BOLLYWOOD REVIEW: Is Black Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Best Movie?

Published by Shah Shahid on

This Black movie review was originally published in 2005, after the release of the film. It was on the now defunct MSN Live Spaces platform from back in the day. Yes. That’s how long I’ve been reviewing movies. In order to keep an archive of my reviews, I’ve republished it on this site. You know, for posterity. Also because I’m a hoarder. Both in real life, and digitally. So read on and enjoy my super long-winded Black movie review. I was incredibly flowery with my prose then. Or at least I thought I was. 

My Original Black Movie Review From 2005

We walk by the same street every day but don’t notice the colourful flowers that enrich the path to our destination. We see the faces of people in our lives almost every single day, but as soon as we close our eyes, we lose those faces. Arguments, disagreements and our stubbornness create enmities and distances between people, causing long periods of silence between us. We always have many an opportunity to say what’s in our hearts, but rarely do. We struggle to express our most basic thoughts and emotions. 

Not once in these moments do we, rather can we, ever understand the desire to see, truly see; to not only hear but to listen to nature all around us. Never can we understand the struggle to create the words to tell someone we love them. Never can we understand how sensations such as cold or the stinging pain of a needle, can ever feel to one who has never seen a needle, to begin with. 

Are we the lucky ones, who can see but fail to appreciate the everyday beauty in our lives? Are we the lucky ones who hear, but fail to understand the simplicity of such sounds around us? Far from it. We are anything but lucky to have such senses, such God-given staples which we just use, for the sake of utilizing such senses as tools to help us get through each day of our lives. We look at things because they’re there in front of us, and we fail to actually see them; we communicate, without ever truly expressing ourselves. Even by using such senses, we are unable to appreciate, for instance, how much more beautiful our surroundings get after snow covers them.

Black Movie Review Rating: 4 Out Of 5 Stars

And if such is the case, then we are unable to do the very things by which we set the standards for others who are devoid of these senses and look down upon them. It is they who are lucky, who without sight or sound, are able to truly perceive life as it should be. It is they, who despite being in darkness, can have an existence brighter than most of us.

Black. A life summed up in one word. Black. Should we consider this one word to reflect a life of intrigue and mystery? Hardly. 

As described by Michelle (Rani Mukherji) in the opening scene, a life of black means just that; a life covered in darkness. A life which starts in darkness, but one that lives on with so much more light than anyone can ever hope to have. Black. A story that can move us, touches us and spread that light almost within our very souls. Melodramatic as it sounds, such is the reaction even a cynic must have after walking away, from… Black.

When one hears of a story about an uneducated, lower-middle-class family in India that is entirely deaf and mute, it’s almost unappealing to want to know more. The story of a Non-Resident Indian that returns to India to live with another family, only to fall in love with the daughter, causes most to roll their eyes at the thought of, yet another, ‘typical Indian love story’. And for some, the news of someone attempting to remake a literary classic such as “Devdas” was shocking enough. 

The Brilliance Of Director Sanjay Leela Bhansali 

Yet here we are, years after “Khamoshi”, “Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam” and “Devdas”, and a filmmaker such as Sanjay Leela Bhansali enriches and raises the bar of the emotional content within Indian cinema with each one of his movies. And without his proven ability to bring such compelling stories to the big screen, the subtle yet almost unappealing subject matter of Black would not have been as successful as it has been. 

Let’s be honest, a Bollywood movie about a blind, deaf girl and her teacher which is devoid of any songs whatsoever, without the names Amitabh Bachchan and Rani Mukherji being a part of said movie, would not be any less amazing, but it would be a lot less appreciated by the masses. And for that reason alone, Bhansali is a filmmaker who could, and by all means, should be able to bridge the gap between commercial movies and grassroots art films. Black is simple, it’s subtle. 

But within the simplicity and subtlety, Bhansali can make you hold your breath and cause every muscle in your body to tense up; not with tear-jerking drama or in nail-biting suspense, but rather at an eight-year-old girl’s realization of knowing how to utter the word ‘water’ for the first time in her life after being forcefully drenched in the fountain on her front yard by her teacher. 

Black Movie Review Praises The Simplicity Of Its Subtlety

And that’s all Black is a story about the life of a blind and deaf girl trying to grasp normalcy, not with the help of a cane, but leaning on the support and love of a fifty-plus-year-old man who was to be her eyes and ears from the age of eight until what she thought was to be forever. The simplicity of this story is what separates it from any other commercial film. Black isn’t a film that is out to leave its audience in tears or to ‘wow’ them. This in the look and feel of the movie. 

The snow-covered locales look breathtaking while the indoor scenes look polished with a fine brush as if trying to tone down the intensity of the colours and the otherwise Victorian beauty of the time the story is set in. Cinematographer Ravi K. Chandran allows the story to be told elegantly, by giving the film a very plain look and overall feel to it. This in a way conveys the simplicity of the lives of the characters, because the life of a blind girl would not, could not be visually stunning, like Bhansali’s previous films.

The Musical Choices Of Black Are Brilliant

Along with being visually impaired, Black movie review is the story of a deaf girl as well. This might have been the reason for Bhansali to choose not to picturize any songs within the movie. Forget the picturizations of songs, Bhansali refused to even compose any of the typical songs found on the soundtrack of a Bollywood movie. The soundtrack of Black is entirely comprised of background music. And with a performance-driven movie such as Black, the background score plays an essential part in communicating the angst and desperation of the main character who struggles to express herself to her family. Composer Monty Sharma’s orchestra-like music with high crescendos effectively conveys the dedication and devotion of a teacher whose student’s achievements are his own

 Almost 10 years after his debut film “Khamoshi: The Musical”, Sanjay Leela Bhansali brings before us the story of another handicapped character. But through these movies, it seems that Bhansali is attempting to show that, people who are at a physical disadvantage can accomplish as much as we, and are just as able, if not more, than us. 

The Powerful Message Of The Black Movie Review

The movie captures the message perfectly within the movie by the teacher of the little girl, Debraj Sahai played by the legendary Amitabh Bachchan. There is a scene where the father of the challenged girl demands that the teacher stop disciplining her because of her disability. Debraj spins around to confront the father and declares not just to him it would seem, but to everyone in the little girl’s life that, “she is not disabled!”. And from that one confrontation, it becomes clear that this man, the teacher, will not treat the blind and deaf little girl as if she was special. He was going to let her be, for the first time in her eight-year-old young life, like every other eight-year-old spoiled brat and yell at her accordingly.

The powerhouse of Mr. Amitabh Bachchan can not have a rival within Bollywood (or Hollywood, as some might add.) An acting career spanning over thirty years, a production house, and dabbling in the musical arts is something mastered by this veteran actor who refuses to go to Hollywood, despite his talents and excellent command of the English language. But now, some are saying that after Black, Hollywood might come-a-callin’. 

Black Movie Review Commends Amitabh Bachchan’s Performance

With a short fuse, an easily frustrated mindset and a quirky personality, to say the least, the character of Debraj Sahai has the fragile task of teaching an eight-year-old spoiled blind and deaf girl how to communicate. With the hopes of her being able to live a normal life. One can’t help but let out a tearful chuckle at the sight of the eight-year-old blind girl calling out to her mother and father for the first time in her life. And then ask for her teacher who taught her how to do so, giving him the importance of family in her young life. 

Mr. Bachchan’s portrayal of an aged man struggling with alcoholism who finds inspiration within this newfound voice of that young girl is amazing. His performance in Black truly captures the frustration and desperation that a teacher must go through in their efforts to help people who are unable to experience the simple joys of sight and sound. The chemistry shared on screen between the sixty-plus actor and ten-year-old debutant Ayesha Kapoor as the young Michelle is something that even leading Bollywood pairs fail to produce on the big screen.

Ayesha Kapoor Is Absolutely Brilliant In Black

Portraying the character of blind and deaf Michelle McNally is a task that proved to be difficult for Rani Mukherji, even though she did so flawlessly. But ten-year-old Ayesha Kapoor deserves a great deal of kudos for her portrayal of eight-year-old Michelle McNally. At such an early age, this young lady has given the performance of some people’s lives, fully capturing the unrelenting, rebellious and disobedient nature of an eight-year-old child. For a child artist, that is not that difficult to do. 

But to convey the confused, frightened, irrational and unruly emotional state of mind of a girl, who, from birth has experienced neither sight nor sound, is a performance that was heart-wrenching to watch. Setting the stage for the story in the first half, Ms. Kapoor left the rest to one of the newbloods of Bollywood, the green-eyed Rani Mukherji.

How Rani Mukherji Commands The Screen In Black Movie Review

Despite the throng of actresses who can hold their own among the rest, there is not one actress today who is in the same calibre of talent or can command the same respect. But after essaying the central role of Michelle McNally in Black, Rani Mukherji ensures her immortality within Bollywood. Rani Mukherji’s portrayal of the persevering blind and deaf girl mentioned throughout this article is strong enough to bring a tear to one’s eyes. An example is the scene of her speech at her college graduation. 

To watch a forty-year-old blind and deaf woman finally graduate from college after years and years of struggling to do so is an accomplishment that most of us will never be able to comprehend. Ms. Mukherji’s performance in that scene as she gleefully rocks back and forth describing to her fellow graduates who are years younger than her, in sign language, her joy of finally being able to graduate, is a sight that leaves one with a feeling similar to when a friend or family member achieves something they’ve longed for. Her persistent desire of wanting to bring back the memory of her aged teacher suffering from Alzheimer’s, in the latter half of the movie, can fill one with unrelenting hope. To see a character struggle to, not achieve anything great, but to be normal much like everyone, evokes many an emotion. 

Black Movie Review Succeeds With The Chemistry Of Its Two Leads

Such is the scene where Debraj informs his student that she failed all her classes for the first year of college, and after a quiet moment, both teacher and student break out in jubilant celebration. But it is not a celebration of failure, but rather a celebration of all they had achieved to even be at college and then to fail in her classes, like a ‘normal’ college student. It brings a silly smile to one’s face to see someone excited about something which, to the rest of us is negative and bad, but to her, it was a chance to be like everyone else and fail like everyone else, 

Rani Mukherji was able to not only bring to life a character that can’t see, speak or hear, but she was able to make the audience feel for her through every careful step of her dark life. Obviously, the lead actors play an integral part in the storytelling of any movie. But the story of the Black movie review is further enriched with the strength and superb talent of the supporting cast. 

 Let’s Talk About The Director Of Black. Again. 

A film is only as good as its execution, especially art films, but the masterful precision of Black is something truly exceptional. Bhansali is careful in the style with which he brings forth many sensitive scenes, which are still able to hold one’s attention through the slow narrative of the story with unconventional twists intertwined with some sweet moments. His ability to not vulgarize or exploit the talents of his performers is something that some of us would like to see happen a lot, especially in the shallow, commercial cinema that Bollywood produces. An example of the sensibly handled scenes within Black is that of the kiss shared between a thirty-something actress and the aging sixty-plus veteran. 

The scene of the kiss between teacher and student where Sahai allows his sightless, soundless student to experience something she never may in her life is extremely intellectually by Bhansali. The implementation of smart filmmaking to tell stories, like Black, of such grand emotional magnitude is what separates Sanjay Leela Bhansali from the rest of the commercial filmmakers of Bollywood.

Black Movie Review Conclusion 

A movie like Black is rare, to say the least. Because of Black’s strong performances, emotionally orientated subject material and performers that hail from the commercial light, it might just be India’s first commercial, art film. And if Black is any indication of its director’s already demonstrated talents, then Sanjay Leela Bhansali is a filmmaker who might be able to combine the worlds of popular mainstream films with the underappreciated, yet nonetheless influential art house cinema.

Shah Shahid

Entertainment Writer | Film & TV Critic | Bollywood Blogger | Host of Split Screen Podcast | Proud Geek Girl Dad


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