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Film Review - Black

Bharat Chari

Black” is an extraordinary film from director Sanjay Leela Bhansali (Devdas, Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam) that shines light into cinema, not just Hindi cinema.  The film is special and captures you from the get-go and stays in your head for days after watching it. 

“Black” should resonate well with all audiences as it taps into universal human sentiment and experience --- not just that of a particular culture.  It is currently being shown at the Berlin Film Festival and it deserves to win the Oscar and the Filmfare awards next year (I rarely make such statements prior to comparing to other upcoming films, however, this film deserves the hype).

The movie focuses on an Anglo-Indian blind, deaf and mute girl, Michelle McNally (Ayesha Kapur, Rani Mukherjee) who initially struggles with her handicap but then dramatically overcomes her problems with the guidance of her teacher, Mr. Debraj Sahai (Amitabh Bachchan).  He inspires her and makes her understand that she lives in a unique and challenging, yet special world.  The cornerstone of the film is the relationship between the two characters. The audience is allowed to experience --- as if first hand --- the unfolding of a beautiful relationship between a mentor and student --- a relationship that is fulfilling to both and leaves one wondering which is the mentor and which is the student.  Both of them provide meaning and inspiration into each others’ life.  It is an extraordinary relationship that is tight and everlasting.

The acting is excellent.  Amitabh Bachchan, as the teacher, is at his best with his performance in this movie reminiscent of his character roles in the ‘70s and ‘80s.  He powerfully communicates each and every emotion, moving the audience to tears and laughter along with him.  Also inspiring is Rani Mukherjee in the role of Michelle McNally, a blind and deaf woman.  She rises to the challenge of the difficult role and delivers a suburb performance.  I caught up with Rani a few months ago and she credits “Black” has her most challenging performance to date.

 “My most difficult role is actually going to be coming,  that is ‘Black’ where I play a deaf, dumb and blind girl.  I got introduced to people who are handicapped and to see the kind of life they lead, to be playing one of them, it just took me to another world you know, where we don’t come from that world, for them everything is ‘Black’; they can’t hear, they can’t see, they communicate through sign language, they communicate through touch”

And then there is the introduction to a brand new actress.  Ayesha Kapur plays the role of the younger Michelle McNally.  At the young age of ten, Ayesha Kapur has in her first role given a highly memorable performance --- one that she herself may find difficult to follow.  Ayesha does a great job portraying the blind, deaf and mute young Michelle.  Her rolling of the eyes and her actions in the film make it hard to believe she is only acting.  One feels her pain, feels her frustration and feels her world.

Finally, this film was holistic in its approach.  The set, the direction, cinematography, and background music all told the story and deserve high recognition.  Sanjay Leela Bhansali deserves credit – with his vision and craft, he makes “Black” a film never to forget.

The premiere of Black was shown in Bombay on February 4th with the cast and director of the film on hand as well as many of the big actors in Bollywood.  Everyone came dressed in the color Black.  Pictures courtesy of yashrajfilms.com, nowrunning.com & filmfare.com.

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