5 ReviewsOrdered By: Date
Swades (2004)
The Indian Metamorphosis
10 October 2010
Warning: Spoilers
In Bollywood,so accustomed are the masses to mediocre candy floss cinema, that a cinematic gem like "Swades" is often neglected and its worth equated with box-office moolah.Baffling is the fact that this movie wasn't chosen as the Indian entry to the Oscars.Tragic is the thought that the Indian youth gave this movie a miss.It is perhaps the most important movie of contemporary India.

"Swades" is the story of the young educated Indian.The story of the Indian who has to choose between an affluent life abroad and a purposeful life in their country.The Indian who stands at the crossroads,and faces a choice between "Brain Drain" and National Idealism.It is truly about "We-The people".

From the stable of Ashutosh "Lagaan" Gowariker, this movie has to be a notch higher than "Lagaan" simply because of the injection of realism and total absence of melodrama.A far cry from flashy Bollywood,here's a poignant tale of NASA Project Manager Mohan Bhargava (Shahrukh Khan), who returns to his homeland in search of his childhood nanny.This takes him to a small village near Delhi where,apart from finding his nanny, he also comes face-to-face with the harsh reality of rural India.He also discovers love in the form of Gita (Gayatri Joshi), the quintessential modern Indian woman-cultured and traditional;yet educated and empowered.From here its a story of choice and self-discovery;a quest to find home and the realization that home is where the heart finds love and the soul finds peace.

The movie in itself mirrors the present national and societal issues such as poverty,customs,superstitions and under-development as well as draws out attention towards the beauty of simplicity and the sense of fulfillment one experiences living close to one's roots.There are scenes and images which haunt you-whether its the boy selling water at 25 paise a glass or the peasant stuck in the caste system barely managing to feed his family-these are moments which jab at your conscience hard.There is an evanescent scene towards the end where an old woman watches a bulb being lit by electricity for the first time-and it is in this timeless culmination of emotions that you realize why "Swades" is a cinematic treasure.

Technically the movie is excellent.The entire setup is aimed at deglamorization and successfully manages to do so with some brilliant cinematography.The movie is incomplete without some magical music and lyrics by the AR Rahman-Javed Akhtar duo."Ye jo Des Hai Tera" is bound to give you goosebumps;never has a song so perfectly embodied the spirit of a movie.Ashutosh Gowariker's direction is the most refreshing part as he clearly removes focus from Shahrukh Khan and firmly places it on his environment.This decentralization gives us Shahrukh-The Actor.Restrained,multi-layered and under-expression of his inner turmoil-this is Shahrukh's crème de la crème.Also,the educated Indian woman;the aspiring cook;the jovial postmaster;the muddled Panchayat and the loving nanny are all elements integral to the feel of "Swades".

There is no teaching in "Swades".Only realization.It never asks us to choose.It only tells us what we shall miss.It does not ask us to stay.It only serves to remind us of what we leave behind.To conclude,"Swades" is about transformation.The NRI becomes Indian when the "Bisleri" is abandoned for water in an earthen bowl.The youth becomes a leader when he voices his opinion about how culture and heritage cannot forever be used as veils to hide the malignant problems plaguing us.The scientist becomes a visionary when he uses his expertise to engineer a hydro-electric plant for an under-developed village.

A man becomes a son when he listens to his heart.

And "Swades" becomes a life-changing gem as the credits roll.
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Fight Club (1999)
Bizarrely,absurdly and insanely Brilliant.
4 October 2010
Warning: Spoilers
I believe the movie-watching community is divided into three parts;the ones who love "Fight Club",the ones who hate it and the unfortunate ones who are yet to experience it.To maintain a neutral stance is quite impossible.Once the credits roll, you may be in awe of this logic-defying piece of celluloid or you may detest the seemingly needless depiction of blood,gore and violence.

I belong to the former category and hence,what follows is more of a eulogy than review.So, if you have not seen it I,suggest you first give it a watch and then come back.

This movie does not live on the edge;it goes beyond.It does not border on the bizarre.It quite literally ventures head-on into the bizarre and refuses to return.Simply put,this movie is the rock star of its generation.

The plot revolves about an insomniac (Edward Norton) who is a by-product of the lifestyle obsession.His life is clichéd,branded and superficial;one where the "Starbucks" and "Microsofts" compensate for the complete void of emotion.He gets addicted to support groups for various ailments,pouring out his heart to complete strangers.Among these groups of terminally-ill people he finds solace making him realize he needs an outlet.In Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt) our protagonist finds his outlet and we find one of the all-time great movie characters.And they team up to create the Fight Club.It is in the fights here that they feel life;a far cry from the desensitized worlds they dwell in.

To reveal anything beyond this point would be criminal.But to throw light upon the masterful adaptation from Chuck Palahniuk's book is a necessity.

David Fincher's execution oozes style in every frame.Each scene brings out his innovation and is a sheer delight from start to finish.The casting is exemplary as Edward Norton as well as Helena Bonham Carter (having quite an integral role) play their parts to precise perfection.But Pitt's Tyler Durden is the zenith of Fight Club.His every word and mannerism is cult.So Hats off to Brad Pitt.As bad as his "Achilles" in "Troy" may be, his Tyler is,by now, immortal.Beyond that, tight screenplay,impactful dialogs,effective light and sound,a wacky score and stellar direction catapult it into a timeless classic.

The essence of "Fight Club" lies in its sadomasochistic theme.It shows us the beauty of anarchy and the symmetry of insanity.It asks us to let go,to reject consumerism and to pull ourselves out from the deluge of brand-consciousness,without ever sounding preachy.It asks us to be alive.Blood-splattered fights may not be the most subtle way of telling us but "How much can you know about yourself if you haven't been in a fight?" is the Tyler-istic way of saying it.

I am Jack's mesmerized head bowed in admiration.
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A movie which weeps tears of magic.
1 September 2010
Warning: Spoilers
"You're getting older, and you'll see that life isn't like your fairy tales. The world is a cruel place. And you'll learn that, even if it hurts."

The lines above, encapsulate not only the essence of Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth, but also the essence of life. It is a brutal portrayal of the world we are now used to and the decadence of morality which is within us. It is about escape. An escape into wonderland. To leave behind the truth which is cold, harsh and abject. To live out a fantasy which offers warmth, affection and hope.

The movie uses Fascist Spain of 1944 as the backdrop.Carmen,a woman widowed by the war, marries Captain Vidal, a savage Fascist Officer, responsible for clearing the surrounding region of rebel activists. She hopes that it will bring stability to her, and more importantly to her daughter,Ofelia.Carmen is pregnant with a second child, which is the sole reason Captain Vidal shelters her as he hopes to have her son. From here, the viewer is alternatively thrown into Ofelia's fairytale world and the war-torn real world; a metaphorical journey into the depths of a child's subconscious and how it twists her sense of reality, leaving you with a melancholic gratification and a stark realization of how tragic the loss of innocence can be.

Words cannot fully describe Ofelia's story, who's real world is so full of grief that her only solace is the world of her dreams. Tormented by her reality she runs to her fantasy which so consumes her that she puts everything at stake in return for the promised utopia. Her story is an allusion to how our aspirations shape us and push us to tread the most treacherous of paths. It tells us that in the darkest of times, it is not around us but within us that we will find the last ray of hope.

Pan's Labyrinth is a true classic as it fulfills every requirement of being one, and more. It is not the plot, but the execution which sets it apart. There is a certain simplicity in the tone of storytelling almost as if it were your bedtime story being read out to you by your mother. It follows parallel narratives and yet never loses touch with its heart. The performances are brilliant all around, but special praise must go out to Sergi López , who effortlessly displays the most sadistic and brutal qualities of man, in his portrayal of Vidal. Maribel Verdú who plays the housekeeper at Vidal's home, secretly supporting and aiding the guerrillas hiding in the forest, delivers a strong performance which is backed by some great dialogues. Equally fabulous is Doug Jones who plays the "Faun" and "The Pale Man" with great aplomb. But the trump card among the cast is young Ivana Baquero, who plays Ofelia, and delivers a heart-wrenching act. Her performance, endearing and charismatic, is the fabric which holds the emotional core of the film together.

The technical crew behind this movie has excelled to a superlative degree.A special mention for the art direction, set design, costumes and make-up as they beautifully reconstruct an enchanting world of fairies and fauns, rabbit-holes and mazes and help in dishing out dark and chilling visuals. The cinematography is obviously exquisite as it conveys a dark, brooding undertone throughout. The musical score and screenplay combine wonderfully well as the rhythms slowly build their way into our memories with the help of the magic that unfolds on screen.

Ultimately it is the sheer genius of the director which makes this simple story a unique work of cinema. He focuses on a theme, which, with all its complexities at the outset, simplifies to something very basic.Choice.He conveys that it is our choices that determine not only our fate, but also the fate of the ones we love. And that sacrifice is the purest form of love. To choose sacrifice is to choose love. And that to choose love, ahead of everything, in the face of every adversity, is the most important choice of them all.

Hats Off!
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A top-notch movie,but a notch below the greats
28 August 2010
Warning: Spoilers
An avid movie-goer such as myself always steps into a Scorsese movie expecting benchmark cinema and why not?The man has raised the bar time and again.Having said that,Shutter Island is an exceptionally well-made movie staying true to its plot and premise throughout.But once the credits roll, deep down you will feel, that there is a fine line between "Good" and "Great" and it is that line which this movie fails to cross.

Scorsese has previously excelled in psychological thrillers when he gave us "Taxi Driver" and made Robert DeNiro a legend.Shutter Island, on the other hand is slightly different,closer to Hitchcock and the likes of "Psycho" and "Silence of the Lambs".

Set in Post WWII America it explores the story of U.S. Marshal Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio), who has been assigned the investigation of the disappearance of a patient on Shutter Island's Ashecliffe Hospital.He is partnered by Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo).The hospital is headed by Dr. John Cawley (Ben Kingsley), who is shown to believe in radical techniques to treat the mental patients instead of adopting the barbaric and sinister practices,namely Lobotomy, which were in practice during that era.From here, weird occurrences in and around the hospital coupled with a peek into Teddy's troubled past slowly blur the line between what's real and what's not and lead towards a gripping finale.

Scorsese gets most of it spot-on.The plot is tight and the casting perfect.Cinematography is top-notch creating a sense of macabre and desolation.The score too,lends to the eerie atmosphere.There are plenty of twists and turns to keep you hooked and confused till the very last piece of the jigsaw is revealed ,rendering the entire movie a worthwhile experience.The movie hits jackpot as far as the performances are concerned.DiCaprio delivers his best performance till date, and yes,I mean better than Inception.The movie revolves around him and its a stellar act from him;perfectly nuanced,subtle and yet very sharp.He portrays contrasting traits,almost contradictory;shrewd yet vulnerable;keen yet hesitant and its in the uneasy gray between black and white where he successfully manages to color himself.Ben Kingsley is a delight to watch.His persona brings to the movie a sense of haunting and foreboding which it would have otherwise lacked.The rest of the supporting cast are fine too,especially Michelle Williams, who,playing a manic depressive, delivers a short yet chilling act.

But then where does Shutter Island fall short?It does actually.In more ways than one.The script,though well-written, has its share of loopholes.DiCaprio's character and the reason for his insanity is never quite established.Neither do we ever come to know why his wife lost it one fine summer morning, and what exactly propelled her to committing murder.Besides, there are numerous sequences,which in hindsight seem unnecessary as their connection to the plot is never fully revealed.Especially the sequences of Teddy's dreams pertaining to his military exploits do not add much to the story except for telling us that he hallucinates about his family a lot!

All of that not withstanding, Shutter Island is an entertaining watch.It is fast,well-acted and well made.Its a handsome tribute to the noirish productions of the 50's and 60's and stands tall and strong among the plethora of the mediocre which we are regularly subjected to.

It does not disappoint.But then Scorsese never does.Does it leave you impressed?Perhaps.Amazed?Maybe. Awed? Not quite.
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Inception (2010)
The Masterpiece of our generation
27 August 2010
Warning: Spoilers
Inception has the capacity to blow you away.Just like the classics of decades gone by,namely The Godfather movies and movies by the likes of Scorcese and Scott, this movie is the classic of our generation and Nolan truly deserves his place among the elite.

The movie has a scintillating pace throughout and the premise despite being far-fetched has a believable quality to it thanks to some amazing performances and intelligent direction.

The viewer is immediately thrown into Nolan's world of corporate espionage and extraction of "ideas".The editing is magnificent as the audience is often subjected to following multiple narratives without losing connection with the plot.There is a lot of craft involved in revealing just about enough at just the right time to keep you on the edge.Once the movie pushes into the triple-dream-layer sequence one cannot help but gape in astonishment at how mind boggling special-effects are seamlessly combined with the intricacies of the plot.The climax,quite simply, takes your breath away just like the climaxes of earlier Nolan films like "Following" and "The Dark Knight".

The performances are commendable and one wonders how Nolan always seems to get his casting perfectly apt.Leonardo DiCaprio has evolved so much from the days of "Titanic".His role,though similar to the one he played in "Shutter Island", evokes sympathy for the man whose inner guilt poses the greatest hazard to the mission.Its a balanced performance and his scenes with Marion Cotillard are terrific.Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a pleasant surprise turning in a very neat job with his portrayal of Arthur.Ken Watanabe is quite classy and exudes panache throughout.Tom Hardy and Ellen Page play their parts well.But the one to look out for is Cillian Murphy.In his role of an heir to a billionaire oil tycoon,he excels in bringing out the torment and angst associated with living in the shadow of his father.Michael Caine though, is a bit underused and one always yearns to see more of him.

Hanz Zimmer has once again emerged with a winning score which completely takes over the movie in the final few minutes and pushes the climax a few notches higher.The undertone is a tad similar to the one used in "Shutter Island" but one enjoys the ominous music as it lends a certain gravity to the overall mood.

All in all, if you watch it once,you will watch it again.And then again.And again.Because each viewing offers something new.Something extra.

When I saw "The Dark Knight", I said to myself that Nolan has truly reached his pinnacle and that this here is his masterpiece.Its a pity that I did not check my totem then.I must have been dreaming!
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