Saturday, August 4, 2007

Reviewing Akshaye Khanna in Gandhi-My Father

I have seen Gandhi-- My Father. It worked better in the promos. As almost every reviewer has noticed, the films loses its focus along the second half, focusing more on the Gandhi's role in history than on its father and son theme. It also become more and more theatrical, like Gandhi's speech in riot torn Calcutta. I was worried when Sreekar Prasad was chosen as the editor and he ruins the movie. Dramatic moments are cut short and boring montages given more prominence. Great moments breeze past without a proper context. Though a decent and well-made movie, it nowhere realises the emotional potential of its theme.

Now to Akshaye. Before Dil Chahta Hai happened, Akshaye's movie were confined to a single theme, that of a son who has major issues with his father. Right from his first movie, Himalay Putra, the trend continued on. Border, Aa Ab Laut Chalen, Kismat... the trend continued post DCH too in movies like Hungama and Deewaar. I think most Bollywood scriptwriters write for a star based on a set screen image and since Border was Akshaye's first hit, that character became his staple. Gandhi, My Father though not the same trap, is still the continuation of the same role. I imagined the movie would, in a sense, become the final cap of all those earlier roles and Akshaye would finally move on from this chracter after a triumph. Sadly, it doesn't.

All those movies also shared annoying feature. They all start well but lose their thread somewhere along the way and Akshaye's chracter becomes increasingly sidelined. Sadly, Gandhi,My Father continues this tradition. It does allow him a few good scenes initially but throughout the second half he is increasingly sidelined for the sake of Gandhi, so much so that his scenes gets cyclical, repetitive and take away a lot from his performance. Like all his movies before, they refuse the chance for him to build on his performance and get a credible climax. Like all his movies before, it refuses to plead his case convincingly and thus make him unable to connect with his audiences.

That said, the movie also shows enormous strides he has made as an actor. First of all, nobody who has seen this movie can fail to notice how controlled his stock mannerisms have become. I have always held that he overdoes his smling, twitching, eyebrow-raising bits only when the scene has blanks in it and he can't fill those blanks and hence goes overboard. Here, you are instantly notice how much he does with how little.

He relies more on his voice and eyes than physical gesticulations. Just notice the incommunicable emotion in his eyes in the scene where the news of Gandhi's assassination plays behind his back. He looks beautiful even in the wretchedness of a beggar sipping tea. Raj Zutshi's outburst is jarringly theatrical and this scene is too fleeting to notice but try and focus on his eyes. Is it loss? Is it victory? Relief? I couldn't tell what it was but it felt exactly right.

He has acquired pitch perfect dialogue delivery. One of the little-mentioned highlights of the movie is in a scene where Gandhi praises Harilal on a nice book he had been reading. Harilal replies by saying that he has always tried to educate himself, no matter how hard the circumstances. That's a subtle, heartbreaking rebuke and he delivers it perfectly.

His histrionics too have become finetuned. Example, the scene where he cries at his wife's death. Or the ramleela scene. Or the train station scene. He made me weep.

Gandhi-My Father affords him some great moments without ever giving him the opportunity to take the movie and make it his. It's as if he was allowed to paint a few beautiful strokes but not allowed to finish the canvas.

Gandhi-My Father is not a historic triumph for Akshaye but it does show that Akshaye has perfected his instruments and mastered the medium. From now on, it is a matter of finding a suitable platform to channel his overabundant talent.
His fans have always been sure of his talent and always irritated when high n mighty critics dismissed him off. Now, they can finally take satisfaction that no one brush off Akshaye anymore. After a decade of false starts, he has arrived as an actor. And how!


Anonymous said...

I have heard good things about Akshaye's performance but then some out there have said it was an average performance.

When I watched the promos of Gandhi my Father, I felt that a certain sense of maturity was lacking in the performance. This was the Akshaye Khanna prior to Hulchul showing his acting skills. I saw it in that way. I didn't look like tha mature performer Akshaye that I see now days. This movie started in March 2004 so that's quite a long time ago, and it end in Nov. 2004.
I'll give him the benefit of the doubt, because now days he's improved so much as an actor. He's amazing now.

Beth said...

You've put your finger on two interesting trends: 1) the common elements in his initial roles, which I had never noticed and need to think more about, and 2) his tendency to overdo certain stock gestures or other tricks. The one I always notice is how he shouts to express anger or frustration, which also does funny things to his face. This is something I've seen Al Pacino do too, and it's not effective there either. Let's hope Akshaye is becoming more subtle as he ages!

Glad you go to see the movie, though!

Anonymous said...

Sorry Beth! I think you hardly know the real worth of Akshaye Khanna and his acting.

Anonymous said...

I like this pic. That's a stunning look of Akshaye Khanna.

Anonymous said...

I like the look of Akshaye Khanna as an old and poor man. It really suits him a lot. And yes, go and watch Gandhi, My Father. It's an excellent story. Akshaye Khanna is heartfelt actor and his acting is awesome. He is just too good and natural. He is a great performer.

Anonymous said...

The pic shows that Akshaye Khanna is a genius. I don't know why I feel that Akshaye Khanna is a genius just by looking on this pic. His body and facial languages are amazing onscreen.

babasko said...

@anonymous2: sorry, but i think you hardly know the real worth of beth and her knowledge and love for akshaye.

for the record i too, like beth, do love him and i appreciate his acting skills, as she does. but i know, and accept as well that he sometimes in the past tended to overplay in said emotional or angry scenes. take hulchul or shaadi se pehle for example.

still, i always knew he could do without that (sid in DCH anyone?)

before i was able to watch GMF last friday i was afraid that since the role of harilal was such an emotional part, that he might resort to his histronic ways.
now that i´ve seen it, i can wholeheartedly say: he does not.

whats more, i think his portayal of harilal is truly the finest work of his career.

and btw. we dont have to love somebody only because he might be perfect. we can love him for what he is. all his parts.

Anonymous said...

Yeah! You are right about Beth. But, I think that the anonymous number 3 is right too in some ways. I think that people always find faults in Akshaye Khanna's acting and facial expressions. But, what are his faults especially if directors don't handle his expressions and his bad acting like Karan Johar, Sanjay Leela Bhansali and Rakesh Roshan did for Shah Rukh Khan, Aishwarya Rai and Hrithik Roshan for instance. Akshaye Khanna needs right directors.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Babasko, Akshaye is a great actor, but in the past I felt he was quite aggressive in some of his movies- certain scenes in Hungama and a lot of the times in Hulchul. Right around the time of Hulchul, I used to get kind of annoyed with Akshaye's acting at times. I remember the first time I saw Hulchul, I instantly felt he was overdoing it.

But after Shaadi se Pehle, I think he's really gotten good as an actor. He was really good in Naqaab especially though the movie isn't all that great, but he's become a more sophisticated and mature performer onscreen.

Anonymous said...

But, Hungama n Hulchul are loud comedy. So, the comic timing of Akshaye Khanna is supposed to be like that. He is supposed to overdo his comic timing.

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