Review: ‘The Black Garment’

Drawn from short stories by Steinbeckian Indian author Sadaat Hasan Manto, adapter-director Fareeda's debut feature "The Black Garment" has style and atmosphere, but a far too slippery grasp on narrative.

Drawn from short stories by Steinbeckian Indian author Sadaat Hasan Manto, adapter-director Fareeda’s debut feature “The Black Garment” has style and atmosphere, but a far too slippery grasp on narrative. As a result, seriocomic mosaic loses interest after a while. But it’s accomplished enough to continue traveling the fest circuit, and evinces enough talent to suggest helmer as one to watch.

Nominal protag is Sultana, a prostitute who’d prospered with pimp Khudabaksh in their small town. But moving to Bombay has proven a bad idea; despite her looks and guile, customers are few, while his hopes of becoming a professional photographer lead nowhere. Slim suspense is built around whether the now-broke Sultana can finagle a black garment she needs for a religious festival. But for most part, pic weaves hazily from one underdeveloped plot strand to another, with larger-than-life characters in the slum neighborhood including wise older prosties, an alcoholic-writer stand-in for real-life Manto, a local “godfather” who loses his confidence with his treasured mustache, et al. Pic benefits from stylized realism in production design and saturated-color lensing.

The Black Garment

Production

An Andaaz Prods. presentation in association with F for Film and the National Film Development Corp. Produced by Paveen Kumar. Directed by Fareeda. Screenplay by Fareeda, adapted from stories by Saadat Hasan Manto.

Crew

Camera (color), Avijit Mukul Kishore; editor, Aseem Sinha; music, Ved Nair; production designer, Bhupen Khakhar. Reviewed at Montreal World Film Festival (Cinema of Tomorrow), Aug. 24, 2002. Hindi dialogue with English subtitles. Running time: 117 MIN.

With

Sureka Sikri, Sadiya Siddiqui, Irfan Khan, Jeetsu Shastri, Vrajesh Hirjee, Kay Kay, Sheeba Chaddha.
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