When I was young and had heard ‘Lakdi ki Kathi’, the song perhaps evoked only emotions linked to innocence and childish glee. However, it was much later when I grew up and watched ‘Masoom’ did I realise the tragic tenor of this movie. The one that splintered your gut to innumerable little bits. Similarly, when I would read stories about Phoolan Devi, with Bandit Queen as her moniker, feelings of terror and curiosity would be my go-to reactions. It was only when I saw ‘Bandit Queen’, the movie did I realise the sheer magnitude of her story. This is what Shekhar Kapur’s movies were all about. They worked on a very different facade and revealed something truly spectacular and iconic.
Here we talk about four of his movies, all brilliant; all stunning; and all with acclaim of massive proportions.
In the hierarchy of tearjerker songs, ‘Masoom’ rules the roost, but the sheer subtle anxiety that the songs give you is surreal. Much like the story of a child encountering the most emotionally raw experience one can, the movie is built on the foundation of ethical behaviour. Naseeruddin Shah’s love, Shabana Azmi’s reluctant dutifulness, and Jugal Hansraj’s untimely growing up. This movie was wrought with emotions so strong that you couldn’t help but relate to the attributes of all the characters. And for Kapur’s directorial debut, to showcase this was nothing short of magic. Love, family, belonging, and loss -a life spans across these four elements and to encapsulate them through a relationship on screen so masterfully truly showed us the directorial paradigm that Kapur was going to embark upon.
2. Mr. India
Mogambo Khush Hua. This dialogue is so thoroughly iconic in the Indian cinema scene it is only paralleled by the classic that is ‘Sholay’. A dialogue that can be chanted at the drop of the hat, it became a pop-cultural phrase used by all of us. However, what it implied in the movie ‘Mr. India’ was anything but ubiquitous. Said by the very greater-than-life Mogambo, this dialogue hinted at terror and anarchy. Masked as a movie replete with tropes that could easily pit it as a children’s favourite, it was a movie that explored abject capitalism, ruthless socio-economic disparity, and acute helplessness. Kapur’s brilliance to make this movie funny yet provocative at the same time is yet to meet its match.
3. Bandit Queen
The really crazy thing about this movie was how it was thoroughly relatable; how ‘Bandit Queen’s’ retaliation and revenge was eerily vindicating the viewers. Anyone who has ever travelled across Chambal would know the terror it would exude, anyone who has ever been a kid of the 80s-90s would know the dacoits in the area were notoriously infamous, but even with a knowledge of this powerful reality, Phoolan Devi was a hero. A hero who sought out to exact revenge on everyone who wronged her simply because of her caste, her gender, her economic class.
Similarly -Queen Elizabeth was one with dichotomies. She was brave, she was victorious, she was equally vulnerable. Kapur’s first of many forays in Hollywood, this movie amassed multiple accolades but the biggest was the sheer force of nature that was Kapur’s direction and Cate Blanchette’s flawless performance. The movie shunned myths about how a Queen is looked at by the world, it debunked pre-conceived notions about the relationship between strength and vulnerability. This movie, full of its surreal set and costume design, and prosthetic work, and star cast was sheer poetry unfolding on the big screen!