I have watched three Nagesh Kukunoor movies over the last 2 weeks. I began with the critically acclaimed "Iqbal", then went for his maiden effort "Hyderabad Blues" and just this past weekend, watched "Mod". I cannot say they are over the top remarkable - but they definitely entertain, and convey some deep social messages. They also resonate with his love for India. In the wake of the Modi victory, I find myself caught up in the wave, eager with hope for transformation, and also in the mood for movies that show the little guy/girl triumphing over social ills simply by doing the right thing! Yes, I am an optimist!
I relate well to Kukunoor's neo liberal world view which he has acquired in the West, along with a quirky American accent that involves much rolling of the "r"s. An apt accent for the protagonist of "Hyderabad Blues", in which he plays the lead, a US returned young man who marries an Indian doctor to live happily ever after - well, almost! I cannot help but feel that the character is Kukunoor all the way, particularly when he espouses his intolerance for sexual misconduct with a utilitarian "don't bring your libido to work", rather than with moral outrage. It is also Kukunoor in his incarnation as director, who gives us the particularly endearing scene where one of the characters in the film comes out as "gay". Even though the movie lacks the finesse of his later ones, it is redeemed by its engaging dialogues, great acting and wonderful character development. It shows life in India through the eyes of an NRI who has returned home, and not an unpleasant one, albeit minor irritants in the form of noise pollution and meddle-some parents. He portrays well, the conviviality among old friends, and a wonderful sense of the familiar in the chaos that is an urban metropolis in India today.
Iqbal was my favourite of the three. The story of a poor disabled boy, who by the sheer dint of his raw talent defies all odds to gain a berth on the Indian cricket team, is vintage David and Goliath. The qualities that elevate it from being run of the mill are, its setting in a rural locale that is not overly romanticised, its strong female characters and it's handling of disability with considerable grace. Parallel triumphs, that include a fallen hero's sweet vindication following his rise from a life of addiction, add to the movie's excitement and lustre.
I liked Mod for a completely different set of reasons. It also deals with disability of a different kind and touches on the bane of alcoholism. However, it's the lush setting of the story in "Ganga", the mythical Indian hill station town, that makes it so wonderfully appealing. So pleasing is the natural beauty of the place and the simplicity of life in that stupendously romantic self- contained locale, far from the madding crowds, that one wants to escape to it, riding around on a bike and breathing in the fresh mountain air. There is a tremendous leap of faith in how that story ends. But hope springs eternal and if life can be visioned so the Universe conspires to make that vision happen, a la Secret, another Kukunoor belief (?), then so be it.