Tuesday, January 02, 2007

A look at "Corporate" India

Madhur Bhandarkar has been making Bollywood films that are different. Quite a few interesting characteristics define his work. His films aren't musicals. They usually revolve around a female lead. They are confined to a well-defined space that is fertile ground for moral commentary.

His latest
Corporate is a thriller that revolves around the rivalry of two companies hungry to expand their operations in India's burgeoning soft drink market. I read a lot of negative reviews for this movie which also sank rapidly at the box office, so its entertainment value took me by surprise. There are several things that work in this movie.

Bhandarkar has a captivating subject and he keeps the movie focussed on it. This movie is unwaveringly about life in the corporate world in India. Bhandarkar delivers insight into how Indians do business: in a fashion unique across the world. He deviates from this only to lend his movie some plot points around an ill-fated romance. This focus was the most watchable aspect of the movie for me.

Perhaps realizing that he is dealing with subject matter that can run dry quickly, Bhandarkar keeps the movie going at a brisk pace. His usual social commentary (which I thought reached solemnizing proportions in the sprawling and messy
Page 3) is there but its not preachy. The scenes have a deft straight forwardness about them that Bhandarkar achieves by displaying but not milking the moral and emotional aspect of what is occuring.

All the characters have plausible motivation and the plot holes are kept to a minimum. This is a significant achievement for any Bollywood movie and worth much applause. Let's pause a moment while I do just that: :: APPLAUSE ::. CEOs, Executives, Politicians, Stock Brokers, even Lovers all have a good reason for doing what they indulge in and the motivation is established seamlessly in the movie without any special "let's establish movitation" scenes.

Most of the
cast delivers decent, under-stated performances. Much of the movie's publicity centered around Bipasha Basu because she is the one marquee star in this movie. Bips is such an underdog in Indian cinema (dark-skinned, no filmi connections, genre-busting breakout roles) that it is difficult not to cheer her on. Despite an ill-advised porn-star pony tail she looks sharp in the movie dressed in grays and pastels. While she performs well from scene to scene, her overall character development isn't as accomplished. She imbues her personal life with such self-sacrificing wimpiness that we have a hard time believing her turn as a ruthless and morally ambigious corporate executive.

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