Director: Santhana Bharathi
I remember my father heaping praises on the film, and my mother then took me to watch it when I was in second grade. I definitely don’t think that was an appropriate age for the film. However, as Kamal Haasan gets mesmerised by Abhirami, I got smitten by the film and Kamal Haasan. Guna, the film, in a way, became my Abhirami. I would keep reenacting the whole sequence where Kamal walks in a circular path to my relatives so many times that they thought I had gone mad. In the ‘Kanmani Anbodu Kadhalan’ song, Kamal says, “Manithar unarnthu kolla ithu manitha kaadhal alla, athuyum thaandi punitham aanathu.” That’s quite fitting for my ‘mad love’ for cinema. Guna means everything to me.
The writing of the film questions what is normal and what’s not. For instance, if someone who lacks hearing ability sees a bunch of people dancing, they might think they are mad. Who’s normal then?
Director: Ashutosh Gowariker
I am a fan of Gulzar-era Hindi cinema, like Aandhi and Koshish. I didn’t explore the 90s much and so, I missed the SRK era. Lagaan was the first time I turned my head toward contemporary Hindi cinema. I was stunned after watching it—especially the making-of documentary, Madness in the Desert. The film is a masterpiece, and so is the behind-the-scenes documentary. After Kamal Haasan, I reserve great admiration for Aamir Khan. Only while watching the documentary did I realise that Ashutosh Gowariker had given two flops before Lagaan, and Aamir had his share of doubts before stepping into it. The actor sought inspiration from Guru Dutt before deciding to produce it. He did not think about the money, just like Kamal did not when he made Hey Ram.
Ashutosh Gowariker’s screenplay and direction are unbelievable. The film might be four hours long but if you start watching the film, you won’t stop. The perfection of Guna is evident in Lagaan. The film showed that you can make a crowd-pleaser with a unique idea.
Life is Beautiful (1997)
Director: Roberto Benigni
Thanks to Burma Bazaar, I had access to world cinema during my mechanical engineering days, a time when I had ample time to watch and discuss films with my friends. Life is Beautiful left me astounded. Watching Life is Beautiful felt like I was watching a version of Guna that had a sense of humour. The film made me wonder if I can ever write a script like that. The relationship between the father and the son, and the husband and the wife are beautifully portrayed.
Guna made me realise that I want to become a filmmaker; Lagaan taught me that making a film is possible; With Life is Beautiful, I found the cinema I wanted to make. It became my template of writing. Take Kalyana Samayal Saadham or Shub Mangal Saavdhaan, for instance, (I don’t mean to compare them with Life is Beautiful), but the thinking behind the humour is the same. Evoking humour from a dangerous topic is a tight-rope walk.
The writing in every scene of Life is Beautiful feels like the film is wheeling on a fast bike; you know it could crash but Benigni ensures a smooth and safe ride. He makes you laugh and breaks your heart.
I think humour is the highest form of intelligence. Yes, it was criticised by some for making light of something as horrifying as the holocaust, but the Benigni ended up winning an Oscar.
It’s proof that if you have love in your heart, even if people debate its political correctness, your audience will support you. Perhaps that’s where the conviction to make Kalyana Samayal Saadham/Shub Mangal Saavdhaan came from for me.
A biweekly column exploring the films that inspired, influenced and shaped the cinematic sensibilities of contemporary filmmakers.