Thursday, June 30, 2011

The '180' Review

180 is two and a half hours of emotional torture that is so brutally assaultive in its determination to extort sympathy from viewers that it practically leaps off the screen and into their laps in order to get to it. The film is completely contrived and uneven - by the end we are screaming to yank our engines away from the forecourt as fuel spills - all that piano music, that gilded lighting, those glycerine tears - threatening a pyre of sense, sensibility and supersensitive subject choice. Siddharth’s heartfelt performance and the exquisite cinematography can't redeem the dramatic fallacies surrounding this mess.

Mind you, 180 has a rather intriguing first act, but by the end it just left me mourning the movie that might have been.  The idea of a young character facing death can’t help but be compelling in a way, but director Jayendra and his writing collaborator Umarji Anuradha aren’t satisfied with telling the story cleanly and straightforwardly. They instead adopt a structure that tells the story from the shifting memories of the central character, (though on close inspection it’s a technique they ignore as often as they follow it).

A stranger who calls himself Ajay (Siddharth) arrives in Kasi on a spiritual journey. After a super duper ultra slow motion bath in the river, he moves to Hyderabad and stays as a paying guest in the house of an elderly couple (Mouli and Geetha). Ajay indulges in weird things like selling moong falli on the streets, helping the slum kids deliver newspapers and standing up for the common man. Photo journalist Vidya (Nithya Menen) is smitten by Ajay’s Patch Adams attitude, and she wastes no time in (telling him how she feels about him). Ajay, who hides a traumatic past rejects her and leaves the city – it’s when Jayendra pulls the rug from under our feet by involving one of the characters in a terrible accident.

The frightening escalation of Ajay’s past is glimpsed in vivid flashbacks, but the result is a laughable jumble. Moreover, Jayendra and Anuradha ratchet up the mawkish quotient mercilessly. It’s not simply that they go for the jugular in scenes like the inevitable one where a character wants to make one last visit to his beloved.  It’s that they ladle on the plot holes with grotesque profusion. A character who suffers from a broken spine is shifted from Hyderabad to San Francisco for an emergency surgery. Another sees death – which is portrayed as a sidey black man wearing trench coats and carrying ropes. And while a patient battles life and death, we’re transported to the romantic flashback between Ajay and Renu (Priya Anand), which includes a picturesque joyous song sequence, then an obligatory sad cameo from Ajay’s mother who dies, which is almost immediately followed by a wedding and another romantic number.

Tonal inconsistencies be damned, 180 suffers from sheer sloppiness of script that results in scenes of comedic frivolity.  The dramatic turns in the second half are so conceptually off-kilter that they really succeed as unintentional hilarity. A prime example of the latter would be a scene where ‘Death’ (the black dude) stands on a flowing river, and points and laughs. Not to mention the big reveal – the scene is hysterically overlaid with a dramatic song so as to dampen its persuasive power. It's as if Siddharth has to convince even the filmmakers of his plight.

Priya Anand’s performance - talk about people going overboard in an effort to make an impression. I can understand why she would want to take this role, but her work here is so shrill and overbearing (even beyond the demands of the character) that it just becomes embarrassing. Nithya Menen comes off as painfully forced for most part of the film. The best performance is given by Balasubramaniam’s high speed camera that captures some truly amazing, detailed slow-mo nuggets (although why those sequences existed in the movie remains a mystery).

180 feels like there was an explosion at the sob story factory and little pieces from dozens of different films were jammed together into one ungainly mutant. The whole terminal illness melodrama attacks your heartstrings so relentlessly that by the time it's over you’d beg for a defibrillator.

First published in DNA

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