Bombay Talkie, Revisited

Directed by: James Ivory

I’ve taken a few deep breaths since Sunday night, had some cardiovascular exercise, finished a few finals…etc. I’m in far better condition to talk about this movie now, and I promise, that feeling of hatred towards Lucia Lane that I can feel creeping ever so slowly into my fingers shall be beaten back with a stick.

I mentioned in my last post on the topic that I didn’t exactly hate this film. Unbeknown to me, I totally flew over that talking point and straight into girl-hate, but I’d like to cover it now:

Why Bombay Talkie didn’t really suck (a topic heavy enough for a thesis) is due in large part to the delicacy the director gave to the film. After watching half of it and being totally turned off to the film I never expected to be so drawn in the second time, but I was. There is a sense of emotional restraint that you grasp onto, while you know that the movie isn’t going to go full-out Masala-tastic, I personally kept waiting for something more to come from the characters who were so real, but painfully two-dimensional.

If you understand opera* composers/genres it’s like comparing Verdi to Puccini. Bombay Talkie is Verdi. Restrained, kept in line, seemingly emotionally misleading, discreet, refined, clean, polished, with an air of disconnect between the audience and the performer. Verdi, and this film, don’t lack the opportunities to turn into full on emotional catastrophes (the Puccini method) but they choose not to. While I’m a fully devout Puccini gal, I respect Verdi and all his artistic attributes, so the same way I watch Il Trovatore is the same way I have to watch Bombay Talkie. I have to take off my “but I want to feel it too” hat and put on my “Well, at least it’s not happening to me” cap.

But venturing back into the realm of films and not opera, I must give credit to the actors themselves who put on a marvelous performance, each of them actually evolved into their characters. It was spectacular.

Jennifer Kendal, despite my downright hatred of her character, is quite a fantastic actress. It is hard to take a character like Lucia Lane and make her sympathetic, but (and I hate myself for this) there were moments when I just wanted to jump inside the film and hug her (and then slap her) and teach her the tools of self-confidence and independence. In reality, all she was missing (besides a heart) was someone who genuinely cared about her. You could say that the Hari character did, but that wasn’t a healthy support system for either of them. What Lucia needed was a dependable girlfriend, a few good talkin’ to’s and a wake-up call. Lucia is the type of person who is desperate for attention but goes looking for the wrong kinds. She perpetually hunts for something exciting, someone who would dare take her seriously; she never finds it because she’s to caught up in the small things and can’t see the big-picture. She has a daughter whom she loves, money from writing books a comfortable lifestyle but still she is unsatisfied. People like that, who cannot, or refuse to see the good in life and take responsibility for their own happiness just… irk me.

You know exactly what you’re doing, cow.

For those of you who know me in the flesh, you know of my rather infamous bluntness. Lucia Lane is the kind of person I would just love to get my hands on, not because I’m maniacal, but because the girl needs someone to tell her what’s-what, someone who wants to see her as an independent, functioning adult, and someone who will listen to her.

That was supposed to be about Jennifer Kendal not Lucia, wasn’t it?

Jennifer Kendal was just spectacular. The end. Try taking the above character brief and making her real. JK did that, and it took me about 24 hours to separate JK from her character and who she was in real life. Once that disassociation was in effect, I had an easier time of digesting the movie and thinking rationally.

Um. Melt.

Is it traitorous to say that Shashi surprised me? I’ve seen him in serious roles, but just as I was able to hate Lucia Lane, I found myself hating Vikram too. (Me? Hate Shashi!?) He was a man-child, indulged and loved to pieces by his wife, incapable of seeing (again) what he had that made his life good. What I kept seeing in Shashi’s eyes was conflict. So many times we see ourselves standing at a crossroads (I know, I’ve gone philosophical again. Apologies) and there is a clear decision: does he leave in the middle of the night to see Lucia, or does he stay home and try to fix his marriage? Go to a film shoot on time or continue to play “consenting adults”**.

Not even your whimsical, mod-printed number shirt can save you after that phrase,

I think Shashi made a great effort at writing the decision making process so clearly on his face, as well as double-up as the Filmi Superstar (and downward spiraling-superstar) his character portrayed.

Yeah, that line didn’t really work on Lucia either…

I really enjoyed the performance of Zia Mohyeddin, whom I don’t think I’ve ever come across before. I found him rather swoon-worthy, actually. There was great depth to his character, and I think of all of the combined efforts of the other actors his performance was really the most emotional. I can’t pinpoint why exactly, except for perhaps he was around so seldom on screen that I paid particular attention to what he was doing while he was. And rather than delve into why I disliked his character so much, I’ll just tell you that it is for the same reasons that have been previously mentioned. Though, he (or his character, rather) did give the film a spectacularly Puccini ending that, while I kind of predicted (or hoped for, just to end my anguish), I didn’t think would actually happen.

Aparna Sen, as Vikram’s wife Mala was spectacular. She was the only one of the main characters that actually stuck to her ground and her decisions. While everyone else was flip-flopping between their morals and lack-thereof Mala took her stand. Albeit it took her a while, but once she made up her mind she wasn’t going to stand for Vikram’s behavior anymore she stood her ground and vamoosed right out of that nightmare.   She played her role very well, and got in a few jabs where it counted.

I do wish the pink wig (she’s holding, and that popped up every so often) had been explained. 
It’s so…exciting! 

From a picture standpoint Bombay Talkiewas filmed beautifully. All the shots were composed meticulously and with an unobtrusive manner, which aided in my being sucked into the film. That kind of disconnect with the action makes the view feel like they are sitting in the room with the players. Granted the audience is feeling very awkward in that room, but I have to believe that that was the anticipated emotion Ivory was going for. It’s voyeuristic and complicated and slimy, but it works to the effect that is desired.

My favorite shot. I just like it. 

Overall I don’t necessarily like this film, but I don’t adamantly hate it either. It’s best that I just forget about it, to be honest. Wipe my Jennifer Kendal/Merchant Ivory slate clean and start afresh.

But, to end on a lighter note, Typewriter Tip Tip Tip! Finally seen in the flesh and not on YouTube! And Helen!

Ahhh, sweet, sweet positivity.

*Sorry for the Opera-centric attempt of explanation. Occupational hazard, ya know?
**I was so sick of hearing the phrase “consenting adults” by the end of this film I wanted to puke.
***The film is entirely in English, but, as you can see, I obviously watched it with subs. Habit. I grew up with a pal that always used subs…

Yes, I know. Me too.

Bombay Talkie, 1970

Directed by: James Ivory

So many people told me not to watch this. I had so many warnings and I ignored them all. Even after seeing half of it and being disgusted I still watched it.

This should not have been my first Jennifer Kendal film. She might be ruined for me. It’s my own fault for trying to over-analyze everything about her and hunting for subtle clues that she was actually in-real-life love with Shashi, and he with her.

Neither should it have been my first Merchant Ivory film, which is a little pocket I’ve been trying to get into for a while.

Clearly I went about this in all the wrong ways, but for all of its “I-just-want-to-claw-my-eyes-out-and-smash-my-TV” qualities, I didn’t exactly hate Bombay Talkie; a fact that makes me upset with myself.

The only thought I can process about this film is simply “Why”? What in the world made these people decide that anyone would be interested in the lives of the characters in this film? It’s awful. They’re all co-dependent, selfish, childish, self-destructive and mental.

I’m gaping open-mouthed like a fish trying to articulate my thoughts on this film. It’s not working.

What I can’t understand is why one of the trio that was causing all of the havoc couldn’t just walk away and say “No more” and mean it. Granted, Vikram (Shashi) tried, but by that time it was too late; Lucia (Jennifer Kendal) tried, but she found her self so lacking in attention that she almost combusted; Hari (Zia Mohyeddin) tried but was so desperate for Lucia’s attention that he let her crawl back time and time again. The only person who was able to walk away, and earn my respect was Vikram’s wife, Mala (Aparna Sen).

The object of my hatred, and I really dislike saying hatred, is 100% directed at Lucia. She knows exactly what she is doing and exactly how to get Hari and Vikram to play into her “woe is me” game. She’s the wannabe Scarlett O’Hara of India, and she does it all wrong.  I don’t know if you’ve not been informed, but desperation is not flattering or pretty, so stop it. Don’t sit on a couch with your legs perched just-so and complain about how you were tragic as a chorus girl because you’re legs were knobby. Don’t recline on the bed and weep and whine about how you’re getting older, how you’re ugly, how no one loves you, how you can’t get anyone to respect you… wah wah wah. You’re pathetic and you’re damaged, but you don’t care enough about yourself to stand up and do something about it. You’d rather be petted and indulged and protected from growing up. I don’t care if you were forced to “grow up quickly”, you obviously didn’t. And what is with you moping about all of your ex husbands while you’re still wearing the wedding rings (all four of them) on your fingers. Fine, it’s supposed to be a message that you’ve had your share of disappointments but what, if anything, has gone right in your life? Nothing, since you refuse to see the good in anything or anybody; you’d rather go around destroying other people’s lives and leaving nothing but cold-hearted nonchalance in your wake.

I hate you Lucia Lane.

Hari made me just sick too, he was totally used by Lucia but he didn’t care. As long as she kept coming back to him, his own heartache didn’t matter. Every time he got her, Vikram showed up and off she flew into his arms.

What is wrong with these people?

What was so great about Lucia that she had such a magnetism?

Obviously I can’t get over LL, so I’m going to stop while I’m ahead, sleep on it, and maybe come back to this film in a week or so. It’s much healthier, and it won’t be such an “I want to destroy Lucia Lane” vehicle.