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Star-Bulletin Features

Tuesday, November 9, 1999

Kunhikuttan, played by Mohanlal, right, is a Kathakali
dancer whose life and depth of longing is examined
in "Vanaprastham: The Last Dance."

Languid ‘Vanaprastham’
tells basic love story

By Burl Burlingame


This film is one of seven nominated for HIFF's Golden Maile Award for feature film.


HIFF OH! Indian movies! At least the kind that hit the festival circuits -- not the cheerful Hindi musicals or Sikh soap operas -- we're talking about the serious stuff. Here's what to expect:

A) Endless soulful stares.

B) Neck rubbing. Indians rub their own necks on film more than any group on earth. They do it when trying to express a thought, as if they're squeezing so hard that thoughts pop loose from their brains and out their mouths.

C) Water, and more water. You can count on rain, dips in the river, drippy faucets, leaky roofs, etc., to appear every few minutes.

D) No sex.

E) Quiet passages in which you hear the crickets chirp and the wind blow and the water drip for maybe an hour (or does it just seem like it?).

F) Long scenes that build up slowly and then are too-abruptly cut away. Dramatus interruptus.

G) Gorgeous, albeit static, photography.

H) Napping as a way of life.

You're either in the groove with an Indian movie or you're not. If you're the antsy type, stay away. There are many subtle pleasures in the format, though, and this year's entry, "Vanaprastham: The Last Dance" not only has the requisite water-dripping scenes, it has something I've rarely -- OK, never -- seen in a movie: A lead character that spends most of the film dressed as if he's Divine portraying a Mardi Gras float. We're talking more facepaint than Liddy Dole, gigantic hoop skirts, clangy jewelry. And the sight of him makes the Indian babes get all swoony.

Check those ethnic prejudices at the door. The primary character is a Kathakali dancer, a sect that uses such costumery, plus elaborate mugging and hand-jive to illuminate the adventures of Krishna. His name is Kunhikuttan and he becomes so adept at playing Arjuna (a legendary Indian figure, sort of Robin to Krishna's Batman) that he attracts the interest of a gorgeous lady playwright, who, as it turns out, cranks out Arjuna adventures.

That old story again: Boy pretends to be mythological figure, girl digs mythological figure, girl sort of digs boy because of his mythological role-playing expertise. One thing leads to another (we know because we see Kunhikuttan with his greasepaint awry) and soon there's a little faux-Arjuna running around.

Alas, both characters are married. Lots of soulful looks result. When will women learn that actors aren't as cool as the characters they play?

Tech credits are super, as usual with an Indian film. Shot in Panavision, with a couple of subtle electronic effects.


Bullet Vanaprastham: The Last Dance
Bullet Stars: 2
Bullet Rated: No rating
Bullet When: 6:30 p.m. today at Hawaii Theatre Center, 6 p.m. Friday at Pearl Highlands
Bullet Tickets: $6 general; $5 Hawaii Film Fans, students, seniors and military
Bullet Call: 528-HIFF (4433)

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