Oh My God!
I have been of half a mind to leave it at that, but I suppose I should expand a bit.
Bollywood and I are just completely incompatible. Ray’s movies, reviewed earlier, are at least using the familiar neorealist style. This, “Mother India”, however is totally Bollywood. All the way through. Both the book and Wikipedia praise this movie for being one of the most loved movies to come out of India and that just leaves me flabbergasted. I knew I was far away from India, but I had no idea it was this far.
I have been trying hard to find something positive to say about this movie. It is always nice to say something positive and I think… I like the colors. Yeah, they are real pretty, but that is also about it.
The story played out here is at the same time very simple and yet totally confusing. A woman, Radha (Nagis) is getting married to a jolly man, Shamu (Raaj Kumar), but is also in debt to a moneylender named Sukhilala (Kanhaiyalal). The family is getting lots of children, but a series of disasters are ruining them, crippling the husband and killing off half the children. Jump in time and the remaining children are grown up. Birju (Sunil Dutt) is the bad boy teasing the girls and rebelling on the state of affairs and Ramu (Rajendra Kumar) is the good boy. Sukhilala is still terrorizing the familily, something about that he actually want to marry Radha, but she does not want him and so her family must pay, or something like that. Eventually Birju goes after Sukhilala and becomes a bandit.
Frankly I am interpolating, because at any given time I had no idea what was actually happening. Partly because the movie works in its own Indian universe and partly because the ongoing football championship is a lot more interesting and I am perhaps too easily distracted. Yet it seems to me there were some very odd jumps as if parts have been cut out from the movie.
There is a lot of tragedy and hardship in this movie, but it is all acted out with such exaggeration that it was often more comical than actually tragic. The scene where Shamu loses his arms is a good example or watching Radha being the oxen to draw the plow is just so over the top melodramatic. Shukilala is supposed to be the big villain cheating and oppressing the entire village, but he is a laughable character and I wonder if his role was more as comical relief then as the bad guy. It is also rather mindboggling that in a so densely populated country this village can be so isolated that Shukilala can hold generations of villagers in an iron grip. It would take a mediocre lawyer about five minutes to unravel his entire business.
I would like to be engaged an moved by the fate of these people as I actually did in Ray’s movies, but the overacting and incredulous plot just leaves me cold and bored. 2 hours and 45 minutes is a very long time to be bored. Luckily the movie is seeded with 4-5 minutes of singing and dancing every 15 minutes or so. Not that I really cared about those, but I could put the volume low and watch some football or read some news for a few minutes until the song was over. I would not say that I hate this type of music and obviously some people really like it, I just find it mildly irritating and odd.
The conclusion of course is that this kind of movie is just not for me. I have watched Chinese, Japanese and weird eastern European movies and usually gotten something out of them (so far Brazilian movies have note really worked out, I am thinking of “Limité”), but I knew Bollywood is not my thing and, well, I just got it confirmed.