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Meenaxi: Tale of 3 Cities

Painter-cum-filmmaker M.F. Husain lets palette take precedence over plotting in "Meenaxi: Tale of 3 Cities," a beautifully lensed tale of a writer bewitched by a female muse that desperately needs a more solid script. An artier, free-form take on Bollywood formulae, this showcase for actress Tabu could find a niche offshore.

With:
With: Tabu, Raghubir Yadav, Kunnal Kapoor, Nadira Babbar, Sadiya Turabi, Zafar Ansari, Sagar Ishan Arya, Radhika Relia. (Hindi, English, Czech dialogue)

Painter-cum-filmmaker M.F. Husain lets palette take precedence over plotting in “Meenaxi: Tale of 3 Cities,” a beautifully lensed tale of a writer bewitched by a female muse that desperately needs a more solid script. An artier, free-form take on Bollywood formulae, this showcase for actress Tabu (niece of veteran thesp Shabana Azmi) could find a niche offshore on the strength of its visuals and the varied score by composer du jour A.R. Rahman, though wider dissemination will be on ancillary.

Pic made little impression at Indian wickets on April release, and was withdrawn by Husain after three weeks following a supposed hoo-ha over the title of the first song. (Muslim groups were reportedly offended by a quote from the Koran being used to describe female beauty.) The row has since been settled, and the song remains unchanged; Husain and distrib Yash Raj Films now plan to re-release the movie this summer, when it’s also expected to unspool in Europe and North America.

Tabu plays mystery woman Meenaxi (pronounced “Meenakshi”) who catches the eye of blocked Hyderabad novelist Nawab (Raghubir Yadav) at the lavish engagement party of his sister, Nagma (Sadiya Turabi). Meenaxi later turns up at his family manse, as he struggles alone on his latest tome, and tells him to make her the main character. Thereon, pic shuttles back and forth between sequences from the work in progress and scenes of her critiquing his writing.

Nawab’s initial attempt at a story features a lovelorn, poetic guy, Kameshwar (newcomer Kunnal Kapoor), falling for a young woman, Meenaxi (also Tabu), while on a trip to the picturesque desert city of Jaisalmar, in Rajasthan. When that yarn doesn’t work out to the real Meenaxi’s satisfaction, Nawab starts on another story, set in Prague, where Kameshwar meets a lively young Indo-Czech orphan, Maria Zarkova (Tabu again, mimicking accented Hindi).

This half-hour Prague seg, near the end, makes the most sense, and is closest to traditional Bollywood fare, including a full-fledged fantasy number with a unicorn. Rest of pic wanders around between its half-dozen songs — all of which show strong painterly influences with their splashes of vibrant color.

Nonetheless, Rahman’s rhythmic score is varied and exploratory, including a notable bicycle ballet incorporating the sound of handlebar bells.

Kapoor makes a bland romantic lead, and the geeky Yadav a not very sympathetic central character. A variable actress, the statuesque Tabu is good in the Prague section as the lively Maria but doesn’t bring much lightness or mystery to the two ill-defined Meenaxis.

Largely shot with a gently roving steadicam, pic was co-directed by Husain’s son, Owais, who was solely responsible for the Prague sequences.

Meenaxi: Tale of 3 Cities

Market / India

Production: A Yash Raj Films release of a Culture of the Street Films production. (International sales: Culture of the Street Films, Mumbai.) Produced by Reima-Faiza Husain. Directed by M.F. Husain. Screenplay, Owais Husain, M.F. Husain.

Crew: Camera (color), Santosh Sivan; editor, A. Sreekar Prasad; music, A.R. Rahman; lyrics, Rahat Indori, M.F. Husain; art director, Sharmishta Roy; costume designer, Ashley Rebello, Raeesa Husain; sound (Dolby Digital/DTS Digital), H. Sridhar, Rishi Oberoi; choreographers, Vaibhavi Merchant, Astad Deboo, Ileana Chittavisti; associate director, Owais Husain. Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (market), May 19, 2004. Running time: 124 MIN.

With: With: Tabu, Raghubir Yadav, Kunnal Kapoor, Nadira Babbar, Sadiya Turabi, Zafar Ansari, Sagar Ishan Arya, Radhika Relia. (Hindi, English, Czech dialogue)

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