Rani gives during her graduation ceremony, I thought went a little overboard.

But still one of the better movies to be released this year. Though after watching the movie the first thing that I felt was that .....this movie was solely made with the western movie goer, NRI's and A centres in mind. I seriously doubt whether the average Indian movie goer can relate to the beautiful things the director conveyed.

There are movie makers like Maniratnam who are able to acheive that balance...his movies has something for the classes and the masses. Haven't seen many directors who could emulate him. Even the great Mani missed the money on a fabuolous movie like Iruvar.

At 1:17 PM, Blogger Balaji said...

sundar, haven't seen khamoshi yet. its on my to-see list. the fact that its a hollywood remake will probably hurt its oscar chances right?

sriram, thanx!

prasanna, make u see it soon(on a good print). its worth it.

suresh, thanx!

nithya, thanx! and hurry up!!

jam, thanx for dropping by. as long as u know what kind of movie it is, 'black' is a must-see.

ibh, i read about it being a 'miracle worker' remake too. i think u wrote about that movie a while back, didnt u? i haven't seen the original. the review was of 'black' on its own.
u sound too apologetic! no need to! plagiarization is bad and if it is unacknowledged, just the fact that the copy is a good movie does not make it OK!

arvind, not sure if we can make a general categorization. we used to say that about tamil audiences too until 'autograph' and 'kaadhal' came along.

ram, all u've said about that scene is true. i didnt write more for fear of revealing more details. but haunting is the perfect word to describe it.

thanx for the compliment. i've always found it easiest to write reviews for movies i really like and the ones i really dislike. and posting here takes away the self-imposed template i have when i write on bbreviews. so they tend to be longer and more detailed.

pagalak, rightly said. in fact i would go further and say the movie was made with an eye on awards. but that shouldn't take away from what bhansali has achieved. he could've easily turned this into a sentimental,sobfest.
and u're perfectly right about manirathnam. he finds the balance between class and mass. i feel shankar does that quite well too.

At 3:09 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"sundar, haven't seen khamoshi yet."

--> bb, khamoshi was an awesome movie...except salman whom i dislike for personal reasons;) everything abt the movie was good...manisha and nana patekar turned in performances that have to be seen to be believed...but the thing is, BLACK will be constantly on back of your mind when you watch this-- and thats too tall a peak for any other movie to scale...but do post your thots on Khamoshi...+ did you watch B4 Sunrise/Sunset? did you like it?

At 5:15 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I loved the movie. However, this is one of those you will either love or hate. My husband, who is not into serious drama, hated it. He couldn't even sit through that.


At 5:54 PM, Blogger Me too said...

I was (once again!) quite skeptical about this movie because of the hype and the big names(Infact, I kind of hated it cos' one of my friends who saw 'Kaadhal' on my recommendation did not like it and asked me to watch 'Black'). So, thanks for the wonderful review.

'Khamoshi', I thought was a big let-down at least at that time(though like Ram said Nana Patekar and Manisha had done a terrific job and Salman was a joker!).

At 6:11 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

hey bj

I guess I am the only one that hated this film

I found this to be the usual brand of slb bs (at least after 'devdas') - w/ his melodramatic treatment and troupe of overacting & loud actors (read rani & amit)

though I agree w/ you on one thing, shernaz patel and nandana sen were good

btw, check out sudhir mishra’s (one of hindi cinemas best directors and one of my fav director) interesting take on ‘black’

mishra article

it is towards the bottom


At 6:32 PM, Blogger Balaji said...

me too, looks like people who loved 'khamoshi' loved 'black'. so if u didn't like 'khamoshi', i'm not so sure about 'black'. but its worth the risk :)

vic, i knew i could count on u for a contrarian view :)

mishra does have an interesting take but i beg to disagree with most of what he says. the hamming part is subjective so i'll not go there. but my opinion was the exact opposite of his on the rest of the movie. 'black' was never about rani suffering. it was never manipulative and barring very few scenes(1 of which i mentioned in my review), it never made me feel sad or want to cry. i'm like mishra in that i don't like emotional blackmail. i don't like movies that want to make u cry. there's a movie with jaisurya and kavya madhavan that was like that. during 'black' i was involved, touched but rarely felt sad or wanted to cry. as i mentioned in the review, having a scene where the college guys tease her or have her parents walk in during that last scene between them and then shout at amitabh or show rani crying and running from 1 shop to another when amitabh forgets her in the marketplace... scenes like those r what would have made this movie manipulative and go for your tear ducts. 'black' was very dignified in dealing with its characters...

At 7:15 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

hi balaji

i am not saying black will win for screenplay or story etc.. for the acting performance. dracula has been remade a gazillion times and still coppolas version got 3 oscars !!

why not black ?


At 12:07 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

fair enough bj

and yes I do often tend to disagree with the majority : )

though personally I disliked the film for its melodrama and overacting, not to mention it seemed all very phoney

but I definitely see reason in mishra’s argument also

btw, have you seen mishra’s latest film ‘hazaaron khwaishein aisi’ - it is a spectacular picture, the year’s best imo


At 12:25 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

vic, unge paeru asokan-a?!

At 12:48 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

vic whats slb bs?
in ur "found this to be the usual brand of slb bs"???
balaji thats THE BEST REVIEW u have ever written and i agree with u and ram in toto...
but how come none of u commented on the music?or lack of it??!
i felt that was the let down in this,an IR doing the RR wld hv scaled "black" to higher hts!:)

At 5:45 AM, Blogger IBH said...

SLB's trade mark I guess is the way he makes opulent remakes of already successful cinema...Khamoshi too had a mix of Khamosh....but the rest of his movies including BLACK are remakes...good to see some people defying the general notion of BLACK being best....coz i am on the other side too...

what irked me most is the fact taht SLB will never ack. the fact that all his movies are remakes..and people going gaga over his directorial talents..

anyways :) BB i am not being apologetic in any manner...I was just saying that right credits are going in wrong direction :)

At 11:13 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I visited this blog first time today and really liked your post about Black. It is a beautiful movie...but i second, ibh's opinion. The movie is a scene by scene rip-off from Miracle Worker and I dont reckon it having a chance at oscars they would throw it out after the first 2 minutes! There are only a couple differences between Black and MW...In MW its a lady protagonist in black its Amitabh...There is a different kind of emotion and relationship in Black. Other than that the total credit goes to MW makers and not SLB...Who is a clearly living on other people's hardwork.

His previous movies if not in total content like Black, the idea was stolen from South Indian movies...Khamoshi=Keladi Kanmani in tamil, Hum Di De Chuke Sanam concept is taken from Antha Ezhu naatkal by Bhagyaraj! I am beginning to feel SLB has no drop of originality!! So much for his movies...I am yet to see the orginial version of Devdas so I dont know if that is a copy as well!

At 12:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is this your own review of the movie?


At 12:49 PM, Blogger Balaji said...

sundar, jeeves kinda said what i was talking about. dracula and other remakes(king kong, sabrina, etc.) are acknowledged remakes. and there is usually a reinterpretation or reimagining of the story. i havent seen MW but if 'black' is as faithful a copy of it as ibh and jeeves say it is, its chances at the oscars r rather bleak. thats kinda why 'nayagan' could never have made it to the oscars either.

ram, to answer your earlier q, i havent seen b4 sunrise/sunset. since i went down to 1 movie at a time on netflix, i've been seeing hindi films or new hollywood films only...

vic, no i havent seen HKA though i've heard some good things about it.

rekhs, thanx!
slb is for "sanjay leela bhansali bulls**t".
and the music never registered. that could either mean it wasnt impressive or it made me so involved and was so blended in with the movie that i failed to acknowledge it. so i didn't mention anything about it :)

ibh/jeeves, i guess the fact that slb chose a movie not well-known in india is why he's getting all these accolades. as i mentioned, i havent seen MW. in fact i even knew that 'black' was its remake only after i saw the movie.

btw, was helen keller deaf also?
i wasn't able to get past 15 mins of devdas :)

At 12:49 PM, Blogger Balaji said...

neo, yes it definitely is :)

At 12:54 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Are you sure about it?


At 12:58 PM, Blogger Balaji said...

neo, yes i am. whats with the questions. have u seen this review elsewhere?

in case u're not aware, i've been writing about movies i've seen(http://www.geocities.com/bbreviews) long enough to be able to pen my thots without having to reproduce other reviews i think :-)

At 1:37 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Confirmed twice because I believe that you usually do not write movie reviews. You write the stories of the movies & not the reviews. I am following ur blogs for quiet sometime & I know about your way of writing movie reviews.
Check this as sample one of urs. Tell me where is a review of the movie :


I am wondering how come your language changed all of the sudden overnight. Very eager to know that if anything immediate change then I can also try that one.

Do you remember these lines
this one -->
A swaggering gait with a walking stick on her hand, she sometimes reminds the Chaplin walk. And not only that but also dances so rapturously.

& this one -->

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.


At 1:55 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

neo sir, enna solreenge-ney purile...guess your queries are addressed to BB but still, your last comment was so difficult to follow...what is the purpose of the q, "Do you remember these lines?"

konjam velakkunge sir...the difference between the styles of reviews here and bbreviews is clear coz he said that he can afford to take some space here as opposed to his "template" for bbreviews...well, BB, i am answering for u coz i have a lunch break now and u didnt post anything new! (basically, vetti!)

At 2:02 PM, Blogger Balaji said...

ram, need some more time to respond to neo so i was planning to do it later when i am 'vetti' :-)

but for your enlightenment, his accusation is that i have copied my 'black' review from lazygeek's(www.lazygeek.net). i think u visit his site too. when u have some time, check out his review of 'black'. i'm curious... does mine seem like a copy of his??

lazy wrote about a plagiarization of his post and i commented asking him about the link to understand if he thot it was my review that was a copy. though he didn't pass on the link, he replied in the negative to another commenter who asked him if it was his review of the DARK movie that had been copied. so i assumed that he wasn't talking about my 'black' review. but neo seems to think i have. so can u read his review and let me know what u think? Thanks...

neo, will respond to your questions in detail later...

At 2:36 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

T all the way...!! f__kged about it and move on...as i said-- even b4 i saw all of these posts-- this is one of your best reviews...made me rent the DVD again...yeah, i've read lg's review too...you guys both loved the movie and hence had a similarly enthusiastic reaction...thats it...

your original title (which you dropped) for the post on Supercuts applies here :)

At 3:25 PM, Blogger Blogpur said...

Hi Mr. Balaji
I have been a long time reader of your blog site as well as the review site, just want to congratulate you on your review, its nicely done. I however, beg to differ. I think Black is an average film. Please check out of my review

At 4:37 PM, Blogger Balaji said...

neo, to take the example you have provided... i'm not sure if u've seen 'amudhe' but if u havent...
do u know what the plan hatched by the heroine and hero is?
do u know what happens to the plan?
do u know how the movie ends?
i don't think u can answer any of the above questions after reading my review. so i'm not sure exactly how my review could be the movie's story.
as to your question of where the review is, barring the 2nd para, the rest of it IS the review. IMO, a review tells a little of the story so the reader knows what kind of a movie it is and then talks about the movie itself. That is what i've done there. i have told u the movie has weak characters and annoying comedy but is unpredictable and has a surprising climax. thats my style of movie reviews. and i have recd enuf feedback from readers who like the same style. that may not be YOUR idea of a review but not everyone can like every single review style. i can accept that.

i have no idea why u saw my language or style has changed. my usual template is i give an intro, a para with the story, a few paras about the movie and a para talking about the performances and technical aspects. thats exactly how this review is laid out too. it is longer than my usual reviews but thats cos of multiple reasons. one, as i mentioned before, i tend to ramble a bit more in the blog. two, 'black' is one of the few movies i saw twice in the span of a few days. and three, i'd been tinkering with the review for a week before posting it.

as for the 2 lines u r comparing... i'm at a loss to see exactly what u found common between the 2(unless ofcourse u read the latter with the preconceived notion that it is a copy). the only common point i see in both is the comparison of rani's walk to chaplin. i believe the chaplin comparison is impossible to ignore for any1 who sees rani walk for the 1st time in the movie. and i'm not going to go into a rambling description of her walk when a short comparison conveys the same thing, just because someone else made the same comparison.

maybe u felt the reviews sounded the same on your own. maybe LG's post and/or my comment prompted u to read my review in a diff. light. maybe the enthusiastic review we both gave made u feel the reviews r the same. i don't know. i do know that i am completely opposed to plagiarism(as i mentioned in a previous comment in this same post) since i've been a victim too and did not(and am not about to) indulge in it myself.

At 12:33 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

bj, your reviews are good as they are

and btw, am eagerly awaiting your ‘d’ and ‘sarkar’ reviews : )


At 8:03 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

neo what the hell does it matter?
balaji is good and we love getting rejuvenated listening to him and responding...
and frankly i dont think he needs to copy..he has a thaneeeeeee style of his own which is endearing:)
btw r u a scorpio???
just curious!
or worse a geminian( ooops ram no offence to u :)))
balaji...u and yr reviews r STILL awesome:)

At 10:10 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

ooops ram no offence to u

--> rekhs, neenge pesaama "Zodiac Signs Ingu Paarka Padum"-nu E4 veleele oru board podalaam!

At 2:49 PM, Blogger Balaji said...

vic, not sure i'll get to see 'D' any time soon. our rate of movie watching has gone down and so am renting only movies that the wifey can see also(which is why i end up seeing crap like 'bunty aur babli'!) but looking fwd to seeing 'sarkar' soon...

rekhs, thanx for the vote of confidence :) but i'd say it does matter cos plagiarization is bad :) glad neo asked rather than silently assuming that i'd copied... hope he was convinced :)

At 11:45 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am waiting for the hullaboo when Black becomes the Indian entry for Oscar and gets thrown out without any awards.

At least the media should educate the audience about the 1963 movie "The Miracle Worker" which won 2 acting oscars btw. That movie itself was based on the original Broadway play I believe.

But Bhansali seems to be happy in hoodwinking the Indian audience into thinking that this is something original. Pathetic ....


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