Put down that copy of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Symbolism! You'll spoil your dinner! Roti Kapada aur Makaan
If we didn't already know it, Om Shanti Om made sure that filmi fans associated Manoj Kumar with covering part of his face with his hand. I don't know why on earth this should be, do you?
And if the rumors of him talking about suing are true, then he needs to get a sense of humor about himself pronto.
Now that I've seen Roti Kapada aur Makaan, what I want to know is whether one of his other major traits is indecision. Why should he wear one hat when five will do? He's the writer, director, editor, producer, and hero. He makes it an ensemble full of other stars: Shashi, Amitabh, Zeenat, Moushumi Chatterjee, and Aruna Irani. He divvies out the threads of the story among many interesting characters. When I started the movie, I figured these would all add up to excess, but I have to admit that I found RKM to be a mostly entertaining take on a straightforward story, using all these resources to support its admirable message. The number of characters and their various back stories came together well to show a picture of an interconnected community in which everyone suffers when any one component becomes selfish. It doesn't take Manoj's character being named "Bharat" for you to figure out that the collection of characters and their plight represent India, a socialist-ish version of India in which we, the people, must care for each other and keep the nation pure and noble. Its use of teary or steely self-sacrifice is too heavy for my taste, but I'll assume that that's a concept that has importance and resonance to the movie's original audiences and times and move on.
Let me put it this way. If RKM were an elevator - a patriotic elevator in Delhi, ridden and operated by representatives of every corner and population of the country, working together to reach a better life - it may be rising, but it's at maximum capacity. The addition of any other element to this about-to-burst film would have exceeded the load limit and sent it crashing to the ground.
Now for the aspect of the movie that I found truly mind-blowing: the non-stop barrage of image- and story-based symbolism. "Why imply something if you can show it in diamonds and fake blood?" seems to be the school of thought. Some examples:
Will Zeenat be involved in heartbreak?
Whose blood might that be in the part of her hair?
What do you think happens to the woman in this sari?
She couldn't possibly be raped by the local flour merchant, could she?
Oh no! Do I sense someone feels confused out of sorts with what's going on in his life?
We couldn't just have the "bad" son reform. He had to become a soldier who lost an arm while sneaking behind enemy lines to stop an evil plot.
To make matters even more distracting, there were a lot of weird visuals too. Sometimes they amplified the already thick symbolism, and though I found them completely unnecessary, I could understand why they were there. But at other times they seemed to be just for kicks.
We're in looooooooove!
But how will our future turn out?
For whom does Aruna dance?
Guess which one is the good girl!
Returning to that decision-making problem I alluded to earlier, it's as though when Manoj got around to working out the visuals of his movie, he was a kid in a candy shop. No camera trick too devoid of nutrition, no filter too sugary-colored, no symbolic imagery too indulgent. It's good to try new things when you make a movie, and to have some fun, but not to the point of distracting attention from your message. Maybe I'm just too 2008 on the other side of the world to connect to this, but I found it all to be waaaaaay too much. "We get it!" I kept screaming at the screen.
Roti Kapada aur Makaan also disappointed me by squandering its potential for Shashitabh. I know Sakshay is the pair of the day, what with us all waiting for Tashan, but give me some Shashitabh any day. (Shashitabh fans, please note: I'm planning a piece exploring Shashi-Amitabh pairings and what makes them so very great. After I watch Deewaar, of course. Contributions and collaborations welcome.) Both have enjoyable characters who help the hero, but this is all we got, even though it wouldn't have been a stretch to let them interact more, especially in the rambling fight scene at the end.
What a shame.
Anyway. If you like heavy-handed, sometimes obvious, sometimes trippy symbolism in a serious, usually well-acted movie with a message, then Roti Kapada aur Makaan is the movie for you! Other appeals include: Amitabh being patriotic and heroic but not mired down in jingoism, one-armed Amitabh on a motorcycle vs. ten bad guys, Moushumi as a strong, non-schmaltzy female character*, Aruna as a stumbling drunk, and the token Sikh character beating up people in a sewer.
Oh, and Shashi in white suits. I guess he's supposed to be spotlessly noble?
Fine by me!
* I have some questions about this character and what the movie was saying about her, but I can't raise them without spoilers, so if anyone wants to chat about this, email me.