Review: Kadal (2013 Mani Ratnam)

Kadal is not about the ocean. It is hardly about the fishermen and fisherwomen. No it isn’t really about religion. It does try to be about the higher good and evil, I suppose. As if Mani Ratnam, having broached the subject of ‘bad’ and ‘good’ in Raavan, decides to continue with the same theme in his next movie.

I strangely had this feeling in the early moments of the movie that it was a personal search of Mani Ratnam’s. A question that he was pondering on and decided to make a movie out of. But after many choregraphed sequences of people coming out of nowhere, wearing Rajasthani costumes and dancing to New York type Jazz in a desert of white sand (and other such absurdities), I gave up. It was nothing. I suppose, a movie maker, as Mani Ratnam has established himself to be, has to make movies. And this one is his next movie.

I got over my personal disappointment with him (I was a big fan, and probably, simply by virtue of nostalgia, still am). After Guru, Raavan, any seasoned fan would have to admit defeat. So watching Kadal was essentially an exercise of habit. I still put this movie above the limitless and relentless cr** that comes out of Mumbai.

However, let’s list out the could have been’s and the should have been’s purely in the interest of a review.

1) The movie should have been about the boy, his illegitimacy, his disillusion (God! the possibilities with this story)

2)The evil and good here is clearly delineated in the characters. No fun to watch. Bad villian/ Good saintly opposite. Even if the boy was supposed to be treading the middle lines. He was no fun to watch at all after he grew up.

3)The setting is great until we reach the present (the early parts of the movie is set in the 1990s). The fishermen and the fisherwomen jump out of the screen. But once the ‘new age’ in India comes to pictures, everybody starts to look like everybody else. To the point that one would question why the ocean was used as a back drop for this story at all. This could have easily been based in the bylanes of Chennai.

4)The girl is mad. A convent educated, mad girl. The guy is nobody. By the time he grows up, he has lost his memory. So his eyes bear no witness to all he has seen and dealt with. He could be anybody. And is nobody.

5)Arjun Sarja is a weak villian. For a person who has to embody all the bad/evil in the world (not sure if the movie deserves such weighty suppositions), he falls pitiably short of his scope

6)Could be that Mani Ratnam might get it right the third time, the battle of the good and the evil.

Watch it I’d say, some sights are beautiful.

    

  

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Inglourious Basterds & True Grit: Review

Inglourious Basterds

Really! The gall of this man! And not in a good way.

Ingloruious Basterds, is a crazy film with some good actors. Christopher Waltz, Michael Fassbender, Diane Kruger give us some really enjoyable scenes. The beginning scene of Christopher Waltz is something so delicious that it can be bit into. Until the story and the writing lets them and us down, then it is a free for all. In a crazy plot filled with juvenile delusions and fantasies, one loses out on all the richness of complications. Here, every single character is good or bad, like a Comic book, the posturing is crazy and it is so cool that it bleeds (is that even a saying?)

As I have really passed the age where being ‘cool’ or not is really not a consideration anymore, this movie is like salt-less food. Difficult to swallow. I feel like saying, to Quentin Tarantino this – ‘Go try this on someone else’. He he. (But obviously he has, and it has worked on those, and everybody’s made tons of money except those who paid for it, but still, Quentin Tarantino, go sit in a corner and reflect. Better still, take a package tour around the world!)

True Grit

Do you know there is also a food called Grits, eaten mostly by the people that this movie is about? It was like that this movie, it was like eating grits (I believe a little bit like Upma, not the spicy variety). The movie is also made with a lot of grit, to stick to one plot and one plot alone throughout the movie takes a quiet kind of grit, the characters in this movie are also filled with a lot of grit, the cinematography is quietly gritty.

Truly, truly gritty 🙂 🙂

    

 

Like Someone in Love: Japanese (Abbas Kiarostami)

This movie is an anti-movie. It is as if someone sat down, decided that these following points are the staple of cinema

–          Editing of shots (cutting time)

–          Plot driven (there is a definite story arc)

–          Etc etc

And went against it point by single point. I had earlier talked about this in the blog. How cinema is a reflection of reality and how it achieves its powers only when used as such. That was in the context of Iranian cinema, where reality is often captured and delivered to us with astounding effects (The maker of this movie is also an Iranian incidentally). This movie pretends to try this approach, while continuously using the tools and mechanics of regular cinema. The story would have been better served with some added tools.

I wonder if the intention was to take away any form of manipulation. I wonder if it is possible to do so, to completely take away the manipulation of a writer, or a director, from a movie.

It could be great cinema, experimenting, learning, moving on. But I missed the poetry of life. (if life was discreet movements and linear traversing then we wouldn’t require movies I am assuming)

Some images (photo credits not mine)

  

 

 

 

Review: Life of Pi (2012)

Life of Pi

This was my introduction to Ang Lee, more than Brokeback Mountain was. Probably because I wasn’t aware of Ang Lee while watching Brokeback Mountain. I found him to be a very gentle film maker. He takes you in his palms and for the rest of the movie, looks after you.

As such his gentleness and the beauty of the images he creates is something to be enjoyed. Even if the images don’t last with you for more than a day. But in the moment they are presented to you, they create tranquility. It was the same with his imagery of rural America.

What I missed was the complexity. To some extent, Brokeback Mountain, considering the subject matter of gay cowboys gave me that. But here, in spite of the book claiming to be spiritual, there was little to ponder over. The overtly simplistic narrative, with a punch line (that I incidentally didn’t get, a few friends had to explain at length) left me desiring for me. After all IMAX films on earth, sea and sky are quite spiritual too.

I always wonder, after seeing potrayals of India in foreign films, why Indians fail to get it right every single time. It is a beautiful 1970’s Pondicherry that we get to see here. With characters so real, that seem as if they are from one’s own memories. Tabu, is so wasted in Bolly/Tolly/Kolly woods. She shines, holds the camera and the screen, and plays. Irffan Khan in a strange role, is strange. He looks strange, speaks strangely and is in general strange. One of the best performances for me in the entire movie was by the two Japanese officials inspecting the cause of ship wreck. So apt.

I imagine Ang Lee to have been so exhausted with creating the magnificience on screen that he didn’t quite play with the content matter whatsoever. Instead relying entirely on the screenplay. And here, it probably falls short of greatness. Because the content seems old and classic like a Richard Bach book.

Some images

        

     

  

None of the photos are mine.

Talaash: Review (2012 India)

SPOILERS AHEAD

I was deceived by this movie. Reema Kagti’s earlier movie was ‘Honeymoon Travels Pvt Ltd’. This movie was a quirky independent movie. Quite enjoyable.  But Talaash doesn’t come with that kind of writing or script. ‘Talaash’ as muttered by Aamir Khan at equal intervals, is just that, an awkward mutterance if you will.

There are two or three hallmarks of a great independent movie

– inspired casting choices (this almost always translates into unknown names)

– Intimate cinematography

– searches that we undertake in life or slice of life journeys

Talaash fails on all three

– They cast Kareena Kapoor as the hooker. I can think of many good choices for this role. But not Kareena. They cast Aamir Khan as the hero who does nothing but stands around looking glum. why? Again, some other face would have lended so much more credibility. And Aamir never really gets above the under-ness of his role. (It would have been good fun to mention Nawazuddin Siddique’s work. But it was like he had a short film of his own running along the movie!)

– The cinematography is barely watchable only in the mumbai night scenes. The rest of the movie is just poorly lit. Not in a scary way.

Talaash had great potential. The plot itself could have risen into something very special. But no, we skim surfaces, with weak dialogues, often cutting our feet from under us. We stumble through the roads of lifeless lives to only hit the wall of the unknown. And this wall is no wall for just the audience, but a wall of for the writer as well. One who hasn’t understood all the nuances of an afterlife.

Even an ‘I know what you did last summer’ had more credibility than this. This is the first movie I have watched where ghosts are punishing incompetence. Can they come to offices? Maybe mine?

What I would have loved to see however is the drowning sequence as the very first shot of the movie.  The nightmares as the next. The disengagement of the couple after. The  search of the main character to find something above next. Him looking into an old cold case file of mysterious circumstances. Then him stumbling across the clues. And him finding the clues because he went in search of them, not because it was his case. Oh God! The possibilities with this movie!!!!!!!

They killed it. Brutally. More brutally than the ghost. The ghost of this movie should now haunt them for incompetence!

PS: Please watch Sixth Sense again for the thrills and Memories of Murder for everything about everything.

Luv Shuv Te Chicken Khurana: Review India 2012

Let this review be short and sweet. This is a film that has been made often enough. A small independent quirky entertainer.Like Do Dooni Chaar, Tum Milo To Sahi (2010) and the more recent English Vinglish etc. I wouldn’t put it up there with Udaan, Mumbai Express, Hazaaron Khwahishe, Oye Lucky, Khosla Ka Ghosla, Ishquiya, or even Ek Chaalis Ki Last Local, Manorama Six Feet Under. Not even Band Baaja and Baaraat really.  The humor in the movie is really base. A writer just told me the other day that you are really at a dead end as a writer if you have to resort to ‘tatti’ jokes. And this movie is filled with ‘kaccha’ and fart jokes.

A refreshing experience if the last film you watched was Rowdy Rathore perhaps. But just in case you watched ‘Offret’ by Tarkovsky, or Khandhar by Mrinal Sen then this would fall into the category of a really absurd and pointless movie.

We should always remember the genres, for sure, and definitely the context. And in its particular genre this movie is quite okay, is quirky, takes out some standard movie staples of bollywood cinema, and gives us a more real picture. And speaking about the context, yes, after Rowdy Rathore it can even be called courageous. But that is saying what, really.

The movie is produced by Ronnie Screwala, Siddharth Roy Kapur and Anurag Kashyap. This doesn’t really show. Some of their earlier independent-esque movies have had much better production values with meager amounts of money. Some of the actors are very good, and that is always a joy to watch irrespective of the films.

That’s it. Really.

Review: English Vinglish (India 2012)

English Vinglish is a cute and charming movie that has already chosen a single thread that it will delve into. Namely, that of the main protagonist not knowing english and the corresponding social stigma attached to it in India. All the other threads don’t get their own depth but are however neatly tied in to support the main one.

The only problem in Sridevi’s life is that she doesn’t know English. All her problems with her husband and daughter are plainly due to one reason only. So when this is solved, when she gives a short heartfelt speech in English, everyone in her world falls back in love with her.

Very flawed plot really, and one that doesn’t yield any kind of substance. But here, the treatment of the movie saves it. The art direction is superb, the ensemble of supporting actors are great, costumes are excellent. And the direction is a job well done. So we are all blindsided (I have learned to be thankful for this even)

We all know what snobs Indians really are. The old imperialist ideas of how knowing English and being able to converse in the Queen’s language is the penultimate of all things are dictats we all adhere by. Interestingly, we do not realize that a large chunk of the world doesn’t speak English at all. Including the snobs of the snobs in Europe (the French/German are the worst). Add to that South America, Africa, Asia, and what do you have?

This movie could have been a brilliant satire instead it settles for small wit. This however increased its reach I am sure. Which is good thing for all of us. One of the more sensible movies to come out of Bollywood (here my barometer is Ready, Bodyguard, Ra.One etc)

Good performances all around.

Sridevi is a style of acting. You either love it or hate it. If you love it, this movie is a treat. If you hate it, do not go near this movie. Adil Hussain has got a decent enough role. But really for the entire length of the movie he is our main villain. Sadly, this means our sympathies are never with him. We can only really empathize with the main character in this movie. Unlike say what would happen with a movie like Masoom.  So in that way he is short changed. Hopefully we will get to see more of him in varied roles.

One is reminded of the movie Mitr by Revathy which gave the mind much more to chew about. English Vinglish is one of those aptly titled movies. It is exactly entirely about that. English and Vinglish.

Review: Oh My God (India 2012)

More than a movie this is an argument. One that sadly not many of us have in our living rooms. I remember old argumentative uncles, fathers of friends who could talk this way over breakfast, lunch or tea pretty much everyday of their lives.

As an argument, it is a well structured one. Of course it would be. It has been a long running play and is actually based on a solid script (unlike many other films). What this means is, the argument has been open to public consumption over long and has had the time to fine tune itself. As opposed to, say an argument in a Anurag Kashyap film. There you immediately realize that the argument is only really in the director’s head. Things he is solving for himself.

This movie is really low on the aesthetics. It doesn’t need it, and doesn’t even try to improvise in it’s what I imagine to be a meager budget. The whole movie is about the words. So I won’t even venture into its visual aspect.

So its words, acting and the ‘argument’. The only thing that making a movie out of this play has achieved is in reaching a wider audience. An audience that perhaps requires more of this argumentativeness in their day to day lives.

I was reminded of the book of Amartya Sen called ‘The Argumentative Indian’. Why? Because it brought forth the general argumentative nature of Indians. Something that has been lacking in recent times. The result of which is a general lack of public moral policing. Reason why hundreds of people get away with shameful acts. It feels like it is changing now and that we are coming back into the forefront as a very nit picky argumentative culture. Something I failed to grasp from the book itself. But I begin to understand a little bit more everyday in these changing times.

Another thing I was reminded of was the ‘Talamaddale performance I watched in the Rangashankara Theatre Festival a year ago. A monsoon version of the famed ‘Yakshagana’ where a people sit around in temples and debate over the morality of the Mahabharatha.

Coming back to the film, Akhsay Kumar had the potential to play it well, but he did the best he could do I am sure. The movie treads the highly risky path of denouncing religion in India very well. While not targeting God himself, it brutally targets the organized religion and self made Swamy’s (or Sri, Sri, Sri, Sri, Sris).

I thought it pretty much covered all bases of the argument. Happy for Paresh Rawal.

(The item number was really not needed, but who’s to argue with commercial movie making tactics)

Review: Heroine. 2012

I haven’t watched too many movies of Madhur Bhandarkar. His credits include, Chandni Bar, Page 3, Fashion, Corporate, Jail etc. He is most known for getting his actresses the coveted National award (Tabu, Priyanka Chopra, Kangna Ranaut). And his tryst with the law courtesy of a small time actress who filed a case against him for rape.

Heroine is like reading the back issues of Stardust (as mentioned in the Rediff review that trashes the movie). It is a story that touches on the gory side of film making. Capturing the gory side of things, their underbelly of politics seems like a favorite pastime of Madhur Bhandarkar. Cases in point, Chandni Bar, Fashion, Corporate etc. Heroine is a heaven sent movie for people who religiously read the Bollywood section of Mid Day Mumbai.

Sure, it’s gossipy, trashy (some scenes are downright titillating) but I found a thread of honesty here. And frankly I probably liked this movie better after having watched the breezy to the point of non-existence ‘Barfee’.

This is a terrifically woman centric movie. Your sympathies are always with the lead actress. The men come and go. But you know who the hero, rather the heroine is.

I have always complained about Kareena Kapoor on this blog. Her choice of movies (Ra One, Bodyguard etc) and her waxing and waning presence on screen. With this role, I am satisfied (ha ha). She completely holds the thread of the character. Makes one realize that she has amazing potential, but is probably let down by the script/directors everytime. In this movie she comes into her own. I can see why she would do this movie, a full screen time is probably hard to come by. I am also extremely grateful to the Gods for Aishwarya Rai not being in the movie. I am not a complete hater but still she almost always manages to brutally murder every role in every movie bar a few. Kareena Kapoor however manages to bring in a certain Chutzpah, certain strength and a certain vulnerability to her character which is very nice to watch. Apart from the fact that she looks gorgeous, especially in her scenes with minimal make up and often dark circles under her eyes.

I am yet to watch a movie where women smoke as much as they do in this movie and never get morally beaten down with imaginary sticks. It is commonplace and treated as such.

I have a feeling the older women will appreciate this movie much more. Why? Because they probably have faced many situations in society with men as the main players and with similarly inherent politics of society.

The comparisons are many, who is who in this movie. And during the entire movie one is second guessing the identities of the actors in real life. This is of primary importance in a Madhur Bhandarkar movie, where he gives a behind the scene picture of the current things in vogue. Fashion, movies, the high flying corporate lives. For a middle class family sitting in an obscure town, this is heavy information. A cinematic tabloid perhaps filled with sensationalism. Stories about their favorite actors and their lives. Of course this movie could have gone deeper, probed harder and definitely given more thought to the aesthetics. But this has to be understood about Madhur Bhandarkar films, he isn’t an auteur, he is a smart guy who is able to get his movies done, even managing to secure national awards in the process.

His movie making sensibilities are minimal, never rising above the story in hand and often rely heavily on sensationalism. But he is true to his sensibilities, and has very few pretensions. This was refreshing in the movie, a lack of pretension. Almost always his movies are dialogue and story driven. To the point that his casting of character actors is often touch and go, bending towards caricature.

You don’t come out of the movie with your picture of actresses, the movie industry changed. You don’t come out with new empathy towards the industry but emerge with your suspicions confirmed. And this is probably the same with all his movies. He goes in with popular perceptions and solidifies them thoroughly through the movie.

However like I said, I liked this better than a Barfee, a Kahani even. Because it is pretentionless and honest to a point with its intentions and is generally an engrossing tale. Even if it only confirms your worst fears about the movie industry. After the release of ‘The Dirty Picture’ one often heard of the life of Silk Smitha was romanticized. Here there is no romanticizing of anything.

Hmm interesting.

Barfee 2011

Barfee is directed by Anurag Basu, whose credits include the hugely popular and humongously long teleserial ‘Tara’, movies like ‘Murder’, ‘Gangster’, ‘Life in a Metro’ and the more recent ‘Kites’

Barfee is a very simple movie, with gags and charlie chaplin-esque humor that can wrangle a laugh out of the most cynical heart. It does start with a morose tone of impending doom, painting a larger than life character, who is so glorified right in the beginning, that surely this would be a burden. But something happens in between the movie that we entirely lose track of this angle about halfway into the film. There is a documentarish feel to the earlier proceedings, with people talking directly into the camera.

The narrative is part documentary and part multiple flashbacks. Add to this a significant part of suspense and you have Barfee. Suppose the story was linearly told, one could even comment on the story, plot, concept etc. But it is the manner of storytelling that really stays with you after this one. Not the story. Actually nothing stays with you except your desire to google autism.

The thing with Ranbir Kapoor’s performances is I begin to doubt very seriously if he is emotionally involved at all. He seems to be so capable, that he breezes through his roles. But it is hard to find an emotional connect with his characters. He appears way too self sufficient and in a way transient. I don’t really feel for his character ever, but I always think ‘a very thorough job of acting’ after I watch a character essayed by him. The most I felt for him was in Wake Up Sid and Rocketsingh Salesman. But this is not to take away from him as an actor, but just to quietly ponder about it by myself in a corner.

Illeana was so annoying. Priyanka was not really needed. It was just Anurag Basu and Ranbir Kapoor. The cinematography, art direction, costumes were incidentally very good. Anurag Basu directed his audience more than the movie, or maybe he equally directed them both. And his instrument in this endeavour was Illeana, the other lead actress (!) who told us what to feel and how to feel at all points of time. Not surprising since she was kind of an audience in the film itself and the film is told through her perspective. But this constant feeling of coming second (as an audience, to Illeana) was tiring. One of the other things that happens with Barfee is you can’t identify the film. Seemingly it is about Barfee. But then it is more about Jhilmil and Barfee. Everybody else except for Barfee’s one translator and the inspector (superbly played by Saurabh Shukla) end up as caricatures. Yes, even Illeana (indirectly that would be us, the audience). It is a love story between Barfee and Jhilmil. So the entire first half is really a time filling exercise (ably done by Basu with excellent physical timing, but still).

On an aside, I have to mention here that this happened with Rockstar as well. A love story was given the title of the main protagonist alone. Same with Barfee. As if Ranbir Kapoor makes film makers go mad enough through his performances to completely change the currents and titles of a film!

I never thought I would fondly reminisce about Black (I found it deplorably manipulative and over doctored) but I did after watching Barfee. I would say real life is between the spectrum of these two. One brings on the heavy and the other brings on the light. And both do it to such an extreme that both products remain unpalatable. Although, have to mention both were very successful, critically acclaimed etc (with Black at least a lot of people realized it was Citizen Kane, and I have a feeling about Barfee that this could be the case as well, an unknown Bangkok film perhaps, with Anurag Basu’s track record it is not entirely impossible. Amelie and Jackie Chan are immediately recognizable already)

I miss Vishal Bharadwaj. I miss Saat Khoon Maaf. Which was a slow one. But an entirely honest undertaking. Something engaging.

There was nothing for the mind in Barfee, nothing to be engaged with, just a few transient laughs. Like I already said, one just wants to google autism. Oh, and one also gets reminded of Sadma and one asks the people seated  next them if they remembered watching Sadma, and if so, how was it? would it have also made feel a bit brain dead?

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