Review of BA Pass, A 2013 Ajay Bahl Film Starring Shilpa Shukla and Shadab Kamal

GRADE: CC / 40% Meaning full movie- 2013-08-04 20-15.jpg

Summary: The characters have unclear motives and poor, one-dimensional characterizations. The actors too play it safe and just go with it instead of redeeming the weakness of the script.

When characters in a film have unclear motives, there audience feels disconnected. Mukesh, the protagonist of B.A. Pass is a naïve middle-class college-going guy who shifts to his aunt’s house in Central Delhi along with his younger sisters after the death of both his parents. He is made to perform all the household chores such as sweeping the floor and serving drinks to guests. Basically, his life’s quite similar to Harry Potter’s at the Dursley’s home, albeit slightly better – at least he gets to sit on the dining table. He has a cousin who is just as big (although not in physique) a prick as Dudley Dursley was with Harry; not one day goes without his cousin browbeating him for not getting a job and contributing to the family income. Mukesh meets a Sarika, a mysterious lady in her thirties, at one of the kitty parties hosted by his aunt. The next morning, she calls him home for some work.

The two quickly jump into action. She trains him how to control, he learns obediently. And all along we wonder what’s running through Mukesh’s head but never get an answer. Is he doing it purely for sex? Does he love her? What happens after in between their love making – do they talk? Does he grow protective of her? Is he so stupid he doesn’t suspect even once that she might be using him? Or that she may be involved with other men like him? Our penetrating questions get no satisfactory response.

B A Pass isn’t a place to look for character study. The movie takes the maxim ‘Desperation drives the poor and deprived to commit dishonorable acts’ is literally taken without adding any layer of psychological complexity that makes us empathatize with those committing such acts. There’s a complacency, a ‘just go with it’ attitude we see in Mukesh that disturbs us quite a bit. Sarika drops too many hints along the way which clearly suggest that she intends to make him a gigolo, and yet he stays ignorant. He doesn’t seem to have blind or unconditional love for her either, so what is it he seeks from her? He can’t be such a tubelight to fall into her traps so quickly, so easily; he reads Kasparov and aces at chess (he plays chess with Johnny, a guy he befriends at the graveyard), and anybody who’s good at chess is expected to have minimal intelligence. And it doesn’t help that Shadab Kamal, the actor who plays him, dutifully plays his role without trying to redeem the poor characterization through his performace. When Mukesh is forced to turn to gay prostitution after getting into trouble and losing all his female clients, Shadab doesn’t convey the hesitation, the humiliation which any straight man would face in such a situation. He just goes with it, and I find that perplexing.

Mukesh’s partner-in-sex Sarita wears a different colored brassiere every time, but her character doesn’t reveal any colors to her personality except black. So it surprises me that the costume designer thought it would suit to change the color of her underclothes each time when using black throughout would’ve functioned better in defining the character she actually is. There is no good side to Sarita, no grey shade, only black. In an earlier scene, she mentions ‘she travelled a lot with her father and saw many things at a very young age’. We wish she had revealed what she had seen exactly, and what made her the kind such a woman. The director doesn’t explore this aspect, and chooses to keep it all implied. “Oh she must’ve seen bad stuff! Naughty stuff!” is what we’re supposed to understand by her remark and just go with it. Again, no help from Shilpa Shukla, who plays her rule dutifully yet blandly.

Whenever there’s a sex scene in the film, there’s a large object to hide the no-nos and in one case, the scene goes out of focus. The large objects strategically placed in front to cover the entire pelvic area makes the sex scenes look rehearsed because the movements are just too rhythmic. A smarter thing would’ve been to cut to close ups shots of the characters getting pleasure as Censors can’t object a face, can they?

The good thing about B. A. Pass is that it’s mercifully short, clocking in at 95 minutes. It could’ve ended one scene, one fade out early and made a better impact. There are funny parts in the film, like Sarita’s biji warning Mukesh about Sarita’s character, calling her a ‘nagan, a kanjari (derogatory word used for a lower caste associated with activities like prostitution)’ before Sarita can shut her in the bedroom, or the female client who narrates episodes of her favorite serials as she’s having sex with Mukesh. The part involving a client whose husband is in comma (a special appearance made by actress Deepti Naval) remains underutilized.

The biggest mistake B. A. Pass makes is that it highlights all the film festivals where it won awards or was screened, even before the movie begins. This elevates expectations, and you go in anticipating a film that doesn’t choose the easy route of ‘just going with it’. Unfortunately, it is into this very trap that B A Pass trips and is unable to escape.

Review of 2013 Horror Film The Conjuring By James Wan, Starring Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga

Grade: C / 30% Conjuring poster.jpg

Summary: The weakness of ‘putting everything in to impress’  hovers over James Wan’s The Conjuring throughout, until it becomes a tedious exercise to watch the film

 

Cast

 

Ed and Lorraine Sullivan is a ghost-busting couple who are professionally called ‘demonologists’. Their job description: to visit supposedly haunted properties either to a) detect any troublesome supernatural presence and get rid of it or b) debunk the rumors using rational explanations. They record their findings on tapes and video cameras to i) send it to the Vatican as evidence of demonic activity to get sanctioned for conducting exorcisms, and ii) to use it during presentations when they’re conducting seminars all over town. And you thought they were making home videos, did you? Those would be some nasty memories to keep! Lorraine is a clairvoyant, so she can see things other can’t and visit people’s memories and get a feel of their past experiences. It’s a gift in case of happy memories, but looking at the nature of her profession, it doesn’t seem like she gets many happy things to see.

When the Warrens visit the Perron family, who invite them after being traumatized by a demonic entity in their newly purchased farmhouse, it doesn’t take time before Lorraine senses that things are going to get messy. Seriously messy. This time, the spirit isn’t camera shy to lurk in the shadows until the very end of the film. It gives Lorraine an eerie welcome, hovering behind Roger Perron, the head of the family, when he opens the main door. The spirit then floats near Roger’s children as he and his wife Carolyn introduce their five (yes, five. This actually happened in 1971, according to the Sullivans) girls to Ed and Lorraine. A few moments later, bammm, Lorraine sees a woman hanging from the tree (i.e. the spirit; yes, it’s a woman again that haunts) close to the lake nearby. “The spirit has latched on to your family. So it’ll follow you wherever you go” she then explains to Roger and Carolyn, thus putting an end to our common doubt: ‘Why don’t the guys just leave?’. An exorcism needs to be conducted, but the Vatican needs proof before sanctioning an approval. Our demonologists, like the 70s version of Ghosthunters, then begin installing cameras and mics all over the house, recruiting two other guys, Drew and Brad, for this twisted venture. They also have ‘UV lights’ that track foot-marks etc; I remember this object so well because Brad tells Drew during the film ‘I need the UV LIGHTS’ with such great emphasis on ‘UV Lights’ I thought it for a moment it was product placement.

Day one, or rather Night one remains relatively ‘unghostly’ except for a highly intractable door that’ll shut on people’s faces without warning. Its night two when things begin to shake up. We’ve already had a teaser even before Sullivans’ entry;  one girl is yanked by her legs every night, another sleepwalks to a closet every time while the littlest one (like all littlest ones in horror movies do) keeps talking to an imaginary friend who later turns out to be ‘one of them little ghosts’. Now the evil spirit is incensed all the more because of the Christian crosses Ed has placed in all the rooms. She does everything in her powers to destroy the Perrons, and unlike some other spirits who circumscribe themselves to two-to-four tried-and-tested torture tactics, she has free rein here. She possesses the sleepwalking girl and takes her up to a secret area within the closet, she sends another one flying across the room, she drags the third by her hair, she flings objects at everybody etc. Other spirits make guest appearances too: the little ghost Rory, the knife-yielding maid and… yeah, I think that’s it. When the evil spirit (a witch when she lived) possesses Carolyn, all hell breaks loose, with louder screaming, birds crashing, stuff flinging, cupboards crashing, Carolyn bleeding, Ed chanting, girls wailing…, and exhaustion sets in. Free rein to ghosts ain’t really a good thing, is it?

James Wan by Gage Skidmore.jpg

James Wan

The weakness of ‘putting everything in to impress’  hovers over James Wan’s The Conjuring throughout, until it becomes an exercise to watch the film. Even when the spirit is introduced, James tries to put in as many ‘Spirit Alert!’ signs as possible. Repeating a few scare tactics but making them all the more frightening each time they appeared would’ve done the trick, for example, it was unnerving to know what was in store for the girl who had her leg yanked every-time. But Wan does a lot many other things too, which quickly turn laborious. ‘Not scared of leg yanking? How about clocks stopping? Or birds dying? Or things breaking?’ is Wan’s attitude here, and it doesn’t work.

The characters in the film are too many. Ed and Lorraine were required obviously, and so were the Perron couple. But five girls plus Drew and Brad? And so many ghosts? We don’t know the girls to well nor the ghosts. And the film has a climax that wants us to be emotionally connected with Carolyn and the girls. Are we emotionally connected? Not really. More importantly, is Conjuring scary? Nope! My clairvoyance tells me I’ve seen far better horror films: Paranormal Activity, The Blair Witch Project, Rosemary’s Baby, Drag Me To Hell, to name a few. I went to Conjuring wondering what nightmares shall haunt me, but I guess it’s a good night’s sleep for me.

 

Q&A Session with Jaideep Verma, Director of ‘Baavra Mann’, a Documentary on the life of Director-Scriptwriter Sudhir Mishra (Part 3/3 in ‘Baawra Mann’ Series)

Baavra MannSudhir Mishra hardly needs an introduction. A three-time National Award winner, Mr. Mishra is recognized as one of the trailblazers of Indian alternate cinema whose directorial credits include Main Zinda Hoon, a social drama on desertion and extramarital affair, Dharavi, set in the backdrop of one of India’s biggest slums, and Iss Raat Ki Subah Nahin, a thriller whose plot unfolds through  single night. However, most audiences today would know him as the man behind Kareena Kapoor-Rahul Bose starrer Chameli, and his films with actress Chitrangada SinghHazaaron Khwahishein Aisi, Yeh Saali Zindagi and the recently released Inkaar. But did you know he also wrote the script for the classic comedy Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron? Here is ‘Bhaawra Mann’ (Restless Mind), a documentary on the life and works of Sudhir Mishra. He candidly speaks on his dissatisfaction with today’s education system, addresses his failed marriage with actress Sushmita Mukherjee, critiques his earlier works with a discerning eye, and predicts his future in Bollywood – in Mumbai.

The director of ‘Bhaawra Mann’, Mr. Jaideep Varma does need an introduction. While earning a name among music lovers after making the documentary ‘Leaving Home‘, based on Indian rock band Indian Ocean, Jaideep Verma has still not made his mark in Bollywood, and neither does he intend to. Formerly a copywriter at an ad agency, Mr. Verma has now added documentary film-maker, scriptwriter, novelist and cricket analyst (of self-owned Impact Index) to his portfolio. After the unexpectedly positive audience response towards Leaving Home, Jaideep Verma decided he had to make a documentary on the Sudhir Mishra, one of his inspirations, even if he had to lose his money. WIth a shoestring budget of 5-6 lakhs, he managed to interview Sudhir and his films’ actors, scriptwriters, crew-members, parents, friends, ex-wife, and even contemporaries. Originally intending to upload it immediately to Youtube with little monetary expectations, Jaideep Varma had luck on his side when he found producers who were willing to promote Baawra Mann in international film festivals. With his documentary now touring around the world, Mr. Jaideep Varma can breathe a sigh of relief and rest his mind as he can rest assured his film will just do fine.

Mr. Jaideep Varma screened and promoted his film during a private screening at Surya Palace Hotel in Vadodara on 2nd August. After the screening, he willingly and enthusiastically answered a round of questions posed by the audience. Here are a few:

Q) Why Sudhir Mishra?

Jaideep Varma: I chose Sudhir because he’s the only great director to have lasted in the Hindi film industry for almost three decades. To me at least,  he is the director I regard as the best in the film industry.  I have worked with Sudhir before and he’s always treated everybody on set with respect. While working, I observed that the man was even smarter than his films. I told him one day that if Yeh Saali Zindagi is called one of your better films, than your best film will be mine… the one I shall make on you.

Q) How did Mr. Mishra react to Baavra Mann?

JV: This is actually quite interesting. When I went to Sudhir and told him I was keen on making a film about him, he was taken aback. But after he heard me out, and he had already seen my work on Leaving Home, he knew I was clear in my head and so accepted the offer. I’d try to arrange meetings with him but he’d usually be busy, busy, busy most of the time. So we worked out eventually by conducting our meetings on Saturdays, and that explains the title of our production company (Saturday Films).

You must have observed in the documentary that he’s somewhat eccentric.When I told him I had a three hour cut assembled, he called me to my house one night… or rather one morning as it was 1 am. We sat and saw the entire film together at his place. Throughout the film, he did not stir one moment. He didn’t move a bit, except for one bathroom break. He remained silent for the entire duration. When the film was up, I saw his face and thought he had fallen asleep. But he wasn’t, and I nervously asked him “So, you liked the film?”. And his reply was “I’m still awake, aren’t I? Doesn’t that answer your question?” (laughter). I knew I’d got my green signal then.

Q)Your favorite Sudhir Mishra film?

JV) Hazaaron Khwahishein Aisi, without a doubt. If you notice, I’d given it much more focus in my documentary. It’s really a film that grows on you. I mean you see it each time with a newer, fresher perspective. It’s a brilliant work.

Q) Sudhir Mishra has also acted in a film called ‘Traffic Signal’. Why is there no mention of his contribution in acting?

JV: Well, after hearing about his work in direction and writing, his acting career is quite inconsequential. He’s actually worked in about three films, including the one you mentioned, but he is not really an actor. He appeared as a cameo in those films. In fact, you should hear what he says about his performances!

Q) I come from the ad field, and we’re told that the essence of any advertisement is its idea. However this is so much emphasis on attention to detail and form nowadays. Is the idea itself losing value due to this?

JV: That is a very good question. Twelve years of working in the advertising industry as a copywriter has taught me the importance of an idea. Idea has played an important role subconsciously in everything I have done. You need to have a strong idea in anything. Unfortunately, this age venerates form; if anything is not done the way its expected to be done, it is rejected. Great ideas are lost because of this.

Q) What is your best idea for an ad?

JV: Seriously! (laughter) I mean (thinks for a moment) Yeah, it would be asingle shot advertisement I had made for Savlon. The idea worked because it was simple.

Q) After much appreciation of your humility, I do not have a question for you. I rather need your advice on what we can do to promote your film?

JV: I feel humbled by your support today, as you all have stayed so late to ask questions about the film. If you feel like promoting it, you do it! You can tell whoever you want through social networking sites like Facebook. The film’s currently played at some film festivals and shall be on Youtube soon. Until then, you can contact me on Facebook in case you want to know anything about the film.

(Note: the questions and answers mentioned above are not verbatim as I did not have shorthand writing skills to note down the complete responses. Also, some of the questions and answers, including mine, have been left out sadly because I’m unable to decipher my own scribbling! Gotta find a shorthand tutor for myself!)

Article, Review and Q&A Session of ‘Baavra Mann’, a Documentary on the life of Director-Scriptwriter Sudhir Mishra, Directed by Jaideep Varma (Part 2 of 3)

The film is produced by Saturday films, which is the director’s own Production Company and the sole financer of this film (as revealed during the Q & A session). Shot on a shoestring budget of 5 – 6 lakhs, Baawra Mann explores different aspects of director-scriptwriter Sudhir Mishra’s life and works through interviews with cast and crew of his earlier films, friends, acquaintances, contemporaries and Indian Ocean (considering Jaideep Varma’s previous documentary Leaving Home was about this band).

GRADE: CC / 40%

Summary: Baavra Mann is a languorous overload of interviews shot in patterned middle-shots with little music, little dramatic impact and a lot of talk.  Together these voices drown out the Jaideep Varma’s own voice as the documentary’s director.

Baavra Mann is a languorous ovBaavra Mannerload of interviews with Sudhir Mishra, actors, writers, producers and composers who have worked with him, theatre personalities, professors, contemporaries, friends and acquaintances, parents, uncles and even ex-wife, shot in patterned middle-shots with little music, little dramatic impact and a lot of talk. Together these voices drown out the director Jaideep Varma’s own voice, and we wait restlessly in our seats wanting to know the story Varma is trying to convey. Alas, he remains silent, and his story indefinite.

To make a documentary on the life and works of Sudhir Mishra is a challenging task. Firstly, Sudhir is a wise man, a very wise man. He has answers for most of the questions, especially the simple ones. There isn’t much self-doubt or insecurity in this man, and even if there is, he hides it behind a convincing façade. Vulnerable moments seldom show on his countenance. He has a no-nonsense attitude, a downer for cameras. Secondly, it’s odd to release or rather screen (as corrected by Jaideep Varma during the Q&A session) film on Sudhir Mishra in 2013. Why? Because his previous film Inkaar underperformed at the box office and wasn’t a critical darling either. Neither was Sudhir Mishra involved in any major kind of controversy unlike his Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi star Shiney Ahuja. His personal life isn’t under microscopic scrutiny of film reporters either. Why hear about a guy who isn’t heard or talked about like say Karan Johar or Rituparno Ghosh? Thirdly, even if his life is documented, is it really worth at the present moment to screen it at film festivals, release special DVDs etc? Isn’t this kind of material, based on a guy whose fans are only those who’ve watched his movies, better suited as a DVD bonus feature? I have the answer to the third question, a simple one that too – YES.

There is no director’s stamp in this documentary, which is especially needed if the subject is Sudhir Mishra because we don’t hold a distinct opinion about him. Does Jaideep Verma wants us to look at this man and his films differently? Does he want us to empathize with his attitude on cinema? Or does he want us to simply lament lost times in general, his lost films in particular? We find ourselves lost here because none of the questions posed to Mishra generate anything more than superficial interest. His failed marriage with Sushmita Mukherjee, for instance, begins with Sushmita talking about his work, then their marriage, then the reason for its failure (where both take the blame themselves for a change instead of pointing accusatory fingers). The last segment is edited using poorly cut split screen effect; first Sushmita speaks on the left side, then Sudhir on the right, then Sushmita, then Sudhir. Did he pour his personal failures as recurring motives in his films? I’m not sure again, as there are so many voices to speak that we fail to recognize and remember whose words matter.

We have interviews with people who only speak a line or two then disappear. We don’t really know what Mishra saw in his muse

English: Chitrangada Singh at the Audio releas...

 Chitrangada Singh (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Chitrangada Singh, who has starred as the lead in Hazaaron Khwahishein Aisi, Yeh Saali Zindagi and Inkaar; I would’ve wanted to hear that. And what did Sudhir think about Shiney Ahuja’s arrest? Did he have conflicts with actors on sets? We won’t know all that as the film rarely takes us to a set or a stage. Instead, a considerable time is given to Sudhir travelling to places like Bombay, Jaipur, Sagar etc and talking about ‘Being a Bambaikar’, ‘Jaipur ki Meethi Boli’…

More importantly, the film fails to answer whether Jaideep Varma’s preconceived notions about Sudhir Mishra prior to making the film altered during the process. Instead, there’s a scene of him peeing in the fields. The documentary takes itself too seriously yet does not ask serious enough questions and doesn’t know when to relax. Even the moment of levity is jarring. Add monotonous, repetitive editing technique to the pyre and what you have are the reels of Baavra Mann burning. And I prefer to stay silent than stop this fire.

 

Article, Review and Q&A Session of ‘Baavra Mann’, a Documentary on the life of Director-Scriptwriter Sudhir Mishra, Directed by Jaideep Varma (Part 1 of 3)

 

(I do not own any rights to this video)

 

A private screening of documentary feature ‘Baavra Mann’ was held at Surya Palace hotel yesterday from 6:15 pm. Hurrying with the event pass obtained from Mr. Tony Kirkham, my father’s friend cum client who was one of the organizers of the event, I reached dot on six fifteen and was inside the hall, proud that I’d made it in time for once (the last time I had many heads turning as I dashed in about ten minutes late during an interactive session on alternate cinema; however, I’d like to mention here that nobody else except I asked any question relevant to the subject of discussion). The hall quickly filled up, and I took my seat after greeting Mr. Tony who, surprised by the hormonal changes in my body, exclaimed “You look like a man now! How time flies!’; the last time we met, it was a year before when I’d visited his office to ask for sponsorship, which he generously gave.

 

The leniency of Indians regarding punctuality did not just limit to lower or middle-class Indians but affluent Indians too, as nothing popped up on the medium-sized screen until 6:35 pm (6:15 pm – 6:45 pm was allotted for introductory remarks by the documentary’s director Jaideep Verma, at least on paper i.e. the event pass). It was at 6:45 pm that visuals began appearing on screen, however it wasn’t the documentary that was playing but a short clip on my city Vadodara. One by one, interview style close-up shots to middle-shots of entrepreneurs and the event’s organizers played as they praised the art, culture, values and lifestyle of Vadodara. Frankly, nobody paid attention to the first video because of the great Indian bustle (which involved people greeting one another like they’re blood brothers and blood sisters who are meeting after years of separation by some Berlin Wall-like thing) which eventually subdued during the second clip, which was about business opportunities and entrepreneurial freedom in Vadodara. “To hell with Barodian self-congratulatory hymns, just begin the film! Mera mann baavra ho rahaa hai (my mind is getting restless!)!” I thought.

 

As soon as the clips faded away, a thirty-plus bespectacled guy in a natty black waistcoat and finely ironed pants appeared on stage to host the main event finally. After usual words of praise for director Jaideep Varma, Impact Index (don’t ask me what this is. The name is scribbled in my notes for some reason), Sir Jadeja, (clueless here again; apologies for my awful memory) hotel Surya Palace, and Cognito of course (main sponsors; I learnt from dad later that the host held a higher-level position at Cognito), he went on to invite the man-behind-the-movie himself, Mr Jaideep Varma. I didn’t know anything about him except whatever was mentioned on his pass, and so like any other person, I judged him first based on his outward appearance.

 

Sudhir Mishra

Sudhir Mishra (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

He looked quite young, at least from where I was sitting, for a director who is making a film on the life and times of veteran parallel cinema director-scriptwriter Sudhir Mishra. I expected a grey-haired guy with a Mishra-like austere and scholarly look but got a bespectacled geeky-looking slightly-burly fellow in an oversized tee-shirt. He reminded me of a friend of mine who lived for two months at my neighbor’s house and came to my home everyday diligently… though uninvited (sometimes I’d wake up and find him in the living area watching television; if this were USA, he’d be charged for trespassing. Nice fellow, though).

 

Introducing himself as the ‘guy who made ‘Leaving Home’ documentary on the band Indian Ocean, and a former employee at an advertising agency’, Mr. Jaideep Varma then proceeded to call filmmaking as an ‘entrepreneurship’ involving team-building and execution; as Vadodara teemed with prospective entrepreneurs (absolutely true), he hoped to see more Barodians entering filmmaking in the future and coming up with new innovative ideas. He ended his introductory speech by saying that his film was not just a biopic also threw light on various other things, which he could not explain coherently for fear of spoiling the film. A surprising statement he added right at the end was that “he did not believe Mr. Sudhir Mishra had made his best yet”, but concluded by saying that “the film was not pessimistic. I hope you’d understand”. Hopes were high indeed because I was keen on how this documentary treated a scriptwriter-director who was not among the most well-known names in

English: The official movie poster of Hazaaron...

Movie poster of Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

the industry yet a force to be reckoned with. I’ve only seen one film of his, that too in bed when I was down with Hepatitis-A about two years ago; it was called ‘Yeh Saali Zindagi’ (This bloody life) and I liked it for the most part. And I knew he had made ‘Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi’ (A Thousand Desires Like These), a highly acclaimed film and ‘Inkaar’ (Denial), a mildly bashed film. Why would Mr. Varma choose to document his life, which is hardly the talk of the town? Especially after Inkaar, which quietly faded into oblivion? Why did he not choose Mr. Karan Johar, for example, whose personal life was constantly in news? Is he or is he not gay? With Sudhir Mishra, there were no such burning questions to be resolved.

 

The film began.