January 11, 2020
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Before and After

Before and After
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The Oscars are upon us. We as Indians are of course primarily concerned with how Lagaan will fare. Right now, it clearly is the underdog, behind the French film Amelie, which has been a big popular success in the US, and No Man’s Land from Bosnia, which pipped Amelie to the post at the Golden Globes. But there is something fairy tale-ish about the whole Lagaan success story, from the way it has progressed from a goofy story idea to perhaps the biggest critical plus commercial success in the last 27 years (Sholay was released on August 15, 1975). Its capacity to charm the most unlikely audiences is almost uncanny. So who knows what can happen?

Among Hollywood offerings, the obscure low-budget Guy Pierce-starrer Memento, nominated only for the Best Original Screenplay and Editing categories, is, as far as I am concerned, The Film of the Year. It’s unlikely to be released in India, but the CD is available. A man hunts for his wife’s murderer, but he suffers from a brain condition that does not allow him to form any new memories. Every few minutes, his memory is wiped clean, so the only way he can pursue his mission is to write notes to himself that he has to read constantly to figure out what’s going on. A masterly destruction of cinematic structure, Memento starts with the hero’s most recent memory (his killing of the murderer) and keeps going back in time, revealing to the gape-jawed audience that nothing is as it seems, building to a stunning revelation at the end (and remember, the incidents depicted at the end of the film happen a few days before where the film begins).

It’s almost impossible not to see Memento more than once. And each viewing peels one more layer off this onion of a film, which is also a far more sophisticated study of memory and obsession than A Beautiful Mind, which seems to be a strong contender for Best Film. And the film’s lead, Russell Crowe (whoever thought Crowe was the right man to portray a mathematical genius needs to get his head examined) could end up with another Best Actor trophy. Which will be as undeserved as the one he got last year for Gladiator, for doing a Dharmendra role.

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