there is nothing extraordinary abt vishal bharadwaj's 'Blue Umbrella' save its awesome background music and mesmerizing cinematography & both stand out in the viewers' mind. in fact i'm pretty much sure it's not going to send the cash registers ringing, not least of all because it doesn't have much to say to today's audiences by way of a story.
unlike the west, indian audiences are way too immature to sit back & enjoy a film for other elements besides the story. narrative is all important in bollywood, never mind that it can be as asinine or as oft-repeated as u can imagine. it'll be ages before we'll begin to accept the likes of 'No Smoking'. mind you, BU is anything as self indulgent or bizarre as NS. no, thats not what i'm saying at all.
sure BU has a thin storyline, the likes of which will resonate in the mind of anyone who grew up on a staple diet of aesop's fables, tales from the panchatantra, the parables of sri ramkrishna or the hundreds of other tales that chiefly comprised kiddy literature before the advent of j.k.rowling. recurring themes in all these tales were that of good triumphing over evil, of forgiveness being greater than revenge or suffering being the true path to salvation. so there's not much by way of a storyline - no edge of the seat suspense, no witty punchlines and no great music.
yet the film worked for me & the other person i watched it with and that's not simply because the umbrella in the story is a metaphor for the unattainable, for power, or perfection, or something that is outside the realm of the mundane. methinks the film's power lies in its simplicity & the way it plays with itself. the repeated snapshots of first biniya & then nandkishore posing with the umbrella, or the wide-eyed villagers gazing at the umbrella with apt adoration & often lust are all scenes that are beyond the reality we are accustomed to. it is immaterial to argue that things are no longer this way in the villages of india, that its denizens no longer as innocent, as untouched by big-city fashion as depicted in the film.
the villagers' obsession with the umbrella, the unraveling of the plot behind the umbrella's sudden disappearance & the suffering that is visited upon nandkishore which leads to his ultimate redemption are all ploys to drive home the moral in this fable & while doing so they also arouse some powerful emotions. for me good cinema touches upon concerns that are universal and strokes my feelings. any film, no matter how intelligent (mullhollands drive), that leaves me cold & uninvolved is not a great film by my yardstick. even the most cliched film is good, if not great, if it has the power to move me even upon watching it for a second time (kal ho na ho.)
finally, pankaj kapur, the actor who one wishes never dies, never stops delivering such performances, too few & too far in b/w as they are, for they at least affirm that there remain actors who can move u to tears with the faintest trace of an embarrassed smile & a sideward glance (the scene where he is teased by the others at the barber's roadside stall post his fall from grace.) man, words fail to express the hollowness that he feels deep inside, the spiritual isolation that he choose when he decided to indulge in something that he knew to be utterly wrong.
it is also important to understand that in the scheme of things nandkishore's crime is but a mere travesty. in the world we know people get away with much more. again seriousness of the crime is not in question here. it is a man bartering his soul for something that's priceless to him. a story as old as paradise lost or faust or dorian grey. stealing in itself is not a very grave crime but in nandkishore's world it assumes gargantuan implications because he believes it is wrong; that it is wrong to covet that which is not yours is the first rule he learned at school, he admits.
time and again i am humbled & grateful by the power of art to soothe & comfort us in our darkest hours. despite the madness raging in the world outside, good art is the single beacon of hope that shines bright & affirms our faith in the power of human goodness like nothing else does.