Aks Novel Review Essay

In a game of chess, the queen is the most powerful piece, yet the whole game of chess is about the king’s show of power – his absolute success, where he captures the other king and declares check mate. Chirya, a young girl of 8 years old, is not quite satisfied with this arrangement. If the queen is the most powerful piece in chess, then surely she must be the most ‘importIn a game of chess, the queen is the most powerful piece, yet the whole game of chess is about the king’s show of power – his absolute success, where he captures the other king and declares check mate. Chirya, a young girl of 8 years old, is not quite satisfied with this arrangement. If the queen is the most powerful piece in chess, then surely she must be the most ‘important’ piece of chess, not the king, Chirya insists. And in the real life game of chess, Chirya is about to do just that – make the queen the most important player.
Aks (English: Reflection) is a story of struggle, of injustice, of childhood traumas and life’s crippling hurdles. It is a story of courage, of resilience, of not bowing down, and standing up each time you fall flat on your face.
Aks appeared in Pakeeza Digest from August 2011 to December 2012....more

Hardcover, 587 pages

Published 2013 by Ferozsons (first published August 2011)

A diehard fan's perspective..

Is there a term called a writer's block (or a fan's stumbling block)?

I think so..without misusing the term and feigning greatness, I'd like to say that it's really difficult for me to analyze Aks, with a completely objective mind. This is the film that I was willing to bet my life on, so to speak. This is the film that captured my imagination, right from the time when the first `kick-ass' trailer hit the net and this IS the film that I thought, could never go wrong. However, keeping in mind the fundamental prerequisite for writing a review, I'd like to be as honest as possible here. The Verdict: - As a fan and movie buff, I'd say I came out of the theater satiated.

Aks is a bold attempt, not seen before in Hindi cinema, in many ways. The cinematography for example, is not just eye-catching but bewitching, enthralling and spellbinding! No matter how hard you try, the striking visuals will engulf your mind for some time to come. The camera angles are normal but the filters employed, convey the message of the film clearly. The ubiquitous greenish tinge (perfectly seen in Raveena's dance numbers and Aa Ja Gufaaon Main Aa, more on that later) enforces the idea that we are watching a noir film. Major portions of the film have been shot in the dark, emphasizing the `mood and tone' of the film. To cut a long story short, this is the stuff, you normally see in a Hollywood film. I know a lot of people are not high on technical stuff but believe it or not, these delicate touches, serve to heighten up the overall effect of a scene. That is, if you guys are into the minute details that make cinema a worthwhile `experience' and not just a means to kill time!

The music again, is not the usual blend of romantic duets and `soft' hummable tunes that set the young heartbeats pumping (not that there's anything wrong with it), but is genuinely in sync with the requirements of the story. Gulzar's lyrics deserve a high round of applause, because they are highly symbolic and act as precursors to actual events in the film. For example: Aa Ja Gufaaon Main Aa, symbolizes Manu Verma's seduction and allurement into the dark vortex of evil so effectively, that one is bound to look beyond the scintillating visuals of this `bizarre' yet captivating dance number. Aa Ja Gufaaon Main Aa, suggests on a subliminal level that Manu Verma is being drawn towards the dark forces represented by a claustrophobic cave (traditionally darkness has been associated with evil and a cave exemplifies our deep-rooted fears associated with darkness). Aa Ja Gunaah Kar Le, needs no further comment but symbolically speaking, it epitomizes Manu Verma's defilement through a femme fatale. These are just my thoughts but I believe that they add up pretty well, in conjunction with the story.

The way I look at it, Aks is part philosophy and part mythology, with the philosophic content dominating the latter. The setup is new, the values in question are age-old and venerable and the battle. epic and everlasting. That's again breaking the norm as far as Bollywood is concerned. I have not seen a Hindi film where the villain openly challenges societal norms and asserts that society and Manu Verma in particular, needs him. `Take away all rules and regulations and every Manu Verma would end up becoming a Raghavan' is a radical and apocalyptic statement, which on face value sounds foreboding and true! Does that mean that Raghavan is committed to heinous crimes, because he wishes to stamp on everyone's mind that evil is prevalent everywhere and we can't do without it.. a la Seven? The crimes in Seven had a purpose behind them. They were meant to leave an impression on a dormant society and thanks to the media coverage allotted to acts of gore, they were meant to shake the average man's spinal chord and stir him up, from his state of apathy!

Maybe not, but that's another thing that's rare in Hindi films..the ability to make you think. Aks is open-ended because it's philosophical and since it's philosophical, it's open to interpretation. And there in, lies it's bane. I think, and I might be completely wrong but the general movie-going public is restless. Entertainment tops their priority list and if they are not entertained, they are quick to reject a film. Zubeida is a flop. Kagaz Ke Phool, which is now hailed as a classic was a mega flop. No one can doubt the quality of these films but in essence, they were not entertaining. They make for an interesting viewing ONLY if one prefers content, even at the cost of entertainment. At the cost of sounding extremely presumptuous, I'd say that the audience in India is still not cinematically educated. This is not just a local phenomenon but even here, if one looks closely, A. I. is a flop, while Scary Movie II has made truck loads of money. Pearl Harbor will end its run with a near $200 million collection in the USA alone. Never mind the reviews, which paint a very sorry picture of the movie on paper.

Having said that, Rakesh Mehra needs a lesson or two in direction. I think he has done a great job for his maiden venture but it appears in the end that he was in love with every single frame of the movie. As an ad director, he was quick to introduce shots replete with style and inventive imagery but why did he decide to overstate things? Manoj Bajpai's introduction for example, was a little drawn out and so were the scenes involving his brother Mahadevan. However I didn't have a problem with the now infamous `Na Koi Marta Hai.' dialogue. It's interesting to contrast Raghavan with Anthony Hopkins' mind-boggling performance as Hannibal Lectar in `Silence of the Lambs'. He embodied evil just by the look in his eye. Raghavan on the other hand, uses everything from his hissing laughter to his long hair and a few menacing lines to accentuate, the evil within. Highly distinct styles, but I'm not sure subtlety would have registered itself in the Indian psyche, so it's easy to give Rakesh Mehra the benefit of doubt here

Amitabh Bachchan is a treat for sore eyes in Aks. In fact, he's a treat for `normal' eyes and a healthy mind and I believe, this is his best performance in years. Manu Verma is NOT an extension of his angry young man persona by any means. He is a wise-cracking, pragmatic Police Officer, who relies on his experience, rather than impulse. Amitabh Bachchan as Raghavan represents exactly what Manoj Bajpai tries hard to reveal..Evil in it's most inflated form. Raghavan is very much akin to Jack Nicholson's Joker and like him, suffers from a predilection for dramatics. Amitabh seamlessly transforms himself from one form to the other and makes it look like there was no effort involved at all. This is a performance that deserves the highest accolades but I'm not too sure if his effort will get the due recognition or not. In any case, as a diehard fan, I can hold my head high and say that this IS why I'm a fan of this consummate artist.

Manoj Bajpai looks menacing and his trademark laughter is used to good effect throughout the movie. The effort he has put in is visible but in all honesty, Aks is not his film. I think the scenes involving MB and Amitabh form the highlight of the film but their interaction, much to my chagrin is limited. I don't think this is his best performance to date but as usual, he has left a mark in his characteristic style. One of the victories of Aks is that it pits the two greatest actors of their respective generations and then tantalizingly refrains them from having a go at each other. They compliment each other instead of trying to outdo or overshadow the other. It's the type of clash, which may not leave you in rapture but makes you realize how two great actors share a great chemistry on screen. Notice that MB is uncharacteristically subdued in his scenes with AB, in sharp contrast to his overall image in the movie. And those are MB's finest moments I daresay.

Nandita Das and Raveena Tandon augment Manu Verma and Raghavan's characters respectively and are both competent. K K Raina as Mahadevan is exceptional and his performance, I have noted is terribly underrated. The guy who played the character `Arjun Shrivastav' was the only sore point in the whole cast. He appeared stiff and edgy, quite possibly because this was his debut performance?

To conclude, Aks is a novel attempt, which in more than one way, opens our eyes to ideas and thoughts that are radical and untested, but it questions it's own acceptance in the process. It is appropriate to say that Aks is an indulgent movie. But the important thing is, it registers itself and lingers in the mind, long after the show is over. You don't get any different than that in clichéd Bollywood and for that reason alone, Rakesh Mehra and Amitabh Bachchan deserve a special pat on the back. In the end, one only wishes: If only people had the patience to give the movie a shot, we could have commended ourselves for taking a giant stride forward.

P.S. I've already seen the film twice and the second viewing made for a better experience than the first one!

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