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Indian cinema scales global summits
Once in a generation, an Indian movie stuns you by its depth of class and breadth of world-class production values. Barfi! is truly a movie that competes with the best in the world in almost every aspect. From the novelty of screen-play to the visual appeal of the artwork, from the compelling performances of the actors to the consistent excellence in direction, from the lightness of the moments to the intensity of the overall experience, Barfi! is a movie as complete as it gets.
Anurag Basu's direction and Ranbir Kapoor's acting are the highlights of the movie. However, every aspect of Barfi! is so beautifully executed that you feel like going back and watching it again and again. This is a story that you don't chance upon every day. And when you do, you want to treasure every moment of it. Barfi! is simply superb. Indeed, with Barfi! Indian cinema has scaled global summits.
The Namesake (2006)
Insightful portrayal of immigrant life
Jhumpa Lahiri's international bestseller's screen adaptation, Namesake though not in the same league as the book, is a compelling work of art in its own rights. Though not significantly altered from the novel, the movie's script provides a distinctly different treatment to the way characters are depicted. As a consequence, Namesake the movie, is in many ways is more of a depiction of the life and experiences of Ashima Ganguli than that of Gogol Ganguli (the person who is meant to be the Namesake). Nonetheless, the movie is an insightful portrayal of a lifecycle of an immigrant family - including some brilliant scenes and some tender moments of exquisite emotional glory.
The acting of Tabu (as Ashima Ganguli) and Irfan Khan (as Ashok Ganguli) is of a very high standard. Their comfort in the role of immigrant parents is numbingly realistic. Irfan Khan stands out for bringing a typical immigrant father's character almost live to the screen. He is aware of his children's needs for different perspectives and practices than his own, but at the same time he is uncomfortable at their departure from values he holds dearest to his heart. In her portrayal of an immigrant Indian wife and mother, Tabu has attained excellence in her typical style.
Along with these outstanding characters, coexists a characterization that is less appealing than you would expect from a Mira Nair movie's protagonist. Gogol Ganguli's dilemmas and struggle for an identity have been dealt with in rather brief scenes, and the themes have not emerged well. That is why his reasons for refusing a girl with whom he was happy, and instead loving and marrying a girl, who eventually hurt him, are obvious only if you have an immigrant perspective. That is why the concluding scenes of the movie do not seem consistent with his character - it seems that the pursuer of an American value system in him concedes to his racial roots, but the transition is rather sudden, even mildly abrupt. The enigma around his characterization is the biggest drawback of the movie. After all, the Namesake - Gogol Ganguli - is expected to rise above the rest and convey a bit more.
Based on and named after the bestseller book Smartest Guys in the Room, this documentary provides an insightful look into the scandalous fall of Enron Corp. There are no actors in this documentary and yet it is dramatic. Such were the factors leading to the 'amazing rise and scandalous fall' of Enron that even a documentary featuring events preceding that historic day in December 2001, when Enron filed for the largest bankruptcy in the corporate US history, seems like a tale of epic imagination.
This documentary is neither as detailed nor as insightful as the book, but it does a great job of providing an insightful and reasonably detailed account of the Enron saga. Overall, it is not of any incremental value for the people who have read the book. However, if you can't go through 464 pages, this does a great job of enlightening you on the drama that Enron was.
Requiem for a Dream (2000)
Of Dreams and their Death
Drugs kill and the death is not necessarily physical. They kill focus, they kill the wish to live, they kill the humanity of attitude but most damningly they kill hopes and dreams. Ironically enough, the lead characters of Requiem for a Dream are drawn to drugs seeking a short cut to a life which is beyond them but which they yearn for. Eventually this very short cut paves the way for their downfall.
An old lady's dream to be on TV, a young man's urge to be rich and happy, his friend and girl friend's need to tag along while aspiring to live a rich life - all these dreams die an untimely death. However, the audience is not subjected to any drama. The narrative is evenly paced, and realistic with some exceptional cinematography making the viewing experience a delight. The end is tragic, realistic, and painful but every bit true. Conforming reality to art is as much a challenge as conforming art to reality and on both counts this movie comes out on top.
A must watch movie for the young aspiring generation regardless of which air they breathe in.
The Bonfire of the Vanities (1990)
Classic book, average movie
Inspired by but with a story and ending distinct from Tom Wolfe's novel by the same title The Bonfire of the Vanities - fails to attain the heights scaled by the book. This shortfall in quality is by no means a reflection on the quality of acting or script but a glaring manifestation of the fact that it is next to impossible to communicate in cinematic form the details that a book can capture. The audience that has not read the book is likely to find the movie more engrossing but the overwhelming reaction is of less than fulfilled expectations.
Tom Hanks and Bruce Willis play their parts with candor but their characterization does not attain glory because of the limitations implicit in the attempt to convert a masterpiece into a movie. The protagonist of The Bonfire of the Vanities is a hero and a mere mortal and a villain in curious measures, a character so contrived that even an actor of Tom Hank's caliber fails to portray the complexity in an effective manner. Bruce Willis though has an easier task of enacting a drunkard, sometimes incompetent but finally lucky journalist and he plays his part with usual flair but no distinction.
The script has been modified from the novel to provide an ending more becoming of a Hollywood production, with the hero not ending in the predicament where he found himself in the book. However while the novel had the readers dulled into realization of the death of the vanities, the movie lets the audience feel flattered by a Hollywood finish. The book's ending is too hard hitting, the movie's merely filmy. The eternal challenge of conforming reality to art while conforming art to reality again gets the better of both the artists - the director as well as the writer.
Sophie's Choice (1982)
Life as an ordeal of traumas
Sophie's Choice is a very powerful story of a woman whose strength did not desert her in imaginably some of the most traumatic moments in a person's life. Whether it was her abysmal life in German concentration camps or her Brooklyn existence with her schizophrenic boyfriend, Sophie did not have much to fall back up on with the exception of her inner core - a core that was so solid that it did not falter, did not waver, did not even flinch as she lost everything that a human heart deems precious. In the end she appears calm and poised even after having lost what every one holds dearest to heart - life.
In her Academy winning performance, Meryl Streep is peerless. Arguably it is one of the most powerful and yet sublime performances ever - an incredibly realistic portrayal of a character whose numerous shades of existence are impossibly difficult to depict. Streep delivers what easily can contend for an Academy among Academy winners. Other actors, the direction, the script and the milieu are all flawless but this movie belongs to Streep who stands head and shoulders above the rest in a performance bound to leave an indelible impact on the audience.
Dark, Chilly, Brilliant and Disturbing
David Fincher's best movie until date, Se7en is a dark portrayal of a genius psychopath killer, brilliantly played by Kevin Spacey. He is on camera for no more than last 30 minutes of the movie, but so dominant is his character that the entire movie seems to be cast around his uncanny-ness.
The hero of the movie though is neither he nor Brad Pitt nor Morgan Freeman the two detectives entrusted with the task of tacking him down. It is the plot and the script, extremely brilliant though very murky and enticingly morbid. You see gory murders that leave trace of heart-rending torture, but all that it makes you do is become more inquisitive about the killer. The killer is the sole obsession with the detectives too and the contrast between Brad Pitt's edginess and Morgan Freeman's poise is very well portrayed. It parallels the contrast between the killer's poise and the edginess of the action sequence.
The climax of the movie is startling, revealing and disturbing. It characterizes the essence of Se7en, a movie that stirs you and makes you sit up and take note of it. Calling Se7en a psychological thriller is understating its significance. It is a movie that goes well beyond that, making you aware of the morbid possibilities that exist in human mind. The movie is also remarkable for the fact the cinematic climax does not provide you any catharsis, it just sets your mind thinking not in the least about what it takes to craft a script as this and to make a movie as disturbingly poignant as Se7en.
The Painted Veil (2006)
Some stories portray life in many shades and make all the shades look equally remarkable, even though some are bright and some are truly gloomy. The Painted Veil is an outstanding example of such a story. The movie brilliantly narrates the lives of a couple who unite to pursue conflicting goals and end up uniting in every way. Ed Norton and Naomi Watts deliver one of the best performances of their lives and leave the audience spell bound in a movie that boasts of nothing dramatic and yet is a drama in the purest form. Set in England and China of 1920's, this movie depicts the love, the lack of it, and again the love between a couple whose pursuits were different but led them to one goal. To sum it, The Painted Veil is a sedate, sober and yet stunningly beautiful movie that will engage and enthrall you.
A glimpse into the realities of life
Based on the darkness and soundlessness of Helen Keller's world, Sanjay Leela Bhansali's monumental work Black, is an attempt to take us through the experience of witnessing a human being overcome what is practically insurmountable. Black is an opportunity to witness and appreciate an aspect of human existence that many of us are probably not even aware of. To think of an existence wherein one cannot hear and cannot see calls for some ability to imagine. In the rush of life, we find it so very easy to ignore and block out the pains of lesser privileged that most of us perchance can never even imagine.
Black is a movie as 'real' as is gets it is even based on a true story. In terms of cinematic excellence it belongs to the highest league. Bhansali seems to have brought that caliber and class to Bollywood that many directors failed in, even when they tried. In many ways, you are reminded of Sadma. But Bhansali's characters are a little more complex. Rani's deep felt pain has been portrayed at various levels from the basic inability to communicate to a less obvious trauma of knowing that she would never be treated as a 'woman'. So has been Amitabh's sense of commitment as a teacher. It would be an understatement to brand Amitabh's role in Rani's life as that of a teacher. He is more of a father than Rani's own, more of a mother than Rani's own is and in what is a great moment of catharsis his character also rises to dare what the audience thought it would not be Rani's one kiss lover. That one kiss symbolizes many a feelings including a commitment to make Rani's life as complete as possible.
Black is full of brilliant performances - Ayesha Kapoor as the eight year old Rani, being probably the most impressive one. Rani herself has attained unprecedented heights of acting brilliance. Amitabh has acted brilliantly, so brilliantly that it seems almost effortless. Minus any songs and any Bollywood style twists and turns, Black probably marks the beginning of a new era in Indian cinema. In the final analysis, Bhansali's best direction until date Black - is a great testimony to a great director who is not defined by his environment but defines it by his creations.
Dead Man Walking (1995)
Countries, people and ideologies world over have forever debated upon the justifiability of capital punishment. Many arguments and counterarguments later an average person still forms his impression based upon some or the other personal experience. Someone who has no strong religious belief or who has not suffered -directly or indirectly- from any criminal act would arguably find herself in a dilemma to take sides.
Dead Man Walking gives the audience an unbiased insight into the social issue of capital punishment. A subtly crafted script, brilliant performances by Sean Penn and Susan Sarandon and a delicate portrayal of events that lead to the execution of Sean Penn - for a brutal double crime of raping and killing - and most compellingly, the act of execution itself - gives the audience a first-hand exposure to the trauma experienced by all involved.
It is indeed a very fine line. To kill or not to kill - that is the question. Why and who kills - is not the echoing thought you are left with. Instead you are haunted by the question - is it right to end a life regardless of who, when, why, how? Sean Penn's last words suggest otherwise. He has lived in a state of denial - not confessing and probably in his self-delusion convincing himself that he too was a victim of a bigger act of serendipity. When he breaks down in an uneventful moment and accepts his crime before Susan Sarandon, -the nun who has done everything she could to give him a fair chance - and subsequently apologizes to the parents of the victims just before his execution, the scenes of the brutal and shameless crime are brilliantly juxtaposed to the sophisticated act of execution. In those breathtaking final moments of catharsis, the audience is left with the big question - is taking a life right? Regardless of who does it.
A must watch movie that leaves us with an issue to ponder over.