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Siraj Syed


Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for FilmFestivals.com and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. He is also an acting and dialogue coach. 

 

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Life is Good, Review: Is it?

Life is Good, Review: Is it?

A sweeping statement, to be sure. Life has its ups and down and is good to some people while not so good to others. To the central character in Life is Good, Rameshwar, played by Jackie Shroff, life has been rather bad, on the whole. So, bad, in fact, that he contemplates committing suicide at least twice. Yes, there is a long period in between when he finds love in an unlikely quarter, but like the tagline of LG (Lucky Goldstar) Electronics, ‘Life’s Good’, the title remains more of a tagline that conceals a lot of bad things happening to good people. To appreciate the film at all, you will have to first digest the fact that Jackie plays a postal clerk working in Mahabaleshwar, a hill-station in Maharashtra, and that his mother has recently died, leaving him alone and deeply depressed. Not the ideal vehicle to cast Jaggu Dada in, you might say, but give it to him: under the direction of Ananth Narayan Mahadevan, he does a fairly decent job. Sadly, the tale of an old man’s friendship with a six-year-old, delayed in release by over four years and shown at the Rajasthan International Film Festival in 2019, has many loopholes that drag it down.

Based on the hospital diary of the film's story-writer, Life is Good begins with Rameshwar rowing a boat in a Mahabaleshwar lake, and then reaching for sleeping pills, unable to cope with the loss of his mother, who, going by his age and looks, would have been about 80. We are not told what happened to his father or whether he has any siblings. Just when he is about to swallow the pills, there is a crash. Somebody has hit a ball through one of his glass windows, and the ball has fallen inside. He goes to the window to see that it is a little girl. He returns the ball. A woman comes around to apologise, saying she is his neighbor, and that the child, Mishti, is very naughty. Rameshwar sees this as a sign to desist from committing suicide, while the girl finds a ‘dost’ friend. Soon, the highly unlikely relationship blossoms, and Rameshwar becomes a part of the girl’s family. At her behest, he even travels on the ladder fixed to her school bus. Mishti is a girl and a friend, but not a girl-friend, declares Rameshwar.

The lady looking after her is an aunt. Mishti’s mother died in a car accident. Her father, who abandoned her when she was three, and married again, now wants her custody, because his wife cannot conceive, while the aunt wants to save her from such an irresponsible parent. At work, Rameshwar, who had become slack and disoriented after the loss of his mother, becomes time-conscious and efficient, thanks to the new-found friendship. As Mishti grows, Rameshwar showers her with gifts. One day, her father arrives, to take her away. Not willing to go with him at any cost, Mishti climbs a cup-board and jumps, breaking her leg. Advised long-term bed-rest, she evades being taken away. But her father comes back when she has just about recovered, and threatens legal action. This time, he has to contend with Rameshwar, who shoots off the legal sections under which his taking away Mishti forcibly, would be major crime, punishable with long term imprisonment. The father relents. But someone else is going to take Mishti away soon.

Mishti means sweet in Bengali, and the makers have retained the name, though the girl is not portrayed as being Bengali. Whereas the script has a couple of real twists in the tale, Sujit Sen’s original story, with Varsha Jain and Ravi Mahadevan as co-writers, and Ananth Narayan Mahadevan’s direction, are found lacking in some departments. Rameshwar’s age remains undefined. Having an actor whose real current age is 65 does not help. You have to show him aging by around twenty years by the time the film ends. Assuming his screen age as 57 when the film beings, he should have been shown as retiring three years later, instead of taking constant digs at a character who plays the tea-boy, asking him to take voluntary retirement, and is at least 20 years younger than him in real life. And towards the end of the film, he should have been 80, which is not the case. There is no indication of who were the other children playing with Mishti when she smacked the ball. Surely she was not alone. How does Rameshwar, a mere postal clerk, live in such a swanky home, but either walks or takes public transport to go to work. By making Rameshwar eschew his suicide plans twice, both times as a result of an unexpected noise, the makers have tried to simplify seep depression as needing a mere trigger to get cured.

There are four characters with worthwhile roles. Darshan Jariwala is wasted, Rajit Kapur as the Postmaster seems lost in a confused characterisation, while Mohan Kapur, as the father, reads his part well. The woman playing the aunt also has a vague persona. Where did she suddenly come from? What is her source of income? Why did she choose Mahabaleshwar? Ananth Narayan Mahadevan is capable of and has delivered much superior products, like the Marathi films Mee Sindhutai Sapkal and Mai Ghaat. Life is Good is not as good, unfortunately.

Coming to performances, Jackie Shroff might surprise his critics with what he has achieved. In a couple of scenes, he really takes you by surprise. But the trade-mark gait does not go with his personality. It would be unrealistic to expect more out of him. Saniya Anklesaria, as six year-old Mishti is a delight to watch. Precocious to the core, all children aged six or so find natural love pouring from the audience. Carefully cast, Ananya as Mishti at 13 readily blends into Saniya’s rendition of the six year-old. And the grown-up Misthi, a bubbly 18-20ish, played by Ankita Shrivastav, steals your heart too.

Rajit Kapur deserved better. He is made to play a man who thinks and behaves irrationally. While that is not a problem, there should be some back-story to justify such behavior. Darshan Jariwala as Peepu uncle has almost a special appearance, and weeps convincingly at the passing away of his dog. Mohan Kapur is a husband who has probably married on the rebound after losing his first wife, and has been unable to reconcile with the idea of raising a three-year-old. But when he is faced with a second tragedy, he becomes selfish and wants Mishti back. Not really a full-blown villain, his character has shades of grey, and he has used them well. As the aunt, Suneeta Sengupta impresses. Lastly, there is dependable Saanand Verma as the office tea-boy, another half-developed role.

Credits include photography by Alphonse Roy, which captures the beauty of Mahabaleshwar and Panchgani only in small doses, music by Abhishek Ray (including an Asha Bhosle number), background score by late Ajit Varman, lyrics by Manvendra and Nivedita Joshi, sound design by Bhagat Singh Rathore and art by R. Varman. Kudos to the editor for keeping the length at a very healthy 100 minutes.

Life is Good is probably more about death than about life. Besides a little girl, it uses pets like a tortoise and a dog to weave emotions. It has its heart in the right place and makes the most of what is at hand. Perhaps it was executed in trying circumstances, but it remains a case of delivering good when better was possible. Is it good? That it is. Is it better than good? No.

Rating: ** ½

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xAo7YNArum4

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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of FilmFestivals.com and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.


Bandra West, Mumbai

India



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