CAPSULE: The story of Helen Keller and THE MIRACLE WORKER is transplanted to Northern India so that it can be embedded in a larger story. Ayesha Kapoor and Rani Mukherjee share the role of Michelle McNally, blind and deaf from infancy. She is rescued from limbo by a brilliant teacher (Amitabh Bachchan) who years later must be rescued from the ravages of Alzheimer's Disease. Sanjay Leela Bhansali built a visually beautiful film around the story of "The Miracle Worker." It is hard to imagine such an elegant and satisfying film coming from the Bollywood system. Rating: low +3 (-4 to +4) or 8/10
Some of the most artistic and beautiful films we are seeing these days are coming from Asia. That is in large part because computer graphics have made a small proportion of new Western films visually spectacular, but at a very large cost. SPIDER-MAN 3 is rumored to have cost more than a third of a billion dollars. Asia has responded with their own films of visual splendor. Production and labor costs are so much less there that beautiful films simply cost a lot less to make. Filmmakers like China's Zhang Yimou have been making stunning-looking films, though of late in films like CURSE OF THE GOLDEN FLOWER his images seem more important to him than is his story. In 2002 Indian director Sanjay Leela Bhansali made an opulent adaptation of the popular melodramatic novel DEVDAS for a small fraction of what such a beautiful film would cost in the US. Bhansali knows better than Zhang how to balance story and visuals in this new technological environment. For BLACK he wrote his own story, no doubt inspired by some version of THE MIRACLE WORKER. Here the story matches the visuals in power.
BLACK is the dramatic story of Michelle McNally, once a girl retrieved from the oblivion of being left blind and deaf from an early childhood disease. Later in life she must return the favor to her teacher who is then lost in his own oblivion in life that is Alzheimer's disease. THE MIRACLE WORKER apparently inspired the story, and in fact much of the first half of BLACK is a recapitulation of THE MIRACLE WORKER. The second half of the film tells of Michelle's struggle to adapt to the world in spite of her disability, her relationship with the teacher who saved her, and later her attempts to retrieve him from the clutches of Alzheimer's. As she has been becoming more aware of her wider world, his world is collapsing in on him.
Rani Mukherjee plays Michelle McNally as an adult who is three-quarters British, one quarter Indian and lives in Northern India. As the film begins her beloved Mr. Sahai (Amitabh Bachchan) is found wandering in her town years after he disappeared. Her memory goes back to what this man has meant to her. An early childhood disease robbed her of both her hearing and her vision. Much like Helen Keller she lived like an animal because there was no known way to reach her. An alcoholic teacher, himself almost giving up on life, takes on the task of teaching Michelle. A fictional story of this taming might be expected but because the filmmakers could not improve upon the story of Helen Keller in the play and film THE MIRACLE WORKER they instead simply borrow it. That story forms most of the first half of the film.
As the story continues, Michelle goes to college and (surprise!) she finds that it actually is very difficult for her. But with patience she learns Braille and is able to see a much more complex world. The story covers family drama and her life at school and her religious life. Slowly we see Mr. Sahai fighting lapses of memory. He then disappears altogether. The film builds to the moment that started it. After ten years of apparent wandering Sahai is back in Michelle's village and in need of help. This is melodrama, but it is good melodrama.
Visually Bhansali creates his images with a limited set of colors. He rarely strays from white, gray, blue, and, of course, black. Black is very important to the entire film. Michelle creates her own definition for the color black that has engulfed her life. Black becomes for her a metaphor, a mystical metaphysical color.
BLACK is a very moving film. It is nearly as moving as Arthur Penn's version of THE MIRACLE WORKER and then tells its own story which is nearly as powerful. I rate BLACK a low +3 on the -4 to +4 scale or 8/10.
Film Credits: http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0375611/
Mark R. Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Copyright 2007 Mark R. Leeper