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'127 Hours' by Danny Boyle is based on the true story of climber Aron
Ralston who ventured into the gorgeous Blue John Canyon in Utah back in
2003. He had not informed anyone where he was headed and wasn't
carrying a mobile phone either. While there, he runs into two girls who
seem a tad smitten with this carefree, risk-taking, self-confident
young man. Their admiration for him extends to them inviting him over
to their party that's taking place later that night. Aron tells them
he'll be there and heads on further.
Just moments later, Aron's tryst with fate begins. While exploring a dangerous canyon drop, he trips and falls. What falls along with him is a now dislodged boulder that ends up jamming his right arm firmly against the wall of the canyon. It is the moment this happens, that the look on Aron's face (played by James Franco) changes colors instantly. This incident takes place about 15 minutes into the movie and it is then that the credits read '127 Hours'.
Aron is now trapped hopelessly. His lung busting screams are to no avail in that uninhabited wilderness of rocks and dust. With an extremely limited supply of food and water, Aron now has to figure out a way to get out of there. He has to gather his thoughts by constantly reminding himself not to panic and carefully plan his escape. He has to figure out what he will take, and more importantly, what he will leave behind. Either he can die there with all his limbs intact or get out of there by making some tough extremely tough - decisions. With just a blunt pocketknife to help him make this life altering move, Aron begins his battle to stay alive.
The title of the movie is essentially about two things one, about the duration of his ordeal in that cave and two, about the time he needed to make the choices he eventually ended up making. Somehow, the second aspect mentioned here seems the primary focus of the story. It is in these 127 hours that Aron sees images from his past, present and future as he hallucinates back and forth between his family, ex-girlfriend and friends. He records all the goings on via his digital camcorder and camera including some confessions. He even etches a crude obituary to himself on the cave's wall convinced that he'll probably not make it out of there alive. But is this really what he truly believes? Or would he rather snap his arm against the cave's wall and chop it off to break free?
The film isn't violent per say yet has a beautiful poetic shade of human suffering. There is something both entertaining and tragic to watch a rational human being trapped mercilessly under a boulder. While it certainly highlights just how vulnerable humans really are, it also acts as a reminder that there is no such thing as a 'lifeless nature'. Aron's monologue as to how that boulder possibly a product of billions of years of formation was just waiting for the day the two would meet, truly highlights the core essence of the story. It is a test of his willpower in the face of nature's little gauntlet that has been thrown at him. It is also a reminder to the rest of us that nothing is ever permanent. Even something as simple as a drop of water can sometimes become the only reason for our desire to live. This reminder, more than anything else, is the true horror of '127 hours'.
James Franco is brilliant as Aron Ralston. Despite the physical constraints of being stuck in one single position for most of the movie, James brings to the screen a wide plethora of emotions which make us feel with him, fear with him, empathize with him and finally, root for him. Boyle excels in this form of storytelling where a piece of rock ends up becoming such an integral part of the narrative. Visually, the film captures the rocky mountains splendidly as does the apt soundtrack by AR Rahman. It is this juxtaposition of human fragility against a product of billions of years, that makes 127 hours a memorable, relevant and inspiring watch.
I had heard a lot about this movie. But somehow, never got around to
seeing it. And what a time to watch it too! After having seen an
interesting version of Mumbai in 'Slumdog Millionaire', here was yet
another version of watching Mumbai bare itself unashamedly. What got me
even more curious was that the whole crew of 'Aamir' was practically
unknown and given the rave reviews it had been getting, I decided to
take a chance. And boy! Am I glad I did!
'Aamir' is a story of Dr. Aamir Ali who returns from London to his home in Mumbai only to find that someone has kidnapped his entire family. All he has are clues given by an unknown face and cellular phone cues that take him to a mirage of places that are simmering with lower middle class Muslims. He finds himself face to face with a society he had never seen before yet all the time doing what he is being told in order to save his family. At the end of the day he finds himself sitting on a bus with a suitcase that he has been told contains a bomb. He is then told to get off the bus at the next traffic light leaving the suitcase behind.
This is as far as I want to tell you since the final few minutes of the movie are a revelation. I wouldn't go as far as to say I was completely taken aback by it or wasn't expecting it to happen, but the conviction with which a normal regular common man steps from those shadows of cowardice and attempts to personify his name 'Aamir' a leader was what I found most endearing. For a first time director, Raj Kumar Gupta surely treads a risky path as he tackles a burning issue in India head on. He enforces the ideologies that are so often taken for granted and makes the protagonist finally attempt the perfect antithesis of terror and a terrorist.
I must say, it was quite a show. The movie albeit, is slow in parts and could have used some faster reactions from the leading man and some chop offs here and there, but these are trivialities when compared to the message the movie attempts to send across. I recommend everyone to watch 'Aamir', as such 'in the face' almost surreal seeming plots very rarely make for a good viewing.
As is usually the case, most watchable Kannada movies go unrecognized
unless they get some non-local award. As sad and tragic as it is, it
continues to be one of the banes of a once flourishing and creatively
vibrant film industry that now reeks in the ruins ruled by mediocre-
heavy jingoism. Fortunately, 'Mukhaputa' avoided that inevitable fate
into oblivion as it bagged an award at the Ireland Film Festival and
the Silver Sierra Best feature film award at the California Film
The story revolves around 7 year old Bhavati (quite an unusual and striking name) who is adopted by a social activist/PhD student/Bharatanatyam dancer Gauri (Roopa Iyer in her first debut venture as film maker) after the kid's parents commit suicide. Gauri is an orphan too, so the relevance of her understanding the kid's emotional distress at a deeper level than most comes as no surprise. The two bond quite naturally and soon she signs papers to become her official caretaker. Also in the loop are Gauri's foster father (Shashidhar Kote) and also her teacher/guide/philosopher. She turns to him for all sorts of guidance on both her career and life. With his untimely death Gauri's world is shattered more than that of his wife and unemployed son Shankar (a neat cinematic liberty naming his character that to ensure we are told that the he and Gauri would end up together at some point). The bereaved family takes care of little Bhavati as one of their own and time moves on.
One day Bhavati falls ill. On further investigation it is revealed that the child is HIV-positive which could possibly explain her parents' sudden deaths. Gauri is caught in a pool of dilemma on this discovery. On the one hand she definitely wants to ensure that Bhavati has as normal a childhood as she can get, but she also isn't sure how to go about it. On a chance encounter with an aged guru at a spiritual center, she gets some sane advise. An advise that is possibly the only deciding factor in how things are made and broken in today's world. That, of knowledge. She seeks out to know everything there is to know about the disease so that she may plan the best route to the future possible for Bhavati. Shankar, in the meanwhile, is shown to be an out of work IT guy who isn't really keen on doing anything special in life. Since he harbors romantic feeling towards Gauri (no points for seeing that coming) he decides to join forces with her in bringing warmth, love, affection and most importantly a sense of normalcy in little Bhavati's young life.
What struck me most about the movie was its optimistic take on something as dire as AIDS and its associated taboos in India. It is obvious that Roopa Iyer is personally vested in both the awareness and education of the disease given her commitment in making this feature come alive. Though her prowess as an actress could have been sharper, it doesn't really interfere much with the bigger picture/message the movie tries to send across. The supporting cast lend apt support including the little girl playing Bhavati. A few scenes are placed just to get a popular face into the mix but I guess it is only such marketing strategies that helped her get the movie across to these festivals. A slightly stronger screenplay was needed specially in the scenes where Gauri confronts Bhavati's teachers for isolating the child due to her illness. A grand opportunity to highlight the irony of an educator practicing blatant discrimination purely based on ignorance is woefully lost by Iyer. She chooses, instead, to smear the scene with a background score whilst making the goings on inaudible. The gist is clear of course, but a concrete vocalized version would have made the audience root more firmly for Gauri. It is in these inadequacies that Iyer's lack of experience in film making becomes apparent and makes her character more impersonal.
All said and done, 'Mukhaputa' is eventually about the bigger picture which is killing the social stigma associated with AIDS and the millions of innocent kids who are targeted each day around the world for absolutely no fault of their own. If even a few hearts are forced to reflect on their beliefs after watching this movie, then I'd think Iyer's efforts have found success.
Alfred Lord Tennyson's poem 'The Brook' ends with the words 'For men
may come and men may go, But I go on for ever.' This was the first
thing I thought of when the end credits rolled on Shankar's latest
magnum opus Endhiran, The Robot. The reason these words seemed
extremely apt was because it applied both to the robot on screen and
the human Rajnikanth off screen. With Endhiran, Rajni has proved as
clear as daylight, that he is still a Herculean force to reckon with.
Rajni's image as an actor has grown so immense now, considering the
colossal height it was at earlier anyway, that he has gone beyond
reviews and critique. Nevertheless, despite my dwarfed mortality in the
presence of Rajni's divinity, I shall still attempt this one.
With Endhiran, Rajni the actor makes a conscious comeback. There are no lines or superhuman antics here constructed specifically to get wolf calls from the audience. No. The scientist in Dr. Vaseegaran is just a regular guy who is a major robotics geek and despite having a girlfriend who looks like Aishwarya Rai (this time literally of course), the good doctor chooses to spend more time on his first major creation Chitti, the humanoid and the real reason the audience will go wild in the cinemas.
Chitti pretty much has everything that is human. In a tongue in cheek attempt at capturing the essence of this 'everything', a hilarious exception is mentioned feelings. Yes, Chitti is devoid of any feelings since he is a machine. Despite the overwhelming wealth of knowledge Chitti has been fed with, if there is one thing he doesn't comprehend then it is those fundamental units that form the rudimentary human pattern that go beyond a DNA model or a genetic theory. Feelings of shame, hurt, anger, lust, love, regret, jealousy, greed a wide spectrum of colorful modes that Chitti hasn't been introduced to yet. At one point in the movie, having enraged the doctor after making a huge erroneous judgment call, Chitti accuses his creator of being flawed. This, he reasons, is why the logic in his machinery is flawed too. In another brilliant scene when asked if God exists, Chitti shoots back 'Who is God?'. On being told it is someone who created us, he responds point blank 'This is Dr. Vaseegaran. He created me. So he is my God.' It is in moments like this that Shankar's brilliance as an individual who recognizes the importance of a human element in a divine spectrum becomes refreshingly apparent.
With things looking this simple something complicated happens. Chitti falls in love. With whom? Why the good doctor's girl of course! What bigger challenge than to pit Rajni against Rajni, right? A perfect and, quite possibly, penultimate gauntlet that is thrown down masterfully by Shankar in the pit. Wronged, Chitti makes a return in a whole new avatar as Endhiran the evil robot in the second half for sweet redemption. And what a return that is! If ever there was a Rajni movie with the most beautifully choreographed special effects in its final hour, it is hands down Endhiran. The ruthless confidence that Chitti/Endhiran brings to the screen lights up the climactic portions. It is here that Rajni the actor gets to bloom in full. The special effects team, as already heralded by millions as being the best, definitely deserves accolades for having converted a beautiful vision into an equally well choreographed outcome. In all my years of watching Indian cinema, I have never seen such amazing display of sequences built solely on mathematical and scientific models. The way Endhiran organizes his army of clones to fight off Vaseegaran's onslaught is certainly a cinematic milestone.
The visuals complement the story as does the music. Rahman gives us a pleasant set of tunes but none that will stay in your memory for long since the movie was, is and will be about Rajni's performance in the dual role. Everything and everyone else is critical but short lived gravy. This includes the leading lady who, as always, thinks she is acting if she rolls her eyes or flicks her brows here and there. For once I'd like Aishwarya to get rid of all the cosmetics and shallow attitude and play a role where she, well, performs! But I guess that's asking for too much. If she wants to play Barbie all the time that's her call. Fortunately, unlike 'Ravan', we don't have anyone else from her family to put up with in this one. So the harm done is minimal. Plus, Rajni's radiance is so bright here that no amount of glossy desktop wallpaper Photoshop effect can make one remember Aishwarya as the end credits roll.
Final word go watch Endhiran. If there ever was an Indian movie that will be looked at as the perfect way to juxtapose today's ever changing technology against the carnal and still rather medieval human factor, Endhiran is that film. A movie that provokes you to answer the question 'Technology is/was definitely ready for us all the time. But are we really ready for it?'
And as for Rajni? Well, he is just getting started. Endhiran will prove to be the movie where Rajni, much like his character Vaseegaran the scientist, ends up recreating himself in a whole new version (Version 2.0!). There is a lot more yet to come from this 60 year old teenager and I for one eagerly await it all. For actors may come and actors may go, But Rajni shall go on for ever.
Ever since Subhash Ghai's 'Khalnayak', there has been much said about
the villain in a story. Notwithstanding the painfully obvious hint in
such titles of apparent glorification of the stereotypical 'villain' of
a tale just waiting to be exaggerated, there are, I have always
believed, more creative ways to narrate a story which mixes up the
definitions of a hero and his nemesis. Ways so beautifully meshed with
the complicated lives of simple humans, that the glow in which they
glisten is always a grand tribute to their creator the director. Such
a genius he has been, this down to earth South Indian man called Mani
Ratnam. Hidden in his unassuming mannerisms and genuine smiles was this
awe inspiring vein of realism that consistently struck a chord with us
lesser mortals. Be it in the poetic renditions of Iruvar where
friendship and love are held as beautiful hostages in a cage of
brilliant screenplay. Be it in the looming silences of Nayagan where a
self declared Godfather's eyes moisten at hearing his estranged
grandchild's voice for the first time. Or be it in the innocence of a
little girl's subtle yet helpless rage on being reunited with her long
lost, now militia, mother in Kannathil Muthamittal. Yes Mani's genius
was never in the mindless cacophony that has ruled the roost in Indian
cinema. His craft was in using his keen eye for detail and pecking out
those few but memorable moments where life's complexities get
refreshingly redefined each time.
With such an impressive record to back him up, I began viewing 'Raavan' hoping that despite his mixed track record with making Hindi films he would still pull out a masterful trick from his seasoned hat. Alas, I was woefully wrong.
What doesn't work for 'Raavan' is the nonsensical title. Considering the posters are plastered with faces of Abhishek Bachchan as 'Raavan', it takes no imagination to connect the rest of the dots in this mixed tale of the painfully obvious. Every kid in India is taught the story of the epic Ramayana before being potty trained so to attempt such an old wives' tale in itself highlights Mani's lack of a clear vision with this movie. And so, not surprisingly, we have almost everyone labeling it, rather crudely, as the 'modern Ramayana'. What makes it worse is Mani's pathetic attempts at playing to the galleries by smearing the story with laughable mentions to characters from the epic. Govinda jumping from one tree to another. Hmm. I wonder who he is! Priyamani is dragged by the nose to the police station by the hero's junior police official. Wow who could she (and he!) be playing! Villain's brother comes to hero's den to offer an olive branch. You see where I am going with this. It is in such cliché that Mani suddenly seems like just another director going through a bizarre mid-life crisis. A crisis so intense, that he doesn't even attempt to make the proceedings a tad more original. Utterly and absolutely shameful.
What makes 'Raavan' more painful to watch are the performances. It was as if each character was given a collection of 1-3 expressions and told to keep repeating it throughout the movie. Vikram (yes, as Rama) has one standard scowl from frame 1 to n. Aishwarya's only job is to stare with reddened eyes and scream like an animal when needed. And Abhishek? He is given the same license to ham as Shah Rukh was given in 'Raam Jaane'. He seems more like a person with a serious anger management issue and a psychological disorder rather than a nemesis who has the wit and the gut to challenge the hero in something more creative than kidnapping his wife. Mani sir come on! 'Raavan', thanks to such self indulgent caricatures and a lousy storyline successfully converts a brilliant pool of opportunities into a messy pit of over hyped mediocrity. Tragic.
There is enough mention about the brilliant cinematography which, I must admit, is possibly the only high point of the movie although I cant say I saw anything that made me hold my breathe. Music? Let's just say Rahman shouldn't have received an Oscar for what is arguably a very ordinary song at best. It seems like he has let that success, while earnestly pretending to still be the 'musician next door', go not only to his head but also to his ears. Nothing else can explain the noise and shrieks in an alien tongue he decided to call music for this overwhelmingly boring feature. Maybe its time Mani sir goes back to working with the true maestro Illayaraja and dumps this over marketed boy wonder who seems to be losing his exaggerated finesse rapidly.
I remember reading a comment somewhere on one of the forums that a more practical movie on highlighting the true shades of a stereotyped villain would be to portray Gandhi as a crafty Gujarati lawyer working as a British agent while a true patriot, Ghodse, takes on the entire country to fight a cause he is convinced is the truth. I, for one, would certainly pay to see that movie. It is indeed a shame that Mani could not see such blatantly obvious rationale before manufacturing this dish called 'Raavan' that eventually reached our ill-fated noses and eyes. But as Mani has always said through his movies it is all about hope. Hope in humanity and more importantly, hope with oneself. And in that same spirit, here's hoping that we get back the real Mani Ratnam with his next venture.
Go on, Mani Ratnam sir. We eagerly await yet again.
We, in Denmark, began daylight saving today March 28, 2010. What this
basically means is that our clocks will now be set to an hour ahead. It
is curious how this day coincided with my viewing of Shyam Benegal's
'Suraj ka saatwa ghoda' (The seventh steed of the sun) last night.
Based on a Hindi novella by the same name by Dr. Dharamvir Bharti's,
the movie starts with Raghuvir Yadav introducing us to a few afternoons
from his life where he knew a man called Manek Mulla (Rajit Kapur in
his debut venture). Manek, we are told, was a master story-teller. A
man who could blur out the distinct lines between reality and fiction
purely by his talent at peppering his tales with metaphors aplenty.
Working with the railways department, Manek had acquired the knack of
keeping the three young men (of which Yadav is one too) occupied during
lazy afternoons with his tales of love, deception, social imbalance and
immorality within the lower middle classes of India.
So, with this premise, a question is thrown 'Should love stories be built at being relevant to the socio-economic growth of a society?' A bizarre, albeit thought-provoking, reference is made to the literary importance of 'Devdas' where, Manek says, there is no room for any sort of social relevance or optimism towards love as a public emotion. A definition, he claims, is what makes love so wonderful. Its lack of being a private, mysterious and almost forbidden concoction. So, in an effort to tell a tale of love lost connected with the complex fabric of social strata, he starts speaking of Jamuna. He speaks of how he was in school back then and Jamuna, the attractive next door girl, was in love with Tanna, another neighborhood fellow. Jamuna's and Tanna's love story was dated given the venomous relationships the two families shared due to lack of consistency in the Indian economic balance. As a result of this, Tanna is married off to a more educated Lily and Jamuna ends up with an old man knocking on the door of his grave.
As you might have realized, there is nothing new or refreshing with this piece. What starts making this short story more interesting, is the way Manek describes his role in it and carefully begins to uncurl the tiny strands that were knotted during the narration of the aforementioned tale. For instance, the fact that Jamuna is unable to conceive from her old-man husband and so chooses to go on a bizarre religiously aligned but emotionally maligned detour with the tonga-wallah is brought to surface. Also, the fact that the girl Tanna ends up with Lily actually was Manek's love/friendship interest and how a mutual separation was finalized in both their interests is unearthed. Connected to this colorful mix as well, is the story of Tanna's lusty father (Amrish Puri in a truly memorable role as Mahesar Dalal) and his wile desires towards the lowly gypsy-woman Satti (Neena Gupta) who befriends Manek purely for his intellectual skills. Her eventual fate against an adamant Mahesar Dalal and the decisions young Manek makes form the twisting portions of the climactic sequences. All of these is documented from various angles aimed at the same scene. So, it isn't so much that Manek is narrating different short stories but essentially narrating just one story but from the perspectives of various characters in them. In some of them, the characters seem like the victims, while when seen from the view of another person's tale, the same character in the same scene will suddenly appear to have acquired some gray shades. Shades one would see in a predator. Truly if a movie can accomplish this level of intellectual worth, then it has truly defined itself as the best example of cinema.
What makes this movie greater in its worth is the fact that such a unique feat was written by Dr. Bharti in the 70s and narrated by Benegal in early 90s! Today we sit in awe at the intermingling of multiple stories in Hollywood and, of course, in their remade versions within Bollywood, and applaud them as being 'masterpieces'. But to compare this work to any of these would be nothing short of a huge disservice. In fact, I would call 'Suraj ka...' a work of meta fiction which successfully attempts to expose the fictional aspect of the illusive world woven by Manek Mulla.
I also read some reviews that compared Manek's character to that of the holy trinity in Hindu mythology Brahma, Vishnu and Maheshwar and as to how he slips into these roles, albeit with varying degrees of subtlety. In the first tale with Jamuna, Manek is Brahma, the creator of a relationship that he knew was meant to be doomed. In the second tale with Lily, he became Vishnu, the preserver of her sanctity and an upholder of a more mature and practical relationship. In the final tale with Satti, he turned into the destroyer Maheshwar who ended up putting an end to what could have possibly been the redeeming factor of his life. I suppose it is in spectacular interpretations like these, that 'Suraj ka...' stands out as a truly unique piece of work.
India has never been as innocent as it consistently claims to be. If
you are, however, one of those naïve citizens sitting behind a veil of
ridiculous reasons who actually believes this, then I couldn't feel
sorrier for you. In fact, if you pay closer attention to reality, you
might never look at our beloved nation the same way again. One simple
Google search and you will find an alarming amount of voyeuristic
material of folks in brazenly compromising positions peppered all over
the Internet. And no it isn't just those light headed, dizzy for that
fifteen seconds of fame teens or fellers in their early 20s who are
churning out these clips either no. A good amount of it comes from
middle aged, aging, and even ancient crisis-ridden junta who are
desperate for some sort of thrill in their otherwise mundane and
excruciatingly cliché-laden lives that contains nothing more than
With that preface done with let us now focus on Dibakar Banerjee's latest offering 'Love, Sex aur Dhoka' (LSD). I am sure enough spice has already been generated thanks to the extremely obvious hint in the title itself of a dozen saucily executed romp scenes just waiting to tease your aphrodisiacal senses. And yes this will also take a good amount of our sex-starved nation's goggle-eyed wannabes to go see the flick too. But that's when the fine line between those who went into the cinema expecting a popularized version of a badly edited B-grade mallu movie type sleaze-fest and the ones who walked in expecting a new way of storytelling becomes quite apparent. A divide, I am hoping, will have more fans in the latter category.
After watching the 1 hour 40 something minute dish called LSD, one thing is certain. Dibakar is one of those refreshingly cocky bunch of film makers who are quite unperturbed by what the mass populace has to say as long as their distinct tone of message is sent across without fear. It is in this essence of movie making, that Dibakar scores points in my book. Come what may, he seems to say, I will show you my vision the way I want you to see it. It is in this raw, unedited, low-light/night-shot array of frames that the much needed breaking of stereotypical shackles Indian cinema is bound with can be heard loud and clear. If only, of course, you are willing to listen. If only, of course, you are willing to acknowledge.
LSD is completely shot via hand-held digital cameras, security cameras installed in public places and hidden spy cams tucked away in not-so- obvious spots. The tale unwraps with three distinct stories of Love, Sex and Dhokha as is obvious in the title. What is not so obvious is the way Dibakar stitches the characters in each of them so craftily that the moments where their connections become apparent are truly memorable. The minimalist usage of background music layered with the brave attempts at showcasing emotions in their true and blue nature emanating from nameless faces is truly a new attempt in Bollywood. Actually it is quite new to Indian cinema too.
My take on the execution part of LSD is more to do with technique and philosophy rather than the stories themselves. Sure, the plots have their moments but they aren't anything we haven't already heard of or seen. Some of the scenes are overdone and there are even characters that let you down by actually 'acting'. So, in my humble opinion, walking into LSD to expect it to sweep you off the feet with the narrative could be a tad misleading. What I would hope you pay special attention to is how the fine line between fiction and reality gets blurred without you even realizing it. There came a point in the film when my wife turned to me and said 'This is nonsense! It just seems like they have stitched together some clips from YouTube!'
Notwithstanding her disapproving conclusion on the film, I must say, that is exactly what Dibakar was trying to achieve. Fading out that line where you forget these people are actors and that they do realize there is a camera somewhere recording their actions.
My suspicion with this theme then is the following. LSD will have two clear opinions. One - folks who loved the piece and understood the intentions with which Dibakar shot the flick and narrated the tale the way he did. And two, a majority from what I can tell, who absolutely hated the movie and found it annoyingly ambitious and contrived in its bizarre Hollywood-style-pretentiousness like approach executed in a rather disturbing and amateurish fashion. Either way, LSD will evoke a reaction in you that will stay long with you after having long left the cinema.
My recommendation then? Go watch it. Not just to love it immensely or hate it profusely, but to be part of a threshold that has never been tapped on before. To be witness to a milestone in Indian film making where the director is absent from the scenes. To be an audience to a movie where the camera is calling the shots. Just for this, LSD to me will be a unique movie watching experience. And yes do also watch it before a dozen more remakes flood the market claiming to be better than the original.
Being from a particular region in a country like India comes with its
goods and not so goods. People from one part of the nation don't
necessarily always know of the legendary works of art that happen in
another place. Like people in Orissa being unaware of the deep rooted
humanitarian movies that come out of the Tamil movie industry or folks
in Kerala not aware of some genuinely wonderful pieces of cinema from
West Bengal. One cant do too much about this divide given that the
Herculean and almost obnoxious presence of 'Bollywood' continues to act
as the fort that isolates several pockets of creative work in their own
shells. Sad but true.
Then there are some film makers whose movies transcend language and region. Film makers like the late Academy Award winner Satyajit Ray sa'ab. OK - I will admit. Except for a few brief scenes from 'Pather Panchali' I have not seen any other movie of this great man. Reason? Well, either it was the lack of the need to have to sit through a language I know nothing of and having to squint at the badly framed English subtitles or it was just plain desi callousness that believes the majority is usually right. You know, the classic Indian thinking that has the 'if everyone says it then it has to be great' attitude peppered all over it. I am sure there are millions out there who will still tell you that Satyajit Ray was an amazing movie maker without having seen a single frame he might have shot. Considering I too have indulged in such blatancy every now and then, 'Shatranj Ke Khiladi' seemed like the only chance I would get to savor Mr. Ray's cinematic beauty. After all, it was indeed the only Hindi/Urdu movie he made in his life, isn't it? Hence when I found the chance I took it.
Set in the late 1800s in the then Hindustan 'Shatranj Ke Khiladi' runs with two main stories parallel to one another. One the larger of the two which shows a determinedly boorish English General Outram (a much younger looking Sir Richard Attenborough) pitted against Awadh's incompetent yet culturally aware Mughal King Wajid Ali Shah (a generously rotund Amjad Khan). The company wants to take over Awadh which remains the final province that is still run by royalty. So it decides to look past a decade old treaty that had promised that Awadh's royalty would never be lost. But, knowing the way the company ruled the sub-continent, the poetically humane King's defiance is brought under test as the concubine infested regal refuses to budge from his throne.
The second interestingly laid out strand is that of old buddies Mirza Sajjad Ali (a wonderfully flawless Sanjeev Kumar) and Mir Roshan Ali (an effervescent Saeed Jaffrey). These two upper middle class noblemen who sit around all day sucking at their well made hookahs and ignoring their frustrated spouses are absolutely obsessed with the game of chess. It is as if nothing not even the lack of pawns to play with can stop them from going at it well and good for a few hours each day. While Sajjad Ali's wife (Shabana Azmi is a small but well placed role) decides to find solace in the housekeeper's stories, Roshan Ali's wife (a chubby and visibly mischievous Fareeda Jalaal) chooses to find solace in the arms of a much younger man (a nervous Farooque Shaikh) right under the nose of her unsuspecting husband.
Ray beautifully juxtaposes the story of two chess players with the moves that take over their province and their lives as a foreign power enters their land. While the King is confronted by the orders of the Union Jack under the umbrella of the soulful songs he has composed, the chess players continue to find ways to get a good spot to sit down and well - play a good round of chess. A game, as it turns out, that ends up putting their friendship at stake just like the throne of their clueless King.
The one thing that comes off as obviously as the attention to pretentious 'paan holders' by these Lucknawi laat saahebs is Ray's understanding of the human condition in those times. The beautiful focus to detail of the surroundings only amplify the saga that unfolds eventually while the red vested British army marches into the Awadh province. Cinematography is crisp and captures the fading lights of the royal reign quite effectively. What struck me as more amazing was Ray's wonderful acknowledgement to the way such potentially affluent cultures used to work during that era. The fact that people in them would rather spend more time on keeping their indulgences alive than worry about their future under the Raj was an eye opener to say the least.
Performances wise everyone does his/her bit effectively. Seasoned actors Sanjeev and Saeed chip in a beautiful contribution. A young Amjad Khan (still fresh from the finely baked success as 'Gabbar Singh' in Sholay) delivers an earnest performance as the King who has his heart in the right place but his head in the wrong spot. As mentioned earlier, a tight lipped Sir Attenborough with a fluent Tom Alter play the scheming Englishmen who are preparing for Awadh's fall with orders from Her majesty the Queen.
All said and done 'Shatranj Ke Khiladi' definitely stands out as a Ray classic that is truly a testament to his life as a master story teller. I am glad that even if this is the only movie I will ever watch of Mr. Ray then at least it is based on a story by the legendary Shri Munshi Premchand. Could there be a better example of two Hindus coming together to design such a sensitive and relevant epic about the Muslim reign and culture? Unlikely, according to me.
The first thing I had heard from here and there about 'Dev.D' was that
it was a 'modern take' on Sharat Chandra Chattopadhyay's famous novella
'Devdaas'. It was only after seeing it that I realized as to how it was
much more than that. 'Devdaas' is a script that has been visited twice
in B-Town's history. Once by the legendary sobbing superstar Dileep
Kumar sa'ab and the second time by the stammering success story Shah
Rukh Khan. I have seen both of them and found that both of them stuck
to the basic premise. Arrogant rich boy Dev finds his fancies in
childhood sweetheart Paro. Being of different economic backgrounds
there is serious resistance to this blossoming romance and so Paro is
married off to someone else while Dev drinks himself to death while
finding comfort in nautch girl Chandramukhi's court. Dev eventually
dies a heart broken lover without the shadow of Paro's love. As much as
I had expected 'Dev.D' to be similar to this plot what I ended up
seeing was superlatively refreshing to say the least.
From what I could fathom the only similarities between the third version of the novel and the former two were the names of the main characters. Apart from that everything else has been blown to smithereens in Kashyap's take. In 'Dev.D', Devdaas goes from being a character in a novel to a metaphor of any cocky young man. Our Dev isn't afraid to ask his Paro if she touches herself. He isn't scared to ask her if she could send him a topless photograph of herself via the Internet and he doesn't flinch calling his father by his first name. And Paro? Well she is not the timid and submissive damsel as seen in the previous versions either. This one actually ties a mattress to her cycle and heads to the farms for a session of mad monkey lovemaking with her Dev. She photographs herself topless, gets the film developed, scans the photograph and emails it to Dev in London. She isn't afraid to grab his arms and smother him with kisses at the first opportunity. The list of such brazenly relevant modifications to Chattopadhyay's original work goes on. The Dev in this feature is not so much 'in love' with his Paro as much as he is obsessed by the idea of loving her. He yearns for sex plain and simple. No expensive duets to be designed for this emotion to come through. No colorful dancers gyrating in unison in the middle of a mustard seed field. No sir. It is this direct, no frills approach to human attraction that I found the most refreshing.
He is a clueless loser who is a victim of his own self. Period. What is more? The 'friendly' Chunnilal in the original is a cheap pimp in this one who ends up being a close liaison with Dev in his visits to Chanda's brothel.
One can easily argue that Dev.D is nothing more than garish sleaze dished out in a format that is similar to the original Devdaas but I would have to respectfully disagree. It takes a bold film maker to get his female protagonist to say she has to use the potty when the male protagonist wants to undress her during a bout of 'pity sex'. A feat, I am sure, no 'established actress' can mouth even if her life depended on it. It is in things like this that the movie goes from being a B-class dish out to an A-class path breaker. If not anything, what Kashyap has managed to do is show Bollywood his middle finger when it comes to documenting romance. I can safely say no one will ever dare to make another remake of 'Devdaas' after watching 'Dev.D' since it's a benchmark too high to surpass.
Performances belong primarily to Abhay. This young man is making excellent decisions in his role selections and is quickly becoming a metaphor for 'hatke' cinema genre. I liked him in 'Ek Chalis Ki Last Local', 'Manorama Six Feet Under', 'Oye Lucky Lucky Oye' and now 'Dev.D'. A very strong performer with a wonderful future ahead of him. Mahie Gill puts up a good performance as the hopelessly in love and clueless about Dev's terrible attitude Paro. Her eyes speak louder than her voice and that was something which I liked the most. She captures the quintessential Indian girl with apt brilliance. Newcomer Kalki Koechlin is a surprise! This French-Indian actress does a terrific job as Chanda, the misguided and abused young girl who is still coming to terms with a lost family. Her Tamil is quite eloquent and on further research I found out that she does speak it fluently.
'Dev.D' stands out like an eyesore of a scarecrow in the middle of a familiarly patterned sugarcane crop.
'Harischandrachi Factory' (HF) is my second Marathi movie (the first
one being 'Shwaas' another beautiful feature). I must say Marathi
cinema makes some very refreshing and sensitively relevant movies. By
sensitive I do not mean overly sentimental or high on drama no. We
get enough of that from Bollywood, thank you! I mean in the sense that
there are certain humane subtleties that very few film makers can
successfully capture on celluloid. Those infinite number of
imperfections that are almost impossible to record in the confines of
raging mediocrity that are only possible when features like HF come by.
For this, I am eternally grateful to Mr. Paresh Mokashi the director
of HF, his debut feature.
Now, about HF. The story tracks the trials and tribulations of Dadasaheb Phalke as he prepared to make the first Indian movie in 1913 'Raja Harischandra'. What makes this movie unique is how humor is consistently used to portray a journey which I am certain was, in reality, strewn with a million challenges. Everything from prostitutes refusing to be on camera, to men reluctant to shave their mustaches since their fathers were still alive, brings a unique essence of authenticity to the times we lived in. There are men (dressed as women) working for Phalke who are unsure what to tell people about their dubious sounding profession of making 'moving photographs'. We even have mentions of how Phalke's previously owned photography business went bankrupt when rumors spread that the camera 'steals a person's soul' and was a machine made to perform black magic. As hilarious as all this might seem today, there is no denying that Dadasaheb must have undergone so much more in this Herculean dream of achieving the impossible specially at a time when theater and drama were the only forms of entertainment.
What makes HF a must see movie is not just the fact that it underlines India's first major milestone in the business of movie making, but also the subtle and lighthearted approach it takes to such an immensely important event in our history. A feat, I am sure, would have suffered with a 'Schindler's List'-like formula of movie making had it been given to film makers who do not believe that a serious story can be told in a joyful tone. For this singular achievement, I salute Mr. Mokashi.
Performances belong to everyone. Even though I did not know any of the actors, their conviction in what they were trying to convey went beyond the need for a familiar face. The film maker's vision is crystal clear, as he focuses entirely on those pivotal years when Phalke, realizing his purpose in life, embarks on such a risky, albeit exciting, venture with full fledged support from his wife Saraswati Bai and two young sons. It is in this essential vein of eternal optimism, that HF scores high points in my book. In a day and age where we see movie success constantly attached to vulgar language, deliberate sexual innuendos and violence of the extreme nature, HF exemplifies the word 'quality' just by following one mantra keep it simple.
My verdict : Do yourself a favor and go watch HF. If not for anything else, then at least to acknowledge the efforts of the father of Indian cinema Dadasaheb (Dhundiraj) Govind Phalke. A legendary name now only synonymous with debatable award recipients like Amrita Rao for mediocre performances to justify their achievement. Unfortunate.
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