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Bachchan brings warmth to Penguins

By Tanveer Bookwala
April 16, 2007 15:37 IST
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An envious female fights another for the attention and love of her man. A father walks the extra mile for his only child. An excruciating and painful cry fills the cold atmosphere when love is lost. Yes, it is all about loving your family and no, this isn't the synopsis of Karan Johar's latest. It is in fact a wonderful documentary directed by Luc Jacquet which follows penguins travelling to their breeding ground in Antarctica.

On the face of it, March of the Penguins -- released theatrically in India and dubbed as Penguins: A Love Story -- is just another documentary but once the lights dim and Amitabh Bachchan's expressive baritone warms the frosty winter, we are introduced to our 'almost human' friends. We see thousands of happy feet walking in unison and hear sharp high-decibel squabbles of mixed emotions gossiping at what appears to be a tea party.

The viewer is enthralled with what looks like a secret magical ice-kingdom coming to life before our very eyes.

And every kingdom has its king.

We soon meet its emperor, a handsome male, one that could make every female penguin go weak in the beak. The emperor shuffles his glorious skin and walks his magnificent walk; elegant and confident, he looks very much the leader that he is. The Emperor Penguins picks the breeding ground knowing that the ice there is solid all year round so there is no danger of the ice becoming too soft to support the colony. He is after all, in charge.

The mating season begins.

The lovemaking is noble, sensuous and smooth, whilst close-ups delicately pan over the slippery smooth ice to soft music to spin the romantic saga. The electric love can be felt in the air. These are just some of the rituals that cinematographers Laurent Chalet and Jerome Maison paint brilliantly on celluloid to portray natures clockwork evolutionary design. The nasty chill arrives huffing and puffing like the many predators for whom the little penguins can be easy prey;

the merciless wind howls nastily as thousands of penguins closely huddle with their backs to the angry wind. The parents equally share responsibilities walking almost 130kms each way to collect the essential food for their little ones and their own survival almost always putting their little ones before them; their behaviour, nearly anthropomorphic.

Of course this review would be incomplete without crediting the legend that is Mr Bachchan. Right from the opening of the film, we are immersed into a very personal world. The narration is not very linear or straightforward devoid of emotion like the American version, which has Morgan Freeman's voice. It's more personal. Mr Bachchan's voice is more intimate and he tells it like he is telling a story often adding his trademark wit and subtle humour with lines like 'What do I know? I'm just Amitabh Bachchan.' His voice is not used in the way that it is normally used. It is totally disarming with an old world charm that touches you and extends a warm hug in the nippy cold.

This film has some of the most astonishing cinematography ever seen in a documentary, including underwater dreamlike footage (including a frightening sea leopard snarling at the screen) beneath the ice of penguins while they feed and are sometimes being fed on. Mr Jacquet and his cinematographers, Laurent Chalet and Jerome Maison, have achieved the impossible. The penguins look like they are performing for the camera, almost begging at times for a hungry clap of appreciation and adulation from an audience that is left with their mouths agape.

And adulate, we must because this isn't just some nature documentary. It doesn't just point a camera at penguins; this one narrates a story so beautiful, that even if the narration were to not support it, a story would be told.

A story that would make you believe that in the harshest place on Earth, love finds a way. What say, K-Jo?

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Tanveer Bookwala