Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Dr House- Sherlock Holmes as Diagnostician

One needs to watch Black Adder or Jeeves and Wooster to appreciate the work that Hugh Laurie is putting in his very successful TV series House, M.D. He is an epitome of British buffoonery and does the wide eyed impersonation of an unadulterated moron with aplomb. Here, in his American transition he is speaking American with gusto and relishing the role of an acerbic, drug addict low on etiquette diagnostician of supernatural abilities. One of the hilarious video on You Tube depicts him taking a quiz on American slang and failing miserably. Completely non British environs of Princeton-Plainsboro Teaching Hospital may look alien for Wooster but roots of the character are patently British- Sherlock Holmes.

Arthur Conan Doyle has created an immortal character. More than that, he has created a framework of a character where his despicable social skills are condoned only by first rate intellect. In fact, ability to zero in to the crux of situation is the key reason for most of his bad behavior. Niceties are not for Holmes who cut the crap a bit too fast for comfort. His method is based on deduction and he is given to substance abuse and plays musical instrument with some dexterity. Hugh Laurie identifies with the essential Britishness of his character that is uncannily modeled on Holmes.
Dr Gregory House is socially maladjusted, addicted to pain killers and abhors comfort as an obstacle in the way of his deductions. Mystery in his case is about the diagnosis. He is an accomplished pianist and guitarist. He is not into people and avoids contact with patients and deals mainly with his mystery. He puts his mental capability above all comforts and happiness.
Such qualities get accentuated with his racist and misogynistic remarks which come with impeccable logic but with total disregard for good taste. This relentless barrage needs interpreters that keep on reminding the readers/viewers that the genius is following the right moral direction. This task was given to Watson in Conan Doyle’s world. Here we have Wilson, played with exceptional empathy by Robert Sean Leonard. Playing the role of interpreter, springboard of ideas and a perpetual punching bag by a man of exceptional caliber is critical to the genre created by Holmes. The series self consciously conforms to the genre. Tributes come in the form of trivia, some subtle some obvious. House is a play on Holmes/Homes. Watson becomes Wilson. Even the flat number is 221-B.
Hugh Laurie’s main achievement is making the character appealing in spite of his despicable qualities. Laurie achieves traction with his impeccable timing for sarcasm and grudging admiration without ever verbalizing it. He is channelizes wit, vulnerability and brilliance through his character which is a difficult conductor of such exalted virtues. Characters of this breed require a degree of magnetism and Laurie brings that charm with him without being too obvious about it. He tunes in to the mischievous elements of his character with great felicity. His torments are made palatable on screen by the sheer deliciousness with which he delivers them. This is not to undermine the support he gets from the cast. We interpret him through their reaction to him. If they are suitably impressed so are we. That said, Laurie brings lot of nuances and undercurrent with his acting depth. To quote a review from Slant magazine “the show rests heavily on Laurie's shoulders and his ability to recite his lines with a delicate, if sure-minded, punch. The UK native has the chops to hold the hour-long show together despite its drawbacks.”

-Dhiraj Singh

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Rishi Kapoor's Rauf Lala -Evil Glee of a Seasoned Debauch

Recently released Bollywood revenge saga Agneepath (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1849718/) is an intelligent reinterpretation of the earlier movie which got Amitabh Bachchan a national award. I liked the movie, mainly for some of the best performances by the actors in recent Hindi movies. While everybody gave a decent account of themselves, villains stole the show. Sanjay Dutt was a dark presence overarching the movie with sinister ugliness however, it was Rishi Kapoor who gets my vote for the best performance of the movie.
Sanju Baba has just to stand and grin and his personality does most of work. It is not to take anything away from his performance. He did a stupendous job as ‘Kanchaa’. A classical villain with no redeeming factor- instilling terror with his looks, actions and words. He was not just good but almost great. If his personality is doing most of the work, that is a sign of good actor. He is commanding his strong points to the service of his character and succeeding splendidly. His histrionics has evolved a great deal from a clueless boy of ‘Vidhata ‘ trying to emote in front of the doyens like Dilip Kumar, Sanjeev kumar and Shammi Kapoor. He is a mature actor who is straddling genres of comedy, action and sentimental roles. More about him in future posts.
Back to Rauf Lala of Rishi Kapoor- a child trafficker, ruthless drug lord oozing menace and cunning underlined by pathological megalomania. Rishi Kapoor, the original chocolate boy, an actor of great competence but could not experiment beyond a point because of his looks and image. Here he is plumbing the ugly depths of evil with relish of a seasoned debauch. Watching his cherubic charms turning into black mask of evil glee is pleasure rarely afforded by Bollywood. Rauf Lala is a masterly portrayal of a kingpin who is attractive due to undiluted nature of his negativity. He is grand in his own way but splendor provides only a very thin crust under which violence lurks. Meanness is not encumbered by the demands of generosity to his minions that his emperor like persona evokes. He is lethal as a druglord retaining the discipline, nimbleness and cunning of a street fighter. His auctions of children are chilling to the bone. When he is angry, it has an impact as it promises sure violence. His death was one of the defining scenes of the movie. He was doing his trademark auction of the hero’s sister. He is seething with revenge but enjoying what he does so well. His choice of words, inflections on the most devious sides of the evil trade is stuff of nightmare. When he realizes that hero has broken his barricade and has rescued the child and is about to spare him, he turns on magical moments of death wish by a lifelong sinner. He takes his evil penchant to a level where hero is compelled to take him out. His last giggle as his mentally challenged son beats the hero to spare his father cements a towering performance.
In the times of anti hero, classical villains have taken recourse to comedy to stay relevant. Here, in a remake, we get a resounding testimony of place of a villain to complete the binary logic for the hero. Both Dutt and Rishi kapoor performed that in a masterly fashion. Notwithstanding hamming that is integral to Bollywood grammar of acting, this is one hour of triumph.
Kapoor is doing best work of his life in his second coming. His performances in Patiala House and Do Dooni Char needs more careful appraisal. One of the finest actors of his generation is finally getting his chance.

-Dhiraj Singh