I know, I know, who has time to think about this in the middle of TIFF2012? But! Talaash! English subtitles!
I know, I know, who has time to think about this in the middle of TIFF2012? But! Talaash! English subtitles!
Documentary filmmaker Ashim Ashluwalia makes his transition to feature films with this story of the two brothers, Sonu (Nawazuddin Sidiqqui) and Vicky (Anil George) who work making lurid and sleezy (and highly illegal, given the censorship and repression of the times) schlock horror and porn films in 1980s Bombay. Vicky is the ambitious one of the pair, working out deals with gangsters when he isn’t trying to sidestep their hold on the distribution of his product. Sonu is the more hapless, almost dimwitted, and decidedly passive brother, who harbours a dream to create something different, a romantic film that he titles “Miss Lovely”. He feels he’s found his heroine in Pinky (Niharika Singh), a seemingly sweet young woman trying to break into films, but with a shadowy past and a link to Vicky that Sonu discovers far too late.
Theirs is a world that is a far cry from the glitz and glamour of Bollywood. It’s a dirty, gritty world, where, in the words of one of the money-men, PK, “the girls need to be pretty and shameless.” The casting couch is not only a fact of life, it’s a prerequisite for becoming a heroine. But it’s also an environment where the quest for fresh flesh means that heroines are tossed aside without a second thought. It’s hard not to think of Milan Luthria’s 2011 film The Dirty Picture while watching Miss Lovely (though I suspect that Ashluwalia might not be happy at that comparison)– but Luthria’s film is a much tamer work, where competing heroines duke it out in song and dance. In Miss Lovely, they engage in a knock-down, drag out cat-fight. Luthria’s film flirted with shamelessness; Ashluwalia’s is unabashedly tawdry and tacky, a true dirty picture at its core.
Ashluwalia captures the 80s to perfection, right from the film’s opening with its fabulously retro title card. The film’s great strength lies in its aesthetics, reminiscent in some ways of the low-budget horror films produced by the Ramsay Brothers. There is, at times, almost a documentary feel to it all, with Ashluwalia attempting to give us an almost clinical, detailed glance into this shadowy and highly disreputable world. That’s a strength, but it’s also a weakness, robbing the film of a narrative flow and depth in characterisation that would make it so much more engaging. Nawazuddin Siddiqui’s Sonu moves listlessly through much of this film, so passive that he never makes much progress on his dream project and finds himself pushed by Vicky into situations that find him taking the rap when the police finally crack down on their productions. Siddiqui’s Sonu reminds me of his Faizal in Gangs of Wasseypur 2 – both men suffer from an inability to act, but when they do, they do it in a way that is explosive and brutal and almost unexpected.
In the end, Miss Lovely, aesthetically pleasing and unsettling at the same time, remains an uneasy film about an uneasy subject.
Vasan Bala’s first feature film, Peddlers, follows the lives of three unrelated individuals whose lives gradually intersect: Mac (Siddharth Menon), a streetwise orphan who deals drugs and does odd jobs; Bilkis (Kriti Malhotra), a young former chemistry teacher with cancer who comes to Mumbai to work as a drug mule, and eventually gets work in the factory where the drugs are manufactured; and a cop, Ranjit,(Gulshan Devaiah) with a reputation as a seducer, but whose impotence drives him to sudden outbursts of rage. Mac meets and falls for Bilkis, and the two of them begin to develop a tentative relationship. Their paths eventually cross that of the brutal and violent Ranjit one day when he is following up on a tip that he hopes will lead him to a connection. He arrives at a gaming parlour to meet his source seconds after Mac has bungled his attempted robbery of it. The source tells Ranjit that Mac is the person he’s looking for, sending Ranjit and Mac on a chase through the lanes that ends tragically with Ranjit mistakenly shooting a young boy. Driven by rage, Ranjit begins a hunt for Mac, leading to the film’s spectacular, surprising and brutal ending.
Bala’s film is gritty and pessimistic, his characters not losers, exactly, but wholly inadequate and unable to make something of their lives. Bala is unsentimental in his portrayal of them, and of the environment they live in. These are the people who live on Mumbai’s fringes, far from the glamour of the vibrant metropolis. You can see the influence of director Anurag Kashyap (with whom Bala worked on films such as Gulaal and Dev D, and who is one of the producers of Peddlers) – there is a similar dark humour, for example, and an ironic referencing of Bollywood – Ranjit’s neighbour, for example, is a lawyer who claims to have started out as a background dancer in Bollywood. But the music in Bala’s film is edgier, the camera work more agitated. Bala’s style is grittier, his characters more disaffected – on the whole he creates an environment that is unrelentingly dark and depressing. Peddlers is an uneasy watch, with an explosive climax that is worth the occasionally meandering paths that Bala leads us down.
Note: this is my personal blog, these are my views. If you don't want to know anything about English Vinglish before the film comes out, then I suggest you don't read any further, and just wait for the film to come out. Also, don't watch the trailer. Almost everything I say here is in the trailer, so if knowing even that much upsets you, don't watch it.
Early morning. A family chats around the breakfast table. The conversation touches on the typical day-to-day stuff familiar to any family, but as the scene unfolds, we notice one difference: much of the conversation happens in English, with the exception of one person: Shashi (Sridevi, in a much anticipated comeback after 15 years away from making films). As we soon come to realize, Shashi’s difficulties with the English language, her inability to speak or understand more than just a little of it, mean that she often finds herself feeling insecure, either with her family (who find her efforts at English amusing), or in public. Shashi’s teen-aged daughter is especially judgemental, and cruel in a way that only teen-aged daughters can be with their mothers. The one thing Shashi’s family completely overlooks is that her lack of English does not make her completely incapable. She is a passionate, talented cook, who runs a very successful home-based ladoo making business.
When the family is invited to the marriage of Shashi’s niece in New York, the plan is to send Shashi ahead, five weeks early, so she can help her sister with the wedding plans. Shashi, understandably, doesn’t want to go alone – she has enough difficulty navigating something as simple as a parent-teacher conference; the thought of having to fly to New York, with her limited English, and having never travelled anywhere on her own unnerves her – but her husband (Adil Hussein) insists that he will bring their two children later, and the process of preparing her to make this first solo journey begins.
So Shashi memorizes enough English to help her get through US immigration, exchanges some of the money she earns with her ladoo business for American dollars, and boards a plane to New York. Her nervousness is palpable, but fortunately she is helped on her way by a lovely stranger (Amitabh Bachchan in a cameo), who shows her the ropes of air travel (“You may confidently push the button,” he tells her so she can call to request a glass of water), and who, in one of the film’s many touching moments, translates an English film for her when a dejected Shashi finds the plane has 50 English channels to watch, but only one Hindi one, showing a film she has already seen on television.
The New York Shashi is introduced to by her niece is a wonderful whirlwind of a place, and Shashi’s delight at all this newness is palpable. But when Shashi is left on her own, she soon finds New York a bewildering and difficult place to be in. Even something as simple as ordering a sandwich and a coffee turns into a disaster.
And although she initially sits on a bench and weeps, the resourceful Shashi soon finds herself taking things into her own hands to turn all of this around. She sees an ad for English language tuition on the side of a bus, decides to sign herself up, and in this way, the transformation of Shashi from insecure housewife to confident and self-assured woman begins.
Gauri Shinde’s film is, at its core, about the delicate and occasionally difficult dance that goes on in relationships – between husband and wife, mother and children, between a woman yearning for respect and working to get it from those who owe it to her, but rarely show it. It’s a deftly written film, funny and tender by turns, and perfectly captures the difficulty facing those for whom language is a barrier to acceptance and success. The film fumbles occasionally: the disrespect shown by Shashi’s daughter and husband is, at times, a wee bit heavy-handed. And Shashi’s fellow classmates, including a Latina nanny, a South Indian working in IT, the French chef, Laurent (who befriends and falls in love with Shashi); and their gay teacher, David (Cory Hibbs), risk, at times, seeming like stereotypes – in fact, in the case of David the only reason, really, for him to be gay is for Shashi to deliver a delicate and wonderful message about tolerance. It’s an important moment, and especially revelatory about Shashi’s own values, but perhaps that’s a message that could have been delivered differently (although it should be noted that there’s one other gay character in Shinde’s film who is a complete contrast to the occasionally flamboyant David). That said, though, these characters are a representative slice of New York, and Shinde makes them human and likeable, especially David, who enthusiastically motivates and encourages his students to learn. When Shashi tells David that she has a little business making ladoos, he tells her she is an “entrepreneur”, a concept that makes her beam with pride and pleasure.
But English Vinglish more than makes up for its occasional missteps by having its heart squarely in the right place. Amit Trivedi’s songs – so fresh and playful – add an extra emotional layer to the film. And in creating the character of Shashi, Shinde allows Sridevi to return in a mature and sensitive role that places her acting abilities front and centre.
And what a performance the luminous Sridevi delivers! She delights and charms us from beginning to end, allowing us to share Shashi’s worries, her insecurities, her sorrows, and her triumph. We see her absolute pleasure and passion for her business, as she delicately and almost tenderly rolls each ladoo. We feel her anguish and frustration when, once again on the receiving end of her daughter’s scorn, she wonders how she ended up a trash can, dumped in whenever her family feels like it. But this is contrasted with the absolutely delightful relationship she shares with her adorable young son, one of the charming high points of the film. We share her strength and her triumph as she finally masters the English language well enough to make a speech at her niece’s wedding, and as she finally, quietly, demands the respect her family owes her, and ultimately gives her. Every first experience is special, the film tells us; and Sridevi makes Gauri Shinde's first feature, English Vinglish special, indeed.
Part 1 of director Anurag Kashyap’s sprawling family saga of power and revenge did two very important things: it introduced the character of Faizal Khan (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), and it left me with a definite appetite to see Part 2. I had the chance to do just that a screening held in advance of the presentation of both parts at TIFF 2012.
Part 2 begins where Part 1 left off, with the death of Sardar Khan (Manoj Bajpai). Part 2 sees his eldest son, Danish (Vineet Kumar), begin to take over the reins, and exact punishment for his father’s assassination, but he soon is taken down by Sultan Qureshi (Pankaj Tripathi). Thus it falls to the perpetually stoned Faizal to step up and exact revenge – a role that no one, not even his mother Nagma (“Look at your eyes, dead with drugs,” she tells him), feels he is fit for.
And it’s true – the days pass, and Faizal seems incapable of action. But when he does finally swing into action, he does so in a spectacular and brutal fashion, proving himself to be more cold-blooded and brutal than any of his brothers – no mean feat that, because all of Sardar Khan’s sons – including Perpendicular (Aditya Kumar) and Definite (Zeishan Quadri -- who impressed me as much as Nawazzudin Siddiqui did) – are cold and ruthless.
Two of the three screenings of Gangs of Wasseypur at TIFF2012 will allow viewers to watch Parts 1 and 2 back to back (with a short break in between screenings), and although seeing them this way is the film lover’s equivalent of running a marathon, it does, I think, give you a sense of the shape and scope of Kashyap’s vision. Part 1 lays out the groundwork, peppering us with dates and events, layering the history of these families over the history of the region, even the country they live in. In Part 2, the focus is laid squarely on the sons of Sardar Khan and their opponents, and as the film progresses, the bullets fly more frequently and furiously, and the body count rises almost alarmingly. The film is not for the faint of heart – and yet, as bloody and violent as it is, everything is filmed almost artfully and poetically – dust flies, water pours from a pail shot out by police, gunshots ring and shell cases clatter to the floor.
It would be too easy to see Gangs of Wasseypur as an exercise in self-indulgence by one of India’s most uncompromising filmmakers – yes it is long, and yes, it frequently requires much patience on the part of the audience (more so in Part 1 than in Part 2, for me at least). But Kashyap’s vision also reveals that he is unparalleled technically, and that he is able to reference the films and filmmakers who inspire him and yet create something that is totally his own. His trademark dark humour is more in evidence in Part 2, providing a welcome counterpoint to the ever increasing violence. Kashyap is easily unrivalled in how he makes use of music in his films, whether it’s the old Bollywood songs that are sung at funerals or weddings, or that chirp out as ringtones for cell phones, or whether it’s in the use of original songs such as the ones Sneha Khanwalker created for the films. The romance of Mohsina (Huma Qureshi) and Faizal (easily one of the highlights of Part 2) takes place to the strains of “My lover has a dark heart” – so true in the case of the cold-blooded Faizal. And Faizal’s signature song with its refrain of “Whatever’s wrong, set it right,” neatly highlights Faizal’s motivating force. And finally, “Why are you trying to hold water in your palms, fool – its nature is to slip away” played as Faizal finally avenges his father’s death by killing Ramadhir Singh (Tigmanshu Dhulia) only serves to underline the futility of this seemingly never-ending cycle of violence and revenge.
Because the business of Wasseypur is not coal, it’s not cloth, it’s not iron – the business of Wasseypur is revenge, a cycle of violence handed down from father to son like a beloved family tradition. Sardar Khan chose his two wives, Nagma (Richa Chadda) and Durga (Reema Sen) well – they both raise their sons, in the words of Durga, “to be killers, not cowards.” That the films present us with a whirlwind of characters is, I think, intentional – it’s an almost bewildering and never-ending cycle, further underlined in Part 2’s final frames, when only one of Sardar Khan’s sons is left standing, and we see the son of Faizal Khan, who we can only assume will be groomed to take up the torch to exact revenge for his own father.
Gangs of Wasseypur also stands as a testament to how far things have come in Hindi cinema since Anurag Kashyap first started kicking at the edges of it. His first film Paanch (unreleased because it was refused a certificate for what was felt to be excessive use of drugs and a glorifying of violence) now seems almost tame in comparison, especially as we watch Faizal toke and kill his way through Part 2. Kashyap’s tireless and uncompromising attempts to push at the boundaries of what is acceptable in commercial Hindi cinema may come across at times as single-minded and self-indulgent, but when the result is Gangs of Wasseypur (even with its flaws), and the rise of a whole new generation of filmmakers who are able to share their own uncompromising visions, then I’m prepared to indulge Anurag Kashyap, and to look forward to where he will go now that he has Gangs of Wasseypur out of his system.
Technorati Tags: Aditya Kumar, Anurag Kashyap, City to City, Gangs of Wasseypur, Huma Qureshi, Manoj Bajpai, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Pankaj Tripathi, Reema Sen, Richa Chadda, Sneha Khanwalker, TIFF2012, Tigmanshu Dhulia, Vineet Kumar, Zeishan Quadri
“He didn’t understand how it had happened. Undoubtedly he never would. These moments are like shooting stars. They pass before us, leaving only a luminous trail impossible to decipher. Where do they come from? What do they plunge toward?”
From the novel Z by Vassilis Vassilikos
A controversial political activist fighting the displacement of people in the face of a development project is mowed down as he leaves a rally. When his wife calls into question the nature of the “accident”, the Chief Minister sets up an enquiry, headed by a rising bureaucrat who is expected to confirm the official reports and get things settled quickly. When he begins to investigate, and when he is provided with evidence by Shalini (one of the leader’s followers) and Joginder Parmar (a videographer and part-time pornographer) he discovers that things are not what they seem, that the “accident” was, in fact, a premeditated attack on the leader with the collusion of the police and the powers that be.
The “Shanghai” of the film’s title stands as a metaphor for a kind of modern progress, where skyscrapers and housing developments are the new gods, and where India jostles with China to see who will come first in the race of emerging world powers. As with anything new and shiny and powerful, it comes with a price, where political corruption and slippery morality displace other values; where people can be removed from their homes and relocated simply because it serves the purpose of those with more money; where murder becomes the way to deal with those who inconveniently shine a light on problems.
Most of Shanghai's characters are outsiders: the bureaucrat Krishnan (Abhay Deol) is a Tamil working in the North of India. Dr. Ahmedi (Prosenjit Chatterjee) is a social and political activist who lectures in the United States; Shalini (Kalki Koechlin) is marked as a foreigner; Joginder (Emraan Hashmi) is a pornographer; even the two murderers, the truck driver Jaggu (Anant Jog) and Bhagu (Pitobash) sit at the fringes of a movement that they hope will help them (Jaggu wants to pay off his truck, Bhagu wants to learn English so he can rise to put on a tie an manage a pizza place), but which is only too willing to toss them aside when they’re no longer useful. All of them find themselves confronted with a system that is rife with corruption and that is only too willing to play with their lives.
The novel Z by Vassilis Vassilikos (on which Shanghai is based) is sweeping and clinical, almost a documentary account filled with a vast cast of characters. It’s as if the author needed to document a version of events occurring in Greece at the time he was writing, to make sure these stories were told, and not covered up in the face of massive political corruption. There’s frequently a sense of bewilderment on the part of many of the characters, as events almost seem to be beyond their comprehension. The author seems to be bearing witness to events that seem almost overwhelming.
And it’s that sensation I get at times from Banerjee’s film – and the film stands in sharp contrast to the director’s previous work (the films Khosla Ka Ghosla, Oye Lucky, Lucky Oye! and Love Sex aur Dhoka), where humour and satire worked to provide social commentary in a way that was thought-provoking and often surprising. Shanghai is darker, more intense. It doesn’t seem to have any easy answers; nor does it seem to be a direct call to arms, and its ending makes me wonder if Banerjee himself is simply documenting a system that never seems to change, if his intention is in simply lifting up a rock and letting us see what’s squirming there when the light shines on it.
What hasn’t changed is Banerjee’s remarkable attention to detail. Characters slip on a freshly mopped floor, symbolizing the shaky ground they find themselves on. A basketball bounces in the inquiry room, suggesting that what is going on is more of a game than anyone realizes. I particularly love the quirky little details that help us learn more about Abhay Deol’s Krishnan – his striped socks, the tie he carries but only puts on at the last minute, both perhaps suggesting his willingness to break with convention. The computerized puja he performs, marking him as modern and yet sincere and devoted at the same time.
Other characters, too, make an impression. Kalki Koechlin’s Shalini is too tightly wound and too high-pitched for my taste, but the film occasionally uses that to great effect, for example, when she bites the hand of one of the men trying to attack her and Joginder. In contrast, there is Tillotama Shome as Dr. Ahmedi’s wife, weeping for him on the one hand, and yet brutally aware both of his dalliances with other women (including Shalini), and the politics that separate her from her husband. Bengali actor Prosenjit Chatterjee is an inspired choice as Dr. Ahmedi – the role is small, and needed someone to make an immediate impact, and Chatterjee brings the full force of his charisma to the role. As much as I hated Pitobash’s Bhagu and his willingness to gleefully embrace violence and to almost blindly follow party orders, I could sympathize with his desire to make something of himself. And I have to state: this is the first time I have ever enjoyed Emraan Hashmi in a film – he manages to make a character as morally slippery and almost pathetic as Joginder into someone noble enough to get involved to try to make sure the information he has gets into the right hands.
There are heartbreaking moments in the film too, such as when Jaggu, having been beaten by an angry Shalini after she discovers he was the one driving the truck that hit Ahmedi, notes dejectedly that he knows he is nothing to her, but equally, she and the supporters of the doctor are nothing to him. This statement more than anything underlies the futility of everything they are doing, no matter which side they are on. An observation by the young journalist in Vassilis Vassilikos’ novel applies equally to Banerjee’s film: “There is something shattering about all these people who’ve somehow got mixed up in this sinister affair.”
Ishaqzaade (“Love Rebels”, rechristened “Born to Hate, Destined to Love” for TIFF2012) tells the story of Zoya (Parineeti Chopra) and Parma (Arjun Kapoor), and is set against the backdrop of the political wrangling that divides their two families.
“Here comes Ms. Earthquake,” says Zoya’s father of her when she arrives home after using her gold earrings to buy herself a gun. If that surprises us, we soon realize it shouldn’t – Zoya lives in a place divided by religion (her family is Muslim, Parma’s is Hindu) and, more importantly, by politics, with the two clans, the Qureshis and the Chauhans, vying to win elections. This is an incredibly testosterone driven world, with Zoya trying to match the machismo with her spunk and spitfire and carve out a place for herself that is equal to that of the male members of her family.
At first it would seem that she has nothing in common with Parma Chauhan – who is a cad of the first order, rude, boorish, loutish and thuggish. Whereas the educated Zoya works to help her father be re-elected, Parma has a lot of half-baked, ill-thought out, ill-considered plans. What they have in common, we come to realize, is that neither of them is truly taken seriously by their respective families. The male members of Zoya’s family laugh at her when she talks about becoming an MLA like her father. Parma’s grandfather constantly tells him he’s a good-for-nothing who can do nothing right. It’s this sense of being outsiders, I think, that finally draws the two of them together.
Zoya’s life (and Parma’s too) is changed by one small action she takes – when Parma points a gun at her, she decides that the retribution she must dish out is to be the first to slap him. It’s that slap that changes the course of both their lives.
It is incredibly difficult to write about Ishaqzaade without giving away the main plot twist (that happens just before the interval). Let me just say that the relationship that appears to be blossoming between Zoya and Parma is not what it seems, and results in the betrayal of Zoya by Parma in a way that is both unexpected and shocking. And it changes both their lives in a way that Parma could never have predicted when he came up with the idea to try to seduce and marry Zoya – another of his half-baked plans that almost looks set to succeed (and which finally gains him the respect of his grandfather), but for his mother’s deathbed insistence that he must make amends for what he has done to Zoya, and because, unexpectedly, he actually falls in love with Zoya (and she with him). This finds them not only at odds with both their families, but on the run as both families set out to deal with them in the only way they know how – violently.
I hadn’t expected that Ishaqzaade would turn out to be a film about honour killing. In fact, the film is a whole series of “unexpecteds” for me: unexpected from director Habib Faisal (he of one of my most recent favorites, Do Dooni Chaar, about a middle class family trying to make ends meet, and dialogue writer of the delightful and light-hearted Band Baaja Baaraat); unexpected from Yash Raj Films, from whom I expect frothy entertainers; unexpectedly gritty and violent – in fact, Ishaqzaade makes an interesting counterpoint to Anurag Kashyap’s Gangs of Wasseypur (also screening at TIFF2012), exploring a similar kind of lawless, almost frontier environment (though I’d argue that Kashyap’s films do a much better job of capturing the flavour of that environment).
Totally unexpected, too, is the film as the launching pad for newcomer Arjun Kapoor. Parma is no hero --- and although the film sets out to redeem him, he still spends most of it as something of a villain – incredibly unlikeable, and with a sneaky smile that almost makes him repulsive. This is not a man with whom anyone falls in love, and I have to admire the risk that takes in an industry obsessed with the perfection of the leading man. Parma’s betrayal of Zoya is both heartbreaking and cruel, and it’s almost distressing to think that the one scheme he has that redeems him in the eyes of his grandfather is also the one with the potential to destroy the feisty Zoya.
Where Ishaqzaade falls down, for me at least, is in the romanticizing of the relationship between Zoya and Parma – and here’s where the Yash Raj connection shows, trying to convince us that it’s in Zoya’s best interest to reform the man who betrayed her, and that he will be a better man for it in the end. The film allows Parma to redeem himself in fulfilling his mother’s dying wish that he make amends, but this comes at the expense of Zoya, who is left with limited options as to how she can retain any control in her life. And as much as Parma might change, even truly falling in love with Zoya, still we can’t forget that his roots are in the misogynistic setting the film presents us with.
There are, of course, better films dealing with the subject of honour killings – for example Love Sex aur Dhoka, from Dibakar Banerjee (whose Shanghai is screening at TIFF2012) lands a sucker punch on the subject, using humour as a counterpoint to almost lull us into complacency, and then shock us by delivering the unexpected. It’s an uncompromising film, but so is Ishaqzaade in some respects, and that is a strength. Also interesting are the women to be found in this extremely macho setting – Parma’s mother succeeds in stopping Zoya when she makes her way into the Chauhan family compound, and she exacts a promise from Parma that he will make amends, something no other (male) member of his family would do. There’s also the prostitute Chand Bibi (the wonderful Gauhar Khan), who takes a risk to help the pair out – even though she herself loves Parma. And there’s Zoya herself, played magnificently by actress Parineeti Chopra, who, in the course of two films, has proved herself a force to be reckoned with in Bollywood. In the end, though, they are all caught in this cycle of violence with no way out of it, and the shooting of Parma’s mother shows just how expendable and worthless they are to the men in this society.
Some have argued that the film is regressive. The problem with Ishaqzaade is not so much that it is regressive; it is that it dares to promise something more – to give us a heroine who is powerful and who goes after what she wants with no concessions – and then snatches it back by reverting to typical filmi form. Love makes Zoya vulnerable, and it’s that vulnerability that Parma exploits, to great effect in the film. But it also dilutes her strength, her passion, and her power as a character. The film does redeem itself somewhat in the end, thankfully, when Zoya makes a decision that allows her to take control over this misogynistic cycle of violence and repression she finds herself caught up in. But the one option that is left open to her to retain that control, over how she will live, and how she will die, well, that one option just left me absolutely heartbroken. And perhaps, in the end, that was Habib Faisal’s intention all along.
Not surprisingly, my Twitter timeline was a-buzz this morning with the release of the trailer for Aiyyaa, which stars Rani Mukherjee alongside Mollywood star Prithviraj (playing a Tamil in the film).
And also not surprisingly, searches for "Prithviraj" have been leading people to my blog. So I thought I'd start by putting together some songs from some of his films. These are from Malayalam films only, no Tamil ones this time (which will explain the absence of Raavanan as well as the other Tamil films he's been in).
First, from his debut film Nandanam, the lovely song "Aarum". I will admit, I adore this film, but I adore it more for the delightful Navya Nair, as well as a small appearance by Aravindar, than I do for Prithviraj, mostly because Prithvi's character, Manu, spends a lot of the film being mopey. This song, though, is totally sigh-worthy:
Next "Kathirunna Pennalle" from Lal Jose's film Classmates, another film that is a favorite at Casa Totally filmi:
I almost hestitate to add a song from Pokkiri Raja, but it's a good example of Prithviraj in his "Young Superstar" mode. The film's USP, of course, was that it paired the "Young Superstar" with the "Megastar" of Malayalam movies, Mammootty. The result was, for me, a bit of a romp. I'm going to avoid the trashy club song "Chenthengil Ponnilaneeru", which is totally cringeworthy, and "Kettile Kettile" (which I rather like), to share my favourite song from the film, "Manickya Kallil", which introduces us to Prithviraj's character, and which also features a special appearance by another fave, the lovely Shweta Menon. It's the perfect example of the kind of "Southern Masala" the film Aiyyaa is referring to, no?
I would also be remiss if I didn't include something from the film Anwar, an excellent film about terrorist recruitment. "Kizhakku Pookkum" is a gorgeous song that has become one of my faves:
Okay, admittedly, the song is mostly about Mamta Mohandas and Nitya Menon, so I'll also share another song from Anwar, "Kanninima Neele":
Finally, from the breathtakingly beautiful Santosh Sivan film Urumi, there is the breathtakingly beautiful "Aaro Nee Aaro":
When Anurag Kashyap's That Girl With Yellow Boots showed at TIFF2010, someone asked him in the Q&A that was held afterwards if he'd ever thought about making a mainstream Bollywood film -- Kashyap's response was something along the lines that if he tried, it would be something totally crazy.
After watching this long anticipated trailer, I think we have the answer to a related question: if Kashyap produced a Bollywood film, what would it look like? Director Sachin Kunkalkar's Aiyyaa:
I want to see this film so badly I could almost cry. Lucky, lucky London folks who will get to see this at the BFI London Film Festival. I would pretty much place money on the fact that we're not likely to see this in cinemas here.
In my review of Anand Gandhi's Ship of Theseus, I mentioned that one of the things that would be very helpful in making the film more accessible for the audience would be a clearer expression of the thematic structure underpinning the film and its three stories.
Today I was reading an interview with Gandhi over at the Film Army blog which nicely dovetailed with the release of three new trailers for the film. Gandhi said that "(t)he three short stories evolved to fill in the three corners of the classical Indian trinity of Satyam-Shivam-Sunderam (The pursuit of truth, the pursuit of righteousness and the pursuit of beauty). So in that sense, the stories were reverse engineered of sort from the end, the big story."
And that was when the lightbulb truly went off for me. Here, see how this plays out with the three new trailers.
The first story is that of Aliya, the blind photographer who regains her sight, and it illustrates the concept of the pursuit of beauty:
Second, the story of Maitreya, the monk suffering from cirhossis of the liver, who represents the pursuit of rightiousness:
And finally, the story of Nivan, who has recently undergone a kidney transplant, which leads him to engage in the pursuit of truth:
Ship of Theseus is the first feature film from director Anand Gandhi, and, as its title suggests, it explores the philosophical concept of the paradox of Theseus. As described by the Greek philosopher Plutarch, the paradox is this: if an object has any or all of its parts replaced, does it remain the same object?
The film, then, traces the stories of three individuals, all of whom are affected by this conundrum. Each of them must deal with the change that is wrought in their lives and in themselves either after an organ transplant (in the case of the photographer Aliya and the stockbroker Nivan), or before it (the monk Maitreya).
Aliya (Aida Elkashef) is blind as a result of a corneal infection. Despite this, she works as a photographer, relying on her intuition to fuel her creative output. In addition, she has developed a way of working with her boyfriend – he describes the images she has taken in detail, and she decides, based on what she feels about the experience of taking the image combined with his description, on whether she will accept or reject an image. Images the two of them disagree on get put in something they call a “memory box”, perhaps to be reconsidered another time.
Aliya’s world and her sense of herself as an artist are both changed and called into question dramatically when she undergoes a corneal transplant. When we first see Aliya, she is blind, but incredibly confident, forging into situations without a second thought, making decisions about her art and standing by them. Interviewed during a showing of her work, she reveals the connection she feels with novelist Patrick Süskind’s perfumer – just as he tried to isolate and preserve all the scents in the world, so Aliya wants to isolate and preserve something of her experience and existence through her work.
Süskind’s novel is a story of identity and communication, and Aliya’s sense of identity, and her means of communicating meaning and expressing herself through her photography is called into question after she regains her sight. Aliya is more bewildered by her physical surroundings – she seems to lose some instinctive, intuitive part of herself. The irony, of course, is that Aliya can see, and yet, she can no longer see. Aliya must find new ways of working. Even as she experiences the joy of finally seeing her own photographs, she must confront the new insecurity she feels, and her inability to work and create as she has previously.
Nivan (Sohum Shah) is a young stockbroker who has undergone a kidney transplant. While caring for his grandmother when she finds herself in hospital after a fall, he learns of the case of a patient who has had his kidney stolen (after going in for an appendectomy). Nivan’s initial worry, of course, is that he has been the recipient of the stolen kidney. His research assures him that he has not, but he begins a quest to discover what happened to the kidney, which leads him to confront the existence of illegal organ transplant tourism, and the slippery morality that comes with it. The Swedish man who received the kidney argues that if the owner was willing to sell, then why shouldn’t he buy it? The man himself, so bereft at the loss of his kidney, is mollified when offered a considerable sum of money for it in the end. Nivan questions whether his actions have made any difference at all – and is reassured by his grandmother, who tells him it is always better to try than to remain indifferent. Nivan’s life, his priorities, his morality – even his relationship with his grandmother (an educated woman surrounded by activists, who disapproved of her grandson’s views on life) is transformed after his own transplant and how it calls him to question his life.
Both of these stories bookend what is perhaps the most compelling of Gandhi’s three stories – that of the monk Maitreya (Neeraj Kabi). Maitreya is an animal activist, participating in a trial which aims to see the ending of animal testing in India. When Maitreya finds himself seriously ill, with cirrhosis of the liver, he is told not to worry, there are medications he can take, and he may undergo a transplant.
Maitreya’s first thought, though, is to check his medications on a list of those banned for use because they are produced by companies actively involved in animal testing, and when he finds them there, he refuses treatment. He becomes progressively more ill, more frail – and the film pulls no punches here, showing us his skeletal frame (the actor lost an incredible amount of weight over the course of the shoot), the bedsores that stick to his sheet – but more importantly, it peels back the ethical and philosophical layers he finds himself confronted with.
Maitreya’s character is nicely balanced against that of the young lawyer he works with on the animal testing case. The aptly named Charvaka (after the branch of Indian philosophy that embraces philosophical skepticism) constantly calls Maitreya’s beliefs into question, particularly as the monk comes closer and closer to death. Maitreya’s central belief is one of non-violence (and he is also aptly named, “Maitreya” meaning “loving-kindness”), but Charvaka (Vinay Shukla) wonders about the violence one commits on one’s self by refusing to take medication, and whether sacrificing one’s life for a cause is a huge expectation to place on someone. It’s an expectation that Maitreya seems to set for himself, until he eventually decides his cause would be better served by having him be alive to fight it.
TIFF’s Artistic Director Cameron Bailey has described Ship of Theseus as one of this year’s hidden gems, and it’s not hard to see why. Pankaj Kumar’s cinematography is breathtaking and beautiful. The sound (Gabor Erdelyi and Tamas Szekely) is lush. All the performances are terrific, but the renowned stage actor Neeraj Kabi brings an intelligence and grace to his role that makes his portrayal of the monk particularly troubling and moving.
Ship of Theseus is one of those rare things: an elegant film that demands that its audience be engaged at every moment. It’s an incredibly ambitious film, and if it falters at all, it’s because it, perhaps, asks a little too much of its viewers. Having seen Gandhi’s previous two short films – especially Continuum (co-directed with Khushboo Ranka), with which Ship of Theseus shares much, including a thematic structure and finale – I knew that somehow he would tie the three stories together in a way that was surprising and satisfying. I wasn’t disappointed – but I did wonder what the film was like for those sailing rudderless, not sure where the Ship of Theseus was really taking them. The journey is worthwhile, but some judicious editing and a better sense of continuity (Continuum, for example, used title cards to express which concept we were seeing played out in each of the stories) would make this film the truly magical, mystical voyage it is meant to be.
Only one film, but a biggie, just in time for Onam. Mohanlal is back, this time in Joshiy's Run Babby Run:
I actually liked Joshiy's 2011 film Christian Brothers, and I'm hoping this will turn out to be another decent action-thriller. I will say that, as usual, I'm a bit put off by the Mohanlal-Amala Paul pairing, but it looks like their giving her more to do than just be a simpering, too-young love interest. Fingers crossed.
When the call went out for celebrating the Megabirthday, I realized that it was high time that I moved beyond clips of Chiranjeevi (as wonderful as they are), and finally got around to watching a whole Chiru film. On the recommendation of Temple of the Cinema Chaat blog, I ordered a copy of Yamudiki Mogudu, director Ravi Raja Pinisetty's 1988 film. Little did I know what was in store for me. The bottom line?
I love this film. Every inch of it. That is all.
Oh, all right. But honestly, I don’t even know where to begin. Kali, a sort of goonda-for-hire who uses the money he earns to help and look after the folks in his colony, finds himself caught between two rivals, Kailasham and Kota Kondappa, who plot to kill him as he’s heading to his wedding to Radha (the daughter of Kailasham). He arrives in the domain of Lord Yama, only to discover that, due to a clerical error, he’s been called up too soon. The god agrees to send him back, but they arrive too late, just as his body is set on fire to be cremated. Kali insists the god find a way to allow him to live – and the god decides to put his spirit into the body of someone else who is about to die. Three possible candidates present themself, but Kali chooses Balu, a decent man who is ill-treated by his uncle. The uncle – wanting Balu’s inheritance for himself – decides to kill off Balu. Kali takes his place, and sets plans in place to avenge both Balu and himself. The fly in the ointment, of course, is that not only is there Radha to deal with, there’s also Balu’s sweetheart, Gauri.
So – a double role, lots of dishoom, much dancing, some cracking dialogues, and excellent pacing all add up to a satisfying masala film that I enjoyed most gleefully, not even noticing the time slip away. I adored Yama and his assistants – heck, I enjoyed this film so much I can hardly express it. There’s a much better review of the film over at Cinema Chaat, but I got thinking it had been a while since I’d looked at the idea of the narrative function of song and dance in a while, and since I adored all the songs in Yamudiki Mogudu, I decided to share some thoughts on them in honour of the Megabirthday.
First, there’s “Bahusa Ninnu Bandarulo”. Radha has just met Kali – he’s come to meet with Kailasham, who wants to teach him a lesson for stealing goods from him. Kali ends up beating up Kailasham’s goons, which Radha (who has been longing to meet such a “he-man”) films, and later rewatches. She imagines the two of them together:
I might have seen you in Bandar
I must’ve touched you intentionally.
I am mesmerized by you.
I surrender myself to you.
The flower in your hair and you in my lap. I am living in heaven.
You must’ve liked me in public.
I must’ve given you my heart in sleep.
You are my first love.
You are my last love
I am dying to get married to you.
So, essentially, Radha is imagining her romance with Kali, expressing her desire to marry him – a relationship that is set to become a reality until Kali is killed off in such an untimely fashion.
After Yama and his assistants are unable to return him to his body (it having been cremated), Kali threatens to tell Brahma and generally “raise a storm in the three worlds” with an eye to having the mistake revealed and the realm of Yama shut down. To buy time to find another body to put Kali into, Yama’s assistant Chitra Gupta suggests they call Rambha and have her entertain Kali, giving us the song "No No Natyamida".
“Oh human,” she sings, “oh human, I welcome you. Have you seen this? Have you heard this?”
Kali is having none of it.
“No no no no no no,” he sings. “Do you call this dance? Do you call this singing?” If you want to dance, he says, you’ve got to see the passion. “Learn to break and shake, oh Rambha,” he tells her, so that you have people clamouring to have you dance more!
What comes next is a riot of musical and dance styles from tap to rock and roll to disco to break dance to pop:
And the only thing I have to say to that? “This is what is called dance!” And: “Dance once more!”
The song “Ekku Bandekku Mama” is probably my favourite in the whole film – I actually ran it back four or five times and watched it before continuing with the film. It’s introduced magnificently – Yama and his assistants take Kali to see Balu, the last of the potential candidates for a body to occupy. When Kali wants to know more about Balu, Chitra Gupta brings out a magic box that allows them to see a vision of Balu and his sweetheart Gauri. Think of it as a kind of celestial laptop with Google (and how fabulous is *that*?)
"Ekku Bandekku Mam" is essentially a push-pull song, with the woman the pursuer of the reluctant male, who resists her as best he can until he finally gives in to her:
I loved this cheeky little song so much I copied down the translation from the subtitles:
Get on the cart and start riding it, dear.
Take me into a nest and give me a hug.
It’s a common thing when you become young.
We can’t control our desires.
Why are you hesitating when I am fine with it?
Why do you behave like a kid when I am inviting you?
Get on the cart and start riding it, dear.
Wink at me. Hold my hand like a man.
Hold my waist and check the size of my waist.
It’s a bad,bad world, there are thorns here. You might get hurt.
Don’t make me do this. It’s a bad thing.
Why did I fall in love with you? Take advantage of me.
You are as tasty as the brinjal curry.
You are as hot as a pickle. (actually, the subtitle said “prickle”, but I assumed given the food metaphor, it had to be wrong)
Get on the cart and start riding it, dear.
Take me into a nest and give me a hug
I will take you into my arms and give you a kiss.
Just guide me. I will entertain you. Give me a chance.
I will be lucky to get a partner like you.
I will chew you down like a betal leaf.
I will throw a web on this bird.
I won’t leave this bird.
This guy is such a funny guy.
I am having a great fun with him.
Get on the cart and start riding it, dear.
Take me into a nest and give me a hug.
It’s a common thing when you become young.
We can’t control our desires.
Why are you hesitating when I am fine with it?
Now I am right in front of you.
We go from this to "Vanajallu Gilluthunte", a rain song – or, a twist on the rain song. It begins to rain, Gauri puts her hand out to catch the drops, and then she (like Radha earlier with Kali) imagines her romance with Balu, the rain transformed into an underwater world complete with shells and pearls:
How can I bear it when the rain is tickling me?
How can I bear it when the thorn got pierced in my feet.
My drenched waist is putting me in trouble.
I am all yours at this moment.
Come to me and save me from the raindrops.
I am drenched, but there is a fire inside me.
There’s the pleasure of heaven in your arms.
And it’s just after this song that Balu, reading the newspaper, sees news about Kali’s colony that brings his memories of being Kali back. He sets about avenging his death,and renews his relationship with Radha.
When he tells his future father-in-law that he has to go away for a few days to his gold mine, Radha wonders how she will survive his absence. “Keep thinking about me until I come back,” is his response. He kisses her goodbye, she faints, and imagines herself dancing with him in the gloriously 80s styled wonder that is the song “Andam Indolam”:
Kali, of course, is Radha’s (and our) Supreme Hero! Our Dream Boy! Radha sings that she wants to
be with him forever, but we all know the problem here. Because Kali is also Balu, and Balu has Gauri. Of course, Kali/Balu is going to end up having to juggle the two women as he works towards his ends, and it’s summed up nicely in the song “Kanne Pille Thoti” and its opening lines: “The boy has fallen in trouble with the girl. There will be chaos if one sees the other.”
I love the song, and in particular that little touch of having one of Yama’s assistants looking on in amusement, and even getting involved in the fun – before the inevitable chaos results when the two women realize that they’re sharing the same man.
What I particularly love about Yamudiki Mogudu is that there’s little screen time actually given to the romances themselves – it’s the songs that carry the romance tracks, and I’m fine with that -- especially given how glorious these ones are. There’s even a small musical moment at the end (not a song really, and I couldn’t find it anywhere) where Radha and Gauri sing back and forth, each of them citing the reasons why the other really should have Kali/Balu for her own, until Yama makes a suggestion (which we never hear) as to how Kali/Balu should resolve his relationships with the two of them.
Yamudiki Mogudu was, I think, a perfect choice for my first full Chiranjeevi film, and I’m grateful to Temple of Cinema Chaat for the suggestion. It will definitely not be my last Chiru film!
A big weekend for releases, and we're not just talking Ek Tha Tiger here! Eid and Onam fall quite close together this year, so there will be a number of big releases over the next two weeks.
On August 18th, there's director Lijin Jose's Friday 11.11.11 Alappuzha starring Fahadh Faasil (who is quickly becoming a Totally Filmi Casa Fave) along with Manu, Nedumudi Venu, Tiny Tom , Vijayaraghavan, Ann Augustine, Asha Sharath, Prakash Bhare,Salu Kuttinad, Dinesh, Narayanan Kutty, Sasi Kallingal, Seema G. Nair, and Nimisha Suresh:
Needless to say, this is my pick of the week. Love the colours in the visuals. Love the music. Love the actors.
August 18th also sees the return of Dileep with Mr. Marumakan, directed by Sandhya Mohan:
I have to say, I tend to blow very hot or very cold with Dileep these days, and this trailer pushes me to the "very cold" end of things, with one exception: KHUSHBOO! And for some reason, I'm betting when I see this film I'm going to feel the need to point out that KHUSHBOO! is actually younger than Dileep. Just a feeling.
And finally, this weekend, (the 20th instead of the 19th, because they still have to get an Animal Welfare clearance, apparently), the Megastar is back, with Thappana, directed by Johny Antony:
And although I'm thinking this may be one of those Mammootty films that just doesn't appeal to me, I have to confess, I sort of love the song "Oorum Perum Parayathe", which is due in no small measure to its singer, Vijay Yesudas:
(Okay, I'll confess, the cute moves that attempt to get the Megastar to do something related to dancing also touch a chord with me.)
Technorati Tags: Dileep, Fahadh Faasil, Friday 11.11.11 Alappuzha, Johny Antony, Lijin Jose, Malayalam Cinema, Mammootty, Mollywood, Mr. Marumakan, Oorum Perum Parayathe, Sandhya Mohan, Thappana, Vijay Yesudas
In all the excitement these days over things like TIFF, Ek Tha Tiger, and Gangs of Wasseypur, it had completely slipped my mind that there was going to be a remake of Marykkundoru Kunjaadu, director Shafi's hit 2010 film that starred Dileep, Bhavana, and Biju Menon.
Marykkundoru Kunjaadu is a film that I rather like -- the whole cast is impeccable, and Dileep is very funny. Here, check out the trailer and see:
Dileep plays Soloman, nicknamed "Kunjaadu" ("lamb") because he's timid and always runs from a fight -- and he ends up the brunt of many beatings, especially from the brothers of his childhood sweetheart, Mary (Bhavana). Soloman is a bit of a layabout -- he fancies he might want to be a film director, but the only thing he's directed (a religious serial for television) has flopped, leaving the parish on the hook for the money used to fund it.
One day a mysterious stranger (Biju Menon) turns up in the village, and he's taken to be Soloman's brother, Jose, who left home many years before. Jose is big and brawny, and with him around, Soloman finds a little courage to stand up for himself.
There are many more twists and turns in the film -- there's a funny back story about how Soloman's mother was supposed to marry Mary's father (Innocent), but left him and married the church sextant when she found him fooling around on her. Mary's father carries a grudge, and vows that Soloman will never marry his daughter as a result. There's the mystery of the stolen church cross to be resolved. And there's Soloman, who needs to learn to step up to his responsibilities in life.
I'd say if there's anything wrong with the film, it's that Dileep is a smidge too old to be playing Soloman -- he's incredibly good, quite funny, but the role just felt like it should be for someone younger.
Now, I'm also always wary of remakes of Malayalam films -- they generally aren't a patch on the original. So it was with a little trepidation that I watched the trailer for Kamaal Dhamaal Malamaal:
And you know what? It looks like Priyadarshan is sticking pretty close to the Malayalam original -- and even better, it looks like they've got the casting exactly right. I adore Shreyas Talpade, and I think he's the perfect age for the Soloman role, and he's got the comedy talent to pull it off.
I've got my fingers crossed that the film lives up to the trailer, and this is one remake I'm actually looking forward to seeing!
Two movies set to release today.
The first is Simhasanam from director Shaji Kailas, and starring Prithviraj. Now, I have to admit, the first Shaji Kailas film I ever saw was Chinthamani Kolacase, a legal thriller starring Suresh Gopi as lawyer seeking a kind of vigilante justice. It wasn't a great film, but it was a little bit cracktastic, and my second venture into his films (Baba Kalyani) only served to make me think that Kailas has a distinct style that is well suited to this big, kind of overblown action thriller films (see also his other 2012 film, The King and the Commissioner, starring Mammootty and Suresh Gopi).
I don't know much about the film, but I do know Prithviraj could probably use a hit right about now. Who knows if this will do it for him:
However, my pick this week is Mohan's award-winning Gramam, a film that did well at festival screenings:
I'm sure Simhasanam could prove to be a bit of a romp, and I will confess that I don't love the trailer fro Gramam, but I just have a feeling that it could prove to be more my cup of tea.
“You play dominoes very well, I believe.”
Mr. Cust was a little flurried by this. “I – I—well, I believe I do.”
“It is a very absorbing game, is it not, with a lot of skill in it?”
“Oh, there is a lot of play in it – a lot of play! We used to play a lot in the city, in the lunch hour. You’d be surprised the way total strangers come together over a game of dominoes.”
From The ABC Murders by Agatha Christie, featuring Hercule Poirot.
In this loose re-working of Agatha Christie’s classic story The ABC Murders, Mohanlal stars as Chandrasekhar, the recently appointed head of Kochi’s Metro Crime Stopper Cell. Equal parts herogiri and Hercule Poirot, Chandrasekhar draws the attention of the mysterious Z when he solves the abduction of three young women by a psychologically troubled man, Jerome (Riyaz Khan, the go-to-guy for creepy loser roles). Z sends Chandrasekhar a note congratulating him on the arrest, but chiding him for spending ten years wasting his talents while dealing with the aftermath of his separation from his wife, Deepthi (Priyamani). What Z proposes is a bit of a game, something that will appeal to the chess player in Chandrasekhar – whose chessboard is given a place of prominence on his desk, where he plays against an imaginary opponent. Z proposes a date and a place, and challenges Chandrasekhar to solve the murders he is about to commit.
Chandrasekhar is reluctant to take up the case, feeling that this feeds into Z’s plans somehow – but his superior (Devan) insists he do so. Accompanied by two of his officers on the Crime Stopper squad, Kishore (Narain) and Rashid (Jagathy Sreekumar), they set out on the trail of the mysterious Z.
It’s always difficult to take a classic work like The ABC Murders and adapt it in a way that seems fresh and engaging to an audience. I’m never opposed to writers adapting material and changing it to suit a new audience or to give us a fresh perspective on the story, but I was left largely unconvinced by what Unnikrishnan was proposing. On the one hand, the idea to connect the dates of the murders to events in Chandrasekhar’s private life is an interesting one, and it forces Chandrasekhar to face his problems head on instead of constant running from them. But for me, many of the changes only served to diminish the dramatic tension of the story. Christie’s tale was never a crime thriller, and neither is Grandmaster. Christie’s mysterious salesman makes an appearance in the film, here as Victor Rosetti (Babu Antony) an itinerant cosmetics salesman, but he’s introduced far too early, given a face too early in the film, so that it practically screams, “I’m the beard!”. Unnikrishnan then places the spotlight of suspicion on several other characters, including the psychiatrist played ably by Anoop Menon, allowing us to check them off the list of suspects. The idea to provide a connection between all the murders is also interesting, and although it doesn’t necessarily diminish Christie’s premise (that seemingly connected crimes are, perhaps, not what they seem), it does serve to make the new ending unnecessarily melodramatic. The main problem, I think, with Grandmaster can be summed up by the words of Hercule Poirot: “(I)f the victims are alphabetically selected, then they are not being removed because they are a source of annoyance to him personally. It would be too much of a coincidence to combine the two.” Unnikrishnan’s script, then, requires me to believe in too many coincidences.
Perhaps my inability to enjoy Grandmaster as much as so many others have (the film was a hit, after all) is that I read a lot of mystery novels. I have certain expectations of how things should proceed. I stand firm in my conviction that the reader/viewer should have all the information at his/her disposal at the same time as the investigator/detective, and should be able to solve the mystery at the same time as the detective does. Grandmaster doesn’t allow me to do that – Chandrasekhar seems to be more of a Jedi Grandmaster than a chess one, channeling the Force to help him get inside the mind of his opponent, often relying on that rather than on his (considerable) investigative skills to solve the murders.
However, I think that there were also several things that kind of infuriated me about Grandmaster, and that served to interfere with my ability to just sit back and enjoy the film. First, the whole question of mental illness and madness, with the criminal characters considered to be madmen and social deviants. The film goes so far as to suggest that Jerome’s problems stem from the fact that he was raised by a single mother. Victor, as we discover, is schizophrenic. Add to this the fact that all these mad characters make liberal use of Christian ritual and symbolism in the course of carrying out their crimes, and you’ve got a combination that only serves to make me less engaged in the film.
Also, the female characters in the film, with a couple of small exceptions, are generally – how shall I put this diplomatically – unsympathetic. No, face it, they’re all bitchy. On the plus side, they are all successful. They include Susan (Rajshri Nair) a police commissioner who covers for her cousin Jerome, and tries to undermine Chandrashekar’s investigation. To top it all off, she’s just generally unpleasant. There’s Beena (Roma), a famous rock singer, who is portrayed as a kind of tease, and who is just generally nasty. And there’s Deepthi (Priyamani), Chandrashekar’s ex-wife, who is described as having abandoned her family to pursue her career, and who betrays Chandrashekar to further one of her own cases. The tight slap Chandrashekar delivers to her when he discovers her betrayal only served to cement what made me uncomfortable in the film.
But it’s not all bad news. A second viewing of the film permitted me to set aside all these things that irritated me and focus on what the film has going for it. There are some lovely moments, many of them stemming from the interaction of Chandrashekar with his daughter Dakshayini (Sreelekshmi), and his two coworkers, Kishore and Rashid – in fact, I’d really love to see these three together again in film, investigating another mystery.
Mostly, though, it comes down to Mohanlal, who delivers an understated and intensely interesting performance. Grandmaster is kind of a workmanlike effort. All the ends get tied up at the end, but what Unnikrishnan asks me to believe as a viewer leaves me unconvinced. Mohanlal’s performance, however, raises it to a film worth watching.
Grandmaster is the first Malayalam language film to be streamed on Netflix, and that's the reason we finally broke down and gave the service a try. I know that it's there because of the UTV connection (the film is UTV's first foray into production in Malayalam), but I really hope that this is the start of a trend that will see other films added to the service.
So, it seems to be a slow week, release-wise.
There's Last Bench from director Jiju Asokan:
There's Naadabrahmam from Dr. Biju Lal:
But the big news is that Santosh Pandit is back, this time in Superstar Santosh Pandit!
Two films opening this week. The first, Cinema Company, is from director Mamas, whose debut film, Pappy Appacha was not well reviewed, but was a hit, and even made the list of top ten grossing films for 2010 (it came in at Number 8). I've been seeing some teasers for Cinema Company on the Asianet channel, and a story about friends who dream of making a movie really sounds like my cup of tea. Here's hoping the film lives up to that -- but what does it say that the thing that intrigues me most about the trailer is the reference to Paolo Coelho's The Alchemist (I'm guessing it's the whole "finding one's destiny" thing that's key to the movie, as it was in Coelho's book)? :
But my pick of the week is definitely P. Balachandran's Ivan Megharoopan, apparently based on the life of Malayalam poet P. Kunhiraman Nair, known for his wandering, Bohemian lifestyle:
I've said it before: if this releases to DVD without English subtitles, I will cry.
I am waiting with anticipation for this morning's press conference for TIFF2012, so thought perhaps I should make a list of what I hope I'm going to see amongst the announcements:
1. Gangs of Wasseypur Parts 1 and 2
It's no secret that director Anurag Kashyap is a favorite around these parts. I've seen all his films, and it's been killing me that I've yet to see Gangs of Wasseypur 1, even as they're gearing up for the release of Part 2 in India. So I would love to see both parts come to TIFF. Both parts showed at Cannes (Un Certain Regard), and Part 1 is releasing in France this week, so here's the trailer for the French release, with subtitles:
2. Miss Lovely
Ashim Ahluwalia's film was screened in the Un Certain Regard category at Cannes this year, and features Nawazzudin Siddiqui, (who has become a pretty hot property in the last few months -- he's also in Gangs of Wasseypur) and Anil George as two Ramsey-like brothers who work in the C movie industry, making pulpy, soft-porn laced horror pictures.
Aiyya is directed by Sachin Kundalkar, but it's produced by Totally Filmi Casa Fave Anurag Kashyap. It is, of course, the Bollywood debut of Malayalam cinema star Prithviraj, pairing him with another Casa Fave, the delectable Rani Mukherjee. I sort of thought this would be a good bet for TIFF, but now I'm not so sure -- apparently the original release date of September 28th has been pushed back, and the film is now supposed to release the end of October. So, although I would adore to see this at TIFF, I'm sort of suspecting it might not be ready (even if it were a candidate). No trailer, because one hasn't been released yet.
I adored director Rima Kagti's first film, Honeymoon Travels Pvt Ltd, and have been really looking forward to Talaash, which stars festival favorite Aamir Khan, along with Rani Mukherjee and Kareena Kapoor (not to mention that hot fave, Nawazzudin Siddiqui. But the film's release is currently in a bit of limbo, and it's not certain the film will be finished in time for TIFF. I'm crossing my fingers though -- I would so love to see it in this year's line-up.
Director Madhur Bhandarkar is set to bring us the behind-the-scenes story of a Bollywood superstar heroine, played by Kareena Kapoor. I think it's a good bet to show at TIFF -- perhaps in the City-to-City category, because Bhandarkar is no stranger to films set in Mumbai (this year's featured city). Chandi Bar featured Tabu as a woman who ends up working in the city's dance bars; Page 3 has the delightful Konkona Sen Sharma as a young woman who comes to Mumbai to work as a journalist, and who ends up covering celebrities on the titular Page 3; Traffic Signal documents the lives of people who live around a traffic signal in Mumbai.
(And I just had to edit this post to add in the just-released Heroine trailer. I would totally not be unhappy to see this at TIFF2012):
This is another film that was screened at Cannes (International Critics week), and I, for one, am dying to see Vasan Bala's directorial debut. It's another City-to-City candidate, as it's the story of two young guys who fall into Mumbai's drug trade and the cop who stalks them. It's also another Anurag Kashyap production (and yes, I'm as interested in what he produces as in what he makes himself).
7. Life of Pi
Ang Lee's adapation of Yann Martel's novel -- and yes, I want to see it for a number of reasons, but mostly because the adult Pi is played by Irrfan Khan, and also because Pi's mother is played by Tabu. I'm also curious about Suraj Sharma's debut performance as Pi.
8. Midnight's Children
When I first read Salman Rushdie's epic book about partition, I adored it. When I first heard it was going to be made into a film, I wondered how it could be possible. I can't wait to find out if Deepa Mehta will succeed in bringing it to the big screen. But the cast list is delicious, and I think it's probably a safe bet to say this will be a big film at this year's TIFF.
Technorati Tags: Aiyya, Ang Lee, Anurag Kashyap, Ashim Ahluwalia, Deepa Mehta, Gangs of Wasseypur, Heroine, Life of Pi, Madhur Bhandarkar, Midnight's Children, Miss Lovely, Peddlers, Rima Kagti, Sachin Kundalkar, Talaash, Vasan Bala
July 19th saw the release of director Rajppa Ravishankar's Ajantha. It is, apparently, a multilingual film (Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam), and the Tamil version (starring Ramana) released in 2009. The Malayalam version stars Vinu Mohan -- and Wikipedia suggests that it was his debut film, shot in 2006, and the release was delayed. Six years. Take that for what you will. Here's one of the teaser trailers (there were a slew of them):
On July 20th, there's Perinoru Makan from director Vinu Anand. I don't know much about it, but there are a lot of my favourite supporting players in the trailer, and I just get a good vibe from it. Not a great vibe, a good vibe, as if the film will turn out to be precisely my cup of tea, even if it's not everyone's:
And finally, there's my pick of the week, Akasathinte Niram from Dr. Biju, starring Indrajith, AKA "the film I wlll cry over if the DVD is released without English subtitles":
Thanks to Vipin who left a comment that reminded me that today marked the announcement of the Kerala State Film Awards for 2011:
Best Film: Ranjith, Indian Rupee
Second Best Film: P. Balachandran, Ivan Megharoopan
Best Director: Blessy, Pranayam
Best Actor: Dileep, Vellaripravinte Changathi
Best Actress: Shweta Menon, Salt N' Pepper
Second Best Actor: Fahadh Faasil, Chaappa Kurish, Akam
Second Best Actress: Nilambur Ayisha, Oomakkuyil Padumbol
Best Comedian: Jagathy Sreekumar, Swapna Sanchari
Best Child Artist: Malavika, Oomakkuyil Padumbol
Best Story: M. Mohanan, Manikiakkallu
Best Cinematography: M. J. Radhakrishnan, Akasathinte Niram
Best Screenplay: Bobby-Sanjay, Traffic
Best Lyrics: Sreekumaran Thampi, Naayika
Best Music Director: Sharreth, Ivan Megharoopan (All Songs)
Best Male Singer: Sudheep Kumar, Rathinirvedam: "Chembakapoonkattile"
Best Female Singer: Shreya Ghoshal for Rathinirvedam & Veeraputhran -- "Kannoram Chingaram" & "Kannodu Kannoram"
Note that several of these films (Oomakkuyil Padumbol, Ivan Megharoopan, and Akasathinte Niram) did not get theatrical releases in 2011. Oomakkuyil Padumbol was released in February of this year. Akasathinte Niram is slated for release this week, July 20th, and I believe that Ivan Megharoopan will be released next week, on July 27th. And a note to the makers of all three of these films (and most especially Ivan Megharoopan) -- if you release your film to DVD without English subtitles you will make me cry.
Technorati Tags: 2011, Akam, Akasathinte Niram, Blessy, Bobby-Sanjay, Chaappa Kurish, Chembakapoonkattile, Dileep, Fahadh Faasil, Indian Rupee, Ivan Megharoopan, Jagathy Sreekumar, Kannodu Kannoram, Kannoram Chingaram, Kerala State Film Awards, M. J. Radhakrishnan, M. Mohanan, Malavika, Manikiakkallu, Naayika, Nilambur Ayisha, Oomakkuyil Padumbol, P. Balachandran, Pranayam, Ranjith, Rathinirvedam, Rathinirvedam, Salt N' Pepper, Sharreth, Shreya Ghoshal, Shweta Menon, Sudheep Kumar, Swapna Sanchari, Thampi, Traffic, Veeraputhran, Vellaripravinte Changathi
I always find it a wee bit amusing when the Cineplex movie app on my iPhone gets confused about films, putting up images or information for a different film with a similar title. I think the last time that happened was with Dibakar Banerjee's Shanghai, which was confused with Mikael Håfström's similarly titled film.
So I was, naturally, bemused when I opened the app yesterday and saw this:
Okay, so they misspelled the language (it should, of course, be "Malayalam"), but someone clearly muddled this with Arun Kumar's 2010 film starring Jayasurya and Anoop Menon. I'm more suprised, actually, that the didn't get it confused with Roger Donaldson's 1988 film starring Tom Cruise, so points, I suppose, for getting the right continent. And for a brief moment, I wondered what it would be like to really see Malayalam language films turn up in a local movie theatre.
Nah, it's not my interview with Freida Pinto -- I would have loved that chance, but the likes of Pinto, Riz Ahmed and Michael Winterbottom are probably a little out of my league at the moment. And I don't normally post the interviews sent to me by the PR folks, but I thought this one actually contained some interesting details about the film and its characters, so I'm going to share it:
Q: Take us through the process of how you became involved in the project. What attracted you to it and to the role of Trishna?
A: When I was told that Michael Winterbottom would like to meet me to discuss his new film project, I obviously jumped on the opportunity. He is one of those rare directors who makes films by boldly attempting and embracing any given genre. I was already familiar with Thomas Hardy’s 19th century novel Tess of the d'Urbervilles and the idea of having it set in contemporary India was absolutely brilliant and apt. I was pining to sink my teeth into a hardcore independent project and Trishna came along.
Q: Who is Trishna?
A: Accordingto our story, Trishna is the nineteen year-old daughter of a rickshaw driver. Since she’s had a taste of a little education, she doesn't entirely conform or fit into the traditional mould of thinking that her parents belong to. She leaves school an works at a hotel near her hometown of Ossian in Rajasthan to bring more money into the household. She is, however, determined to ensure that her younger siblings are given a good English middle school education. That’s something that she wishes she could have continued as well. She meets Jay while working at the hotel and falls in love with him and has a sometimes blissful, but mostly tumultuous relationship with him, which eventually leads us into their tragedy.
Q: Tell us about Trishna’s personal journey.
A: Trishna for me, is the epitome of purity and suffering. Her journey can be divided into the three phases within the film. The first is her mundane family life in Ossian which starts changing only after she meets Jay. An unspoken passionate tension and subtle seduction rule this phase. The second phase is what I called "the Happy Phase" where both Jay and Trishna get temporary freedom from everything class-related, where they can just enjoy being together, uninhibited, in the city of Mumbai. They really discover each other during this time and are passionately in love. This is where Trishna, although she misses her family, is a lot more relaxed with Jay. The last phase is the most complex one of the story where Trishna has to face the inevitability of her fate with Jay and the fact that she would never be able to rise from her social class/status to be on the same level as him. In a way she would always have to submit to him in society. However, in their private moments while the love still exists, it slowly turns into sadistic torture especially for Trishna, which she swallows as a bitter pill. Finally, she is pushed over the edge and that’s when she decides she cannot take it anymore. Trishna is constantly torn between her desire to adopt Jay's modernism and urbanity - which to some extent she does, and the traditional family values and rural roots that she finds hard to ignore. Therein lies her conflict. She does find it very liberating when Jay comes back looking for her and takes her to Mumbai. But there’s a certain sadness in the fact that she never fully fits into that setting but is nonetheless happy to try. When Jay finally takes her back to Rajasthan after finding out that she has been hiding a secret from him, she is in a way made to accept the unfairness that she has always been subjected to. To sum up her journey throughout the film in short, she’s almost there but never really there.
Q: Tell us about her relationship with Jay.
A: Jay in our film is the embodiment of both Angel and Alec in Hardy’s novel. Trishna's purity is alluring to Jay but it’s that very quality he ends up exploiting in his Alec phase. It’s a very passionate relationship filled with sexual tension, awe and a certain admiration for each other. But they are almost like each other's forbidden fruit. Trishna would probably only dream of falling in love with someone like Jay and
only in her wildest dreams would she ever imagine it to be a reciprocal feeling. There is a lot of shyness and passivity in the way she handles her side of the relationship with him never knowing how much she could actually open up. So when she finally does tell him about the pregnancy, his image of her being a symbol of "ultimate purity" comes down like a house of cards and they move into a very sadistic phase of their relationship where she continues to be even more passive which irks Jay further and in turn he keeps provoking her to get her to react. It’s a doomed romance.
Q: How different was the shooting experience and working with Michael, compared to your other films?
A: Michael has a very distinctive style of filming. He is not afraid of getting his hands dirty in a way that he can be fully involved in the story and encourages and expects us to do the same. He also has an optimism that is absolutely admirable but also quite intense. He knew I didn't speak Marvadi at all but somehow thought since I spoke Hindi I would be able to speak and improvise in Marvadi as well. It obviously scared the living delights out of me and forced me to find a method to pick up the language in less than 20 days! I didn’t have a dialect coach on set so I had to prepare myself fully for whatever could be thrown at me. I think in that sense, he expected our homework to be thorough and for us to be as prepared as he always is. That quality made me think a lot more independently as an actor and to be able to make the set more organic rather than contrived. He likes working with a very intimate set - very
few people where you don't feel like it’s a movie set. He is very flexible and invites the actors to come up with their own ideas to enhance the scenes. Every film has had its own unique and wonderful experience but this is what is unique about Michael.
Q: What sort of preparation and research did you do and what other skills did you have to learn? You do a lot of dancing…
A: Oh yes - the dancing! I accompanied one of the crew members on a recce a month before we started filming to get a better sense of the culture I was going to dive into. It’s obviously not enough to just be an Indian to play this character. Rajasthan is vastly different from Mumbai. I met a lot of families, young girls working at hotels, recorded videos and audio tapes, went to local schools, spoke to students there and got interesting insights on their dreams and aspirations and the hurdles they come across in accomplishing those dreams. For me, my research consisted of studying people. I was not playing Tess in England or Mumbai, so I had to keep it as authentic to the Rajasthani setting as possible. In terms of skills, I learnt to speak a bit of Marvadi and of course learning the traditional Rajasthani dance moves was fun. Can milking cows and goats also be considered a skill? I think yes!
Q: The role of Trishna is huge and required flexibility and versatility, which you excelled at. What were the biggest challenges and biggest joys of the shoot?
A: It has been by far my biggest and most demanding role and I couldn't have enjoyed it more. The biggest challenge was adopting Trishna's passivity which is not necessarily her strength or weakness, it is both. Many times Michael had to remind me during certain scenes not to respond and join in every conversation but rather be the observer and absorber. That’s very difficult for a chatty girl like me who is always ready with a response! But through the course of the filming process it started falling into place - the frustration, the internalisation of the pain she feels that ultimately pushes her over the edge. For me it was almost like her passivity was a must to understanding her suffering. Working with a team that introduced a guerilla style of filmmaking to me was a complete joy and I cannot say I wasn't ready for it. I was more than happy to embrace it. The simplicity of our living conditions in Ossian made it easier for me to feel closer to Trishna. I found it very interesting that we didn't just work with professional actors. The family playing Trishna's family in the film were a real Rajasthani family from Ossian (except for those playing my mother and father). It was like the saying "go with the flow" for most part but with an obvious direction.
Q: How was it working with Riz?
A: There is something absolutely earthy and raw about the way he performs. He takes every moment as it is given to him; he feels it inside out and delivers with impact. He can be very hard on himself sometimes but that’s the way he functions. I believe that’s his way of pushing himself to do better and excel. His ability to communicate his ideas and at the same time be open to debate made it very easy and a memorable experience to work with him.
Q: Michael has compared the England of the 19th Century during Tess’ time with the new India that’s emerging (industrialization, urbanization, education). Do you agree? How have you seen India change in recent years and how in particular, has it changed for women like Trishna?
A: It is quite true and I never really paid attention to that comparison, till I had to justify to myself why TRISHNA would be the perfect Indian Rajasthani adaptation. It definitely is. India has changed in a lot of ways and in some ways there is still the need for more change. Education is slowly trickling into most remote villages of India and the importance of educating the girl-child is also coming to the forefront. There are still a few rigid ways and blind faith beliefs, social class system and casteism - that serve as hindrances in a few small towns and villages in the interiors of the country but despite that conscious efforts are being made to ensure that the need for basic education to children – male and female is met and adequate support to see it through is provided for. The Thar English Medium Primary School in Ossian that lent their support in the pre-production process of the film is one such example of the educational change in rural areas. As far as cities like Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore etc go,
there is an incredibly distinctive change. Technology and modernisation has improved the quality of life, and education has become on a par with the international standards if not better. The manner in which India's economy has seen an unprecedented boom in the last one and half decades and particularly in the last four to five years has a lot in common to the industrial revolution of England. There is also considerable growth and development of “home grown MNCs” in India. Besides the open door policy that allows foreign investment in India, we also have our own corporate giants like the Tata group, the Birla group, the Ambani group that have made a mark in the business and entertainment world not just
in India but also overseas And of course as far as changing role of woman in society goes , the fact that the current President of India is a woman is quite a shining example.
Q: Michael has drawn similarities between Thomas Hardy’s storytelling and Bollywood films (melodrama, love, poor girl falling in love with rich man and being carried away). Can you see that?
A: Absolutely. Essentially it can be viewed as a typical Bollywood story – the themes and the definite melodrama in it. Even some of Hardy's lines can find a direct parallel to some of the Bollywood films, especially when Angel returns from Brazil to find her as a mistress to Alec and Tess tells him "It’s too late, it’s too late". It’s reality that is heightened with tools like melodrama.
Release Date: Now Playing in NY/LA, July 20 & 27 additional US cities
Cast: Freida Pinto, Riz Ahmed, Roshan Seth, and Anurag Kashyap
Director: Michael Winterbottom
Distributor: IFC Films
Based on Thomas Hardy's classic novel Tess of the D'Ubervilles, master filmmaker Michael Winterbottom's newest film stars Freida Pinto who soars as Trishna in her most revealing performance yet. Trishna lives with her family in a village in Rajasthan, India's largest state. As the eldest daughter, she works in a nearby resort to help pay the bills. Jay (Riz Ahmed, FOUR LIONS) is the wealthy son of a property developer. When he takes up managing a resort at his father's request, he meets Trishna at a dance and their fates cross. Jay finds every opportunity to win Trishna's affection and she accepts his efforts with shy curiosity. But when the two move to Mumbai and become a couple, Jay's deep family
bond threatens the young lovers' bliss. Shot with Winterbottom's agile camera, TRISHNA is a powerful look at the tension between ancient privilege and modern equality, between codes of urban and rural life and ultimately a hymn to both the glory and the tragedy that comes with beauty in all forms.
Two films this week. First up, from director Aneesh Anwar, Mullamottum Munthiricharum. Apparently the film is not wonderful, but Indrajith's performance makes it worth watching:
I suspect that Mullamottum Munthiricharum is the pick for this week.
The second film opening this week is a children's film from director L. Rajendran, Little Master:
The only thing I can say about this? Casa Fave Lal is in it.