By Subhash K Jha
Stars: Jean Louis Trintignant, Emmanuelle Riva
Director: Michael Haneke
A unique French film Amour featuring two 80-plus actors in the lead is a masterpiece in every sense. Austrian director Michael Haneke’s Amour is the story of Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and Anne (Emanuelle Riva). Married for 50 years, their comfortable life of secluded serenity in a cosy apartment in Paris is torn apart when Anne suffers a paralytic stroke.
The film graphically portrays Anne’s rapid utterly dismaying descent into completely physical degeneration rendering her almost to a vegetable state, and Georges’ relentless and unwavering efforts to look after the woman whom he has loved unflinchingly for a 50 years.
It’s arguably the most heartbreaking love story ever filmed because it ends with Georges snuffing Anne’s life out, putting her out of her wretchedly undignified state of helplessness.
Director Haneke uses the screen space to create an idyllic life stripped cruelly of its magical quality by ill health. The camera lingers with unflinching cruelty on each moment of Anne’s pain and misery as Georges attempts to come to terms with a life of bleak companionship with a woman who can no longer share his life.
A sequence like the one where Georges picks up Anne from the bed and puts on the wheelchair is shot in one excruciating take. The camera remains frozen in its track, and the task of putting his loved one in a sitting position becomes almost an Olympian feat.
By the time this deeply mournful film reaches its devastating dead-end we know every corner of Georges and Anne’s well-appointed apartment in Paris, as well as we know every nook of their heart.
The film leaves us Indian moviegoers with many urgent questions. As a nation that owes opulent allegiance to traditional values of compassion, loyalty, unflinching devotion and honesty in marriage why don’t we make films like Amour?
Shabana Azmi, who has done innumerable noteworthy films in the past about the man-woman relationships, says Indian filmmakers and Indian audiences don’t want to see old people on screen.
Says Shabana, “It’s a very scary situation. As a movie-going nation, we are just not interested in the lives and problems of old people. When there are old people in a film, they are played by young people pretending to be old. It’s bizarre! I cried for days after I saw Amour. I wept not just for the two people in the film but also for our cinema.”
Anupam Kher, who met the Amour director in Los Angeles last month, reminds us he did an Amour 29 years ago.
Says Anupam, “What was Mahesh Bhatt’s Saaraansh if not a mirror image of the two memorable old characters in Amour? The difference is, the crisis in their lives comes from one of them. In Saaraansh the old couple was bonded in bereavement by the sudden death of their only son.”
Anupam was only 29 when he played the 65-year old grieving father in Saaraansh, bringing us face-to-face with the problem described by Shabana.
Says Anupam, “Casting old people in old characters’ roles is a problem in our country. We have only one 60-plus superstar Mr Amitabh Bachchan. How many films can he do? And his image is much too dynamic for him to portray the problems of the old.”
Hindi cinema has become growingly wary of old age and illness, so much so that when Sanjay Leela Bhansali (SLB) made Guzaarish about a paraplegic man’s mercy killing, he had to kill the finale.
Says a source close to the project, “The ending of Guzaarish simply had to be done away with. Instead the movie ended with a happy reunion sequence where Hrithik’s character meets up with all his dear friends before he’s to die. The scene after that was to show Aishwarya Rai Bachchan’s bathing and dressing him up to the sound of the vintage Lata Mangeshkar sing Chandan sa badan from the film Saraswatichandra, after which she puts him to death. Both Hrithik and Aishwarya refused to do this sequence arguing it would damage their image.”
Says SLB, “I’ve often been accused of making depressing films about the physically disabled and the dying. But why must death be seen as depressing? It can be very liberating , as it was for Hrithik’s character in Guzaarish. When I was making Black, I was told it wouldn’t work because no one would want to see a film about a deaf mute and blind Rani Mukherjee. When I did Devdas, I was told no one would come to see a film about an alcoholic loser who drinks himself to death. Using these arguments Hindi cinema has shut the door on issues of mortality.”
Says Mahesh Bhatt, “I am willing to produce a Saaraansh even today. But who will watch it?”
Amole Gupte feels Indian filmmakers take life too seriously.
“We are what we eat. The filmmaker in this country is supremely conscious of the self. Thodasa content par dhyaan hota toh hum kahin aur hotey (if we paid a little more attention to content we’d be somewhere else). The era of Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali and Ritwick Ghatak’s Meghe Dhaka Tara is over. And Amour is a distant dream.”