Despite all the good things I'd heard, I wasn't too excited to watch Black. It sounded too much like The Miracle Worker, and while I think the true story of Helen Keller and her teacher Annie Sullivan is a remarkable one, I didn't feel the need to sit down and watch a Bollywood movie so strikingly similar to something I'd read countless books and written endless papers on in high school.
But, luckily, I found the DVD online at a giveaway price, and gave Black a chance.
Believe it or not, this is now one of my favorite movies. It was so beautiful, touching, and uplifting that I forgot about the similarities to Helen and Annie. It made me laugh, it made me cry, and I was so invested in the characters and story that I felt like I was in the movie (Sanjay Leela Bhansali's fancy sets and fake snow didn't hurt, either). I watched as if I had never heard of anything like this before, as if Michelle was as real as Helen Keller had been, and her teacher a true symbol of compassion, patience, and love.
And if I thought Rani Mukerjee was a talented actress before, I hadn't seen half of what she is capable of until I saw Black. She used such a wide range of expressions (something I don't usually see her do), exercised her trademark charm in a whole new way, and turned out a truly amazing performance as Michelle. As if I needed one more reason to love Ms. Mukerjee...
Amitabh also did a fine job as Michelle's teacher Debraj. Once again, I forgot that this was "Big B." I haven't seen many of his films, but have noticed in several a distinct authoritative tone to his voice. This seemed to be missing in Black, which was nice because it made Debraj more "ordinary." I'm not criticizing Amitabh's other work (I enjoy him very much), but it takes a true actor to get you to believe in him as his character rather than as the superstar he really is (for example, it's hard for me to watch Shahrukh Khan in a film and see him as his character rather than Shahrukh Khan). But Big B. achieved this...he was outstanding.
Last but not least, let's not forget Ayesha Kapur as little Michelle! How many actors, let alone child actors, can pull a role like this off? I was in awe of her in every scene.
The friendship between the two leads, Michelle's persistence through school (with Debraj never giving up on her), and the family's reactions to the events in the film made Black an extraordinary and inspiring film. I'd recommend it to anyone, including those who have never seen a Bollywood movie. I liked Devdas, sort of liked Saawariya, but never really had my moment where I connected with Sanjay Leela Bhansali...Until now.
Text © 2008 Nida Nazir
Bitten By Bollywood