Review of Bridges of Madison County, A Clint Eastwood FIlm Starring Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep

GRADE: BB / 60% 

Cover of "The Bridges of Madison County D...

Cover via Amazon

Summary: A decent film worth watching once for Eastwood and twice for Streep, provided one is willing to endure some contrived writing, middling supporting performances and weak framing device

“Robert, I want you to come” Francesca says with an almost pleading tone over the telephone, thus initiating the four-day amour between her and Robert, a travelling photographer on a short trip to Iowa. It is an adventure for Francesca, who considers herself a common Iowan housewife without a liking for change. She is anything but common, as Robert tells her in another scene, otherwise she wouldn’t have said those words; Francesca fully knew what she was doing, yet she on her own accord went ahead. How long her relationship could last with Robert didn’t matter to her then; what mattered was that she could find pure happiness with this man, a state she hadn’t felt in years.

This adventure gradually becomes a spiritual journey for the unhappy housewife, gradually unraveling the mysteries of life and love. But the leap to a spiritual journey requires a renunciation from her adventure; otherwise the love shared between Francesca and Robert would culminate in nothing more than a liaison. And so, Bridges of Madison County does away with the pretty Hollywood ending and still, everything does end up well for everybody.

A thoughtful message indeed, but what troubles is that Bridges of Madison County is that it often makes us feel as though we’re watching a typical lifetime film whose sole intent is to make big moral observations whenever and wherever possible. So the scenes are often plagued with ‘that moment when there’s momentarily silence after which a character speaks something big’ – it often is found just before a scene ends. And while Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep, our Robert and Francesca, do try not to allow this film to slip into a silly melodrama, the clichéd material sometimes becomes overwhelming for the two. The two other actors playing Francesca grown-up children do not help either, almost making it look as though two separate films of different caliber – the better one with Streep and Eastwood, of course, were spliced together.

Bridges of Madison County begins with Francesca’s children Caroline and Michael arriving at their recently deceased mother’s Iowa home for settlement of her estate. Both the children are married and both are unhappy with their marriages and yet they’ve neither cheated on their spouses nor have they thought of a divorce. Michael does have a valid reason for being mad at his wife though, because she says the darndest things at the most inappropriate time; just when Michael is handed the keys of Francesca’s safety deposit box, she offhandedly jokes that Francesca could’ve left millions in the box for her children. No, it isn’t a Hitchcock story so forget the millions; instead what’s found in the box is an old camera, pictures and letters. Caroline begins reading one of the letters and learns that her mother had written a love letter once to a man named Robert. She talks to Michael in private and the two begin reading the letters after asking Michael’s wife and the accompanying lawyer to leave. There’s a silly line spoken by Caroline when she opens a magazine which has a picture of Robert Kincaid with the name mentioned clearly on the left; she assumes “This must be Robert Kincaid” even when the names clearly visible to even the audience’s eye.

Français : Clint Eastwood au Festival de Canne...

Français : Clint Eastwood (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Letters reveal that Francesca deliberately kept the items for her children so they may know her secret and not consider her a mad raving woman for requesting in her will to cremate her body and throw the ashes near Roseman Covered Bridge, which Robert used to visit along with Francesca to shoot photographs for National Geographic. At first, both Michael and Caroline are disgusted but as they hear Francesca’s story, first through her letters and then through her diaries, they realize how these four days profoundly affected their mother’s attitude (positively) towards life, and they slowly begin empathizing with her and introspect on their own outlooks towards life and marriage.

Annie Corley and Victor Slezak, playing Caroline and Michael respectively, give stilted and forgettable performances. Slezak especially fails with his ‘Chandler’ look from Friends that can hardly be taken seriously. They’re not completely at fault, as the framing device (kids reading mother’s letters with such unwholesome curiosity it feels as though they’ve been given a copy of Fifty Shades of Gray) is weakly implemented; there’s a poorly shot scene when Michael wants to know why his mother didn’t leave the family and Caroline and he immediately turn their heads towards their mother’s diary and then look at each other. The scene makes you wonder why a great filmmaker like Eastwood couldn’t think of a better way of taking us back and forth in time.

It’s the elders who steal the show. While Eastwood brings a gentle and very likeable charm to his Robert, Streep goes way beyond everybody else in embodying Francesca. She’s an encyclopedia of body language and came show passion by degrees. Watch the initial scenes where she keeps rubbing her hands and moving a little backwards as she’s speaking to Robert, a usual sign for initial discomfort while talking to strangers. Later, when she’s closer to Robert and meets him at the bridge, the two shake hands and we see Meryl use both her hands to greet him (keeping one of top of other), usually done while greeting more warmly. A very erotic moment doesn’t involve sex but happens when Francesca simply adjusts Robert’s collar and places her hand on his shoulder; you know Streep’s worked her magic by watching Eastwood’s expressions.

Bridges of Madison County is a decent film that’s worth watching once for Eastwood and twice for Streep. But one should be willing to endure some contrived writing, middling supporting performances and weak framing device.

 

Advertisements

Some Other Films That Deserve an AAA / 100 % Rating (No Reviews)

Since I’ve been writing on Imdb since the age of fourteen, there are a couple of films I have granted the highest possible AAA / 100% rating. Now one should keep in mind that these films were reviewed in the past and my opinion on some of the films may have changed since then. Yet, when I saw them, I LOVED them and happily gave them the best possible rating. Here is the list of other films:

1) Singing in the Rain

2) Ordinary People

3) Citizen Kane

4) La Dolce Vita

5) The Social Network

6) Up in the Air

7) City Lights

8) Crac (Short Film)

9) The Awful Truth

10) Forrest Gump

Review of Sergei Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin, a 1925 Russian Pioneering Film

Vintage Potemkin.jpg

Battleship Potemkin (wikipedia)

GRADE: AA / 90%

Summary: Two intensely memorable moments from Battleship Potemkin strike you with such a direct, crashing force, you cower in your seat in disbelief of the horror you’re witnessing in the film. That’s how evocative the film is.

Sergei Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin has two intensely memorable moments; the first one surges when the captain of ‘Potemkin’ (a battleship) orders his loyal officers to execute the mutinous sailors who are covered in tarpaulin, which instantly took me to the horrifying image of the shrouded Abu-Ghraib prisoners. The second one erupts when the Tsarist army marches down Odessa steps as Cossacks attack the revolting civilians during the famous ‘Odessa Sequence’. These two sequences strike with such a crashing force not only because they are expertly edited by director Sergei Eisenstein, who rapidly cuts his camera across the various forces in action in a way that keeps one’s heart racing throughout, but also because the scenes are supplemented with astoundingly evocative background score by Edmund Meisel. The images terrify at times because they’re so direct, such as the close up shot of a baby getting trampled by fleeing crowd during the Odessa massacre. You cower in your seat as though you’re the one being attacked, and you sit with the same expression the characters in the film have because you can’t believe what you’re witnessing. That’s the impact Battleship Potemkin had on me in 2013 so you can imagine how deeply it would’ve influenced movie-goers in 1925, when the film actually released.

Eisenstein’s take on the 1905 incident in Russia where the crew of ‘Potemkin’, a battleship, mutinied against the dictatorial regime of their Tsarist officers, is partly subjective. He deliberately chose not include the outcome of the mutiny in order to present his film as a celebratory instance for the mutineers. He has included a fictitious massacre sequence that’s become the most famous scene in the movie – the Odessa massacre, which never occurred. He opens the film with repeated shots of waves crashing on rocks and then takes us to the Potemkin ship, where an officer inspecting the sleeping crew unfairly vents his anger on a young member. The officer is angry because he finds it difficult to make his way through the room filled with sailors, who are huddled in a small room and given little space to sleep. As the other sailors console the weeping sailor (yes, Russians men do weep easily. Know it because I’ve read Tolstoy), Vakulinchuk, an older sailor incenses his crew to fight back the officers.

Massacre Scene from Battleship Potemkin (wikipedia)

The next day, there’s a commotion on the ship as the crew complaints that their meat is rotten with crawling worms visible. An officer’s response – ‘These aren’t worms. They are maggots. Just clean them and they’re fine’ (not quoting verbatim so don’t bother correcting). This kind of cruel indifference leads to further non-cooperation from the crew, who refuses to finish their soup. For this minor reason, the captain willfully orders for their execution until the soldiers fight back. The spirit of their revolt further manifests in the people of Odessa, who no longer are tolerant against Tsarist oppression. Eisenstein knows the facts but he can’t put across his intended message without some artistic tweaking, and so he does it without making his changes feel evident. As Roger Ebert said: ‘he did it so well that today, the bloodshed on Odessa steps is often referred to as if it really happened’. The bloodshed sequence comes as so shocking that I was taken to the Jallianwalla massacre that actually happened in India; it made me reflect on what it would’ve felt at such a moment of unbridled horror.

Battleship Potemkin works excellently as a film. A similar mutiny-themed film came out in 2012 which many of you may be aware of – Les Miserables. I have a hunch that the editing in the latter film may have been influenced by Battleship Potemkin. I also know why Potemkin works so well now: firstly, it was silent and so broader gestures and highly expressive classical acting was necessary, whereas Les Miserables was an overkill of broad gestures, expressions and singing,singing,singing; secondly, music is solely what drives the movie’s expression without characters having to tear their lungs out singing till even music says ‘Take a break already!’, and thirdly, the characters in Potemkin, despite their gestures, seemed natural and made the scene look as if it was really happening, unlike the artificial Broadway feel in Les Miserables. Masters like Eisenstein and Kurusawa are very judicious in their use of film elements; they know what-to-keep and what-to-leave so the audience is impacted in the best way. And they made movies ages before, so why haven’t many newer filmmakers perfected the art yet? You should compulsorily watch Battleship Potemkin for its able to impact you greatly within a quick seventy minutes, something Les Miserables couldn’t do in two-and-half chugging hours.

Review of Gangs of Wasseypur Part 2 Starring Nawazzudin Siddique, Huma Qureshi, Richa Chaddha, Thigmanshu Dhulia

GRADE: BB / 60%

Gangs of wasseypur II.jpg

Gangs of Wasseypur Part 2 (wikipedia)

Summary: Although Gangs of Wasseypur Part 2 is aesthetically and stylistically gripping, it is emotionally hollow and superficial. It feels as though the film has been ironed till is so flat and so red hot that its emotional essence has totally evaporated and it brutality burns our eyes.

Anurag Kashyap’s Gangs of Wasseypur Part 2 is emotionally hollow and superficial. It seems as though the film has been ironed till is so flat and so red hot that its emotional essence has totally evaporated and all you get to watch is one-dimensional malicious minds with such a relentless impulse for  violence and treachery that it burns your eyes. Rubbing your eyes with stinging nettle will probably cause less strain than watching Gangs of Wasseypur.

What Kashyap basically does here is similar to what Ram Gopal Verma did in his Sarkar films except that Kashyap’s treatment is far more credible; while Verma’s Sarkar offerings usually ended with the omniscient Subhash Nagre (played by Amitabh Bachchan) magically unraveling the grand scheme of his enemies and framing every possible guy introduced during the film, Kashyap’s Wasseypur Part 2 introduces characters who crave power over desire for revenge and thus can readily switch loyalty unlike the protagonists from the first film. Unfortunately, each character is so sharp that we don’t like their world even a teensy bit.

There is no soul in this movie, and if there is then its dead and even its funeral has been crudely treated. There is no theme in this film that is deeply explored, and what we see is only the choppy waters above. None of these characters question their actions very much and everyone seems elated being bad all the time. We end up admiring the grand scheme of Kashyap’s Wasseypur but are so emotionally detached that it becomes incapable for us to cherish this film in our hearts; its soul is black as coal and too hot to handle.

Anurag Kashyap is undoubtedly smart when it comes to making his film aesthetically and stylistically gripping. His film does not repeat itself and tries to be as inventive as possible. Consider its beginning, when the Wasseypur saga resumes with Sardar Khan’s assassination at the hands of Sultan. We watch the same portion from the point Sardar leaves Durga’s home to his death at the petrol pump; Kashyap knows here that his audience wouldn’t like watching the same scene just as it was in the previous part. So he shows the same scene using different camera angles, for example, in Wasseypur 1 we could only see Durga’s back as she watched Sardar through the curtains, but this time we see her from the front. Kashyap modifies the same scene to make it less repetitive for those who’ve watched the first part.  So, what happens in the film after Sardar’s death is that his son Danish rushes with the other men in the family to the spot where Sardar’s body lay. On finding one of the killers in the police jeep, Danish violently assaults him in front of the helpless cops before shooting him dead. Sardar’s funeral takes place and is livened up with music by the same band that played during Danish’s marriage.

Later, Danish hunts down another killer and creates his alibi by surrendering to the police for a minor crime he didn’t even commit. On leaving the court however, he is shot dead by Sultan’s men and so there’s the second funeral in the family with the same band crooning. With Sardar and Danish down, it is up to Faizal to avenge the deaths of his brother, father and grandfather Shahid, but his family has little hopes in the drug-addicted day-dreaming Faizal until he mercilessly beheads his close friend Fazlu after suspecting his treachery (Fazlu tries influencing Faizal to go against his father plus those who’ve watched the first part will remember that it was him who had abetted Sultan in murdering Sardar). He marries Mohsina, the movie-crazy lady whom he had a crush on since childhood (leading to a funny sex scene where the entire household is kept awake by the sound of their rickety bed shaking with their humping) and then expands his gang’s operations by dealing in illegal sale of scrap business. Taking advantage of his poor business acumen, Shamshad Alam, a transport businessman joins hands with Faizal in his steel business and tries duping him. Faizal’s younger brothers too grow up to become as dangerous as him but they are very reckless and openly aggressive unlike the much more calculative Faizal. Their names are worth a mention here: two are named Perpendicular and Parallel while the third, the son of Sardar Khan and Durga, is named Definite. Out of these three names, only Definite’s real name is the same i.e. Definite and here I have to mention another witty moment that’s suffused in dry humor; it happens later when Faizal asks the people around him what Definite’s actual name is and is given the same answer by everyone : Definite. A definitely delicious moment from the film.

What’s definitely bland in this film is the emotional connect; Anurag does not want us to bother about death here and so we always watch Wasseypur’s characters from a distance. The blood and gore and lack of empathy makes this distance even more pronounced. I am reminded of the film Zero Dark Thirty, which evoked a very similar response; Kashyap only captures the picture, not the emotion. Even though there’s plenty of bloodshed in the movie, the emotional core of Gangs of Wasseypur Part 2 remains bloodless.

Review of Gangs of Wasseypur Part 1, An Anurag Kashyap Film Starring Manoj Bajpai, Richa Chadda, Nawazzudin Siddique, Tigmanshu Dhulia

GRADE : BB / 60%

Summary: Abundant in expositions and anorexic in turning-points, Wasseypur‘s saga would’ve worked better as a TV miniseries. On silver-screen, it feels stretched and you feel stressed.

Gangs of Wasseypur poster.jpg

Gangs of Wasseypur Part 1 (wikipedia)

Cast:

Manoj Bajpayee – Sardar Khan

Richa Chadda – Nagma, Sardar Khan’s wife

Nawazzudin Siddique – Faizal Khan, Sardar Khan’s son

Reema Sen – Durga, Sardar Khan’s second wife

Piyush Mishra – Nasir

Tigmanshu Dhulia – Ramadhir Singh

Pankaj Tripathi – Sultan Quereshi

Jaideep Ahlawat – Shahid Khan

Anurag Kashyap’s Gangs of Wasseypur Part 1 has a winsome quality about it which makes it effortlessly and addictively watchable. The episodic nature of the film makes it not very different from a soap saga, and its director Anurag Kashyap perhaps realized this point during filming. That why his film begins with the opening credits of Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi (Because a Mother-in-Law was once a daughter-in-law), a hugely popular television serial that aired in the 00s about three or four generations of a family living under one roof. Fortunately, Gangs of Wasseypur has none of the overbearing melodrama which Indian soap operas have; the film is all about gangsters, guns, gore, gaalis ( profanity) and revenge. Also about making many babies, which is maybe when the film comes closest to a soap opera.

This film, combined with its sequel, would have been a fantastic four-part television miniseries, but Kashyap chooses to divide his five-and-half hour magnum opus into two feature films, giving them both theatrical releases. This is perhaps why I thought Gangs of Wasseypur Part 1 was like a tome without any major turning points to translate it well to silver screen. The film plays out like missions from the latest Grand Theft Auto games but unlike the video-game, it doesn’t let us have our breaks when we need some. A guy I knew was a speed-reader who could finish a tome in one sitting; to watch Gangs of Wasseypur Part 1, maybe one needs to be a ‘speed-viewer’ to take in the film in its entirety. The film is made up of too many expositions that extend right up to the very end, and there are times when you feel as though your hard-drive is being loaded with much more information than your storage capacity. The major turning-point in the film for me came only with Nawazzudin Siddique’s entry, which happens way later in the film; until the flurry of excellently written, well-acted and impeccably choreographed scenes did impress me but I found myself a little lost and confused about where the film was going.

Gangs of Wasseypur Part 1 covers six decades, beginning in the forties where our narrator Nasir tells us about the history of Wasseypur, a region located in Dhanbad in the state of Jharkhand. The place is dominated by Sunni Muslims, with the Quereshi sub-caste of animal butchers  being the most feared in the area. We learn that the British trains passing through the region were robbed by dacoits, mostly the Quereshi Muslims led by Sultana Quereshi. When word spreads in town that someone is impersonating Sultana to rob trains using his name, the Quereshi Muslims suspect Shahid Khan after they find his business flourish suddenly. One night, as Shahid Khan’s men plan to rob another train, the Quereshis attack them and slaughter everyone except Shahid and our narrator Nasir.

English: Anurag Kashyap, director

English: Anurag Kashyap, director (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The two men are banished after this incident and Shahid finds work at a coal mine. His pregnant wife dies in childbirth leaving him with a son and Shahid later kills the muscle-man at work who refused him leave the day his wife died. He is later hired as the new muscle-man at the coal mine by Ramadhir Singh, an industrialist entrusted with a few coal-mines after the British Raj. Their alliance develops until Singh overhears Khan’s plans to kill him in future; Khan is later shot to death by Mr. Yadav, a supplier of ammunitions, under Singh’s order. However, his son Sardar escapes along with Nasir which leads to a twenty-year jump in the story. Sardar Khan, now a grown man, vows to avenge his father’s death and slowly gains control of Wasseypur. His foe Ramadhir is now a shamelessly corrupt politician who forms an alliance with Sultan, a feared butcher in Wasseypur belonging to the same Quereshis who banished Shahid Khan, to stop Sardar from extracting revenge.

What is interesting about the cinematography in Gangs of Wasseypur is that the film does not have many close-ups and when it does, it’s for undoubtedly the best scenes in the film. Consider the scene in which  Ramadhir Singh summons Quereshi to confront him about having lied about killing the young Sardar. We first have a static shot with Ramadhir towards the left of the screen, and Quereshi entering through the door on the right and sitting down, taking a quick look at Ramadhir’s office like guests do usually. Then it cuts to middle shots (covering head to torso) of Ramadhir and Quereshi as Ramadhir asks him whether he remembers Shahid Khan. After this, the camera goes for close-ups of their faces as Singh talks about having seen the ‘ghost’ of Shahid’s son and requests Quereshi to dig out the bones of the ‘dead’ kid as they have to be used for a ritual to drive the ghost away. Quereshi nods uneasily and the camera pauses on his face for a second before he is slapped by Ramadhir. The rest of the time, Anurag Kashyap allows Rajeev Ravi the cinematographer to capture the panorama of Wasseypur, with outdoor scenes being interspersed with shots of onlookers and evocative sceneries such as the idle lake at dawn or the mining sites. The unconventional music and narration seamlessly stitch together the various scenes taking place over six decades, and lighting works fantastically especially during the shooting sequences taking place at night where the street-lights act as the only source of illumination.

Despite all the praise I’ve given, I still feel Gangs of Wasseypur, because of its episodic nature, would work better as a television miniseries. On the silver screen, the saga feels stretched and you feel a tad stressed.

Review of Rashomon, the Classic 1950 Japanese FIlm By Akira Kurusawa

GRADE: AA / 90%

Rashomon poster 2.jpg

Rashomon (wikipedia)

The true irony in Rashomon is that the only person whose guilt is proven is that of the narrator’s, despite the fact that majority of the film involves its three central characters claiming responsibility for one crime. While the focal point of Rashomon involves unraveling the event involving the death of a Samurai where the Samurai himself, his wife and a bandit claim to be the culprit, the film isn’t a clue-solving mystery where new revelations in subsequent scenes make it easier for us to judge who the criminal is; instead, Rashomon places us in the jury box with its characters appealing to us one by one and the only way we can reach to any decision is through moral considerations. Can the wife be a woman of such loose morals that she immediately agrees to elope with the bandit and asks him coldly to shoot her husband? Can the husband be so stone-hearted that he rejects his helpless wife because she has been raped? Can a bandit be smooth enough to woo the married lady with just a kiss?

It is hard to find a concrete answer because a) believing one version would be discarding the other equally credible versions and b) in each version we find the characters supporting the unexpected person ( for example, the samurai’s version is more sympathetic to the bandit than his own wife). What makes the tale more complex is that there’s another narrator who’s retelling the different versions of the three characters. Later, it is his crime which is revealed and positively true, unlike the ambiguity of the murder case. In this way, Rashomon is revelatory as a film whose acclaim and relevance has lasted over the years because of its universally understood themes.

I remember having gone for a local play held at the city hall about a year ago only because my friends were included in its cast and crew. I hurriedly slid out of the theater during interval because I couldn’t endure the play anymore and I didn’t want to lie to the cast, who’d called me backstage, about how much the play sucked. A year later, I rented Rashomon through a movie rental store and saw it at home. That day is today, and why I’m mentioning about a year-old play is that I realized that it was based entirely on Rashomon! Unlike the film, the play however was overburdened in dialog and reduced to shambles by substandard acting and technical achievements. I ‘RAN’ out the second the curtains dropped for interval (hope you get the silly capitalized pun. It’s improvised!).

Rashomon on the other hand has fewer dialogues, more pantomime and is a great technical achievement; it opens up like Orson WellesCitizen Kane, giving us very long shots of rain pattering down the city gate and slowly taking us inside, closing in on its two actors who are first seen at a distance from the camera’s eye. Even the opening line in both Kane and Rashomon has the same function of defining the crux of the film; while you hear the protagonist Kane going ‘Rosebud’, Rashomon has the character of the woodcutter uttering “I just don’t understand”, not once but four different times. He has four conflicting versions of the same incident to tell, first from the point of view of its three characters and lastly himself. The companion sitting beside him is a priest who’s also a witness to the incident, albeit a minor one. The film needs somebody apart from us to whom the story has to be told, and so a third character is introduced. Taking shelter from the rain, he enters the city gate and finds the two men sitting sullenly as the woodcutter murmurs his opening lines. With brazen intrusiveness, he asks the woodcutter what he can’t understand, and then proceeds to question the priest like he can’t mind his own business. But that’s the catalyst for the woodcutter, our narrator for the rest of the film, to begin with the incident that’s been bothering him for long.

He starts by telling about the body of a samurai he found while walking through the woods, and then proceeds to share everything that happened in court (with no jury except us and maybe the skies). The stage is taken by the bandit first, who’s been accused of killing a travelling samurai and raping his wife. The samurai gives an account that glorifies his deeds and presents him in the light he’d like to see himself in –as a cold-blooded murderer who also entices the samurai’s wife. The wife gives her account then, which reminded me of the tale Ramayana from Indian mythology; in it, Lord Ram’s wife Seeta is abducted by Raavan, and after Ram defeats his sworn enemy, he brings Seeta back home but banishes her reluctantly after his subjects suspect her chastity. Here the samurai looks at his wife, who’s been raped, with a look of contempt that frightens her and compels her to plunge the dagger into his heart. It is the dead samurai’s version we hear next through a medium, and finally we hear the wood-cutter’s own version. And while the woodcutter’s tale would seem the most trustworthy at first, he being a stranger to the three characters, his words can’t be relied upon wholly after we learn that he too may have something to hide.

Even the sum of parts cannot make a whole in Rashomon as the sum itself has fluctuating variables. Instead of acting sleuth and trying to solve the case, watch the contrast in the personalities of the three characters through the four versions. You’ll find yourself pulled into Rashomon’s story until you can’t tell what’s true and what’s not. And when you find yourself saying “I just don’t understand”, you got what Rashomon is all about; you weren’t even a witness to the incident, so how do you expect to ever know the truth?

 

Review of 2013 Tamil Film ‘Neram’ (Time) A Debut Effort by Alphonse Putharen, and Starring Nivin Pauly and Nazriya Nazim

Grade: B / 50%

Neram poster for Malayalam and Tamil.jpg

Neram (Wikipedia)

Summary: Neram is like watching an enthusiastic but amateur dancer appear on a professional dance competition; it has spark and some skill but lacks finesse. Its concept is clear yet the design is patchy

Cast

Nivin Pauly as Vetri

Nazriya Nazim as Veni

Simhaa as Vatti Raja

Thambi Ramaiah

Neram is like watching an enthusiastic but amateur dancer appear on a professional dance competition; it has spark and some skill but lacks finesse. Its concept is clear yet the design is patchy; every character in Neram has the quality of being memorable but not the essence. You would be less interested in a match between two low-ranked players, irrespective of their improvement on court, than a battle between two top seeders. Neram sometimes feels stodgy and heavy-handed but you do admire its efforts nevertheless. But you want more, you want something delicious, something you can relish like sinful dark chocolate but what Neram provides you is Milky Bar. Nice, no doubt, but not to make you go ‘Bow Chicka Wah Wah!’ Axe style.

My intention wasn’t to watch Neram at all when I entered Mayajaal theater hall in Chennai. As there wasn’t any other movie playing at that time (well I did have options but it was either this or the animated film Epic or worse, a long three hour wait for the rest of the films), I chose to go for Neram, only because I was pleased by the efforts current Tamil directors were putting in their films unlike many of their Bollywood counterparts. When I entered the hall, the movie had not ‘kindly stopped for me’ (couldn’t resist using the Emily Dickinson phrase!) so I can’t exactly tell how it began. My version began with the scene where Vatti Raja, a small-time money-lender cum thug berates someone for not repaying the loan as others, including our protagonist Vetri and his friend look on unnerved. The scene ends with Vetri’s friend farting and I thought immediately ‘Was that necessary?’. A number of such embellishments weren’t needed, but Neram retained them, making the film feel like an over-decorated Christmas tree. Like after this very scene when Vetri begins telling about his love life and we are taken back to his school days when he met his future fiancé Jeena the first time in the sixth grade I think; the scene is cute until the film also decides to add an entire song sequence with Vetri and Jeena performing the predictable ‘park foreplay’ (with bubble-blowing, this time) and the sappiest audience goes  ‘Ah! What I cute couple!’. I was unmoved.

Later, when Neram gives rest to silly romance, it works as a Tarantino-like comedy. Vitri frets about the consequences of not repaying his debt to Vatti Raja, while trouble also brews up when Jeena’s father objects to their relationship on learning that Vetri is unemployed. Jeena plans to elope with Vetri but that’s when chain gets stolen; interestingly, one of the members from the same gang of chain-snatchers robs Vetri’s money, which he had taken from his friend (I think; am an unreliable narrator here, not having watched Neram from the beginning). A parallel storyline involves a guy (don’t ask me the character’s name nor the actor who’s playing him. Wish Wikipedia could update its character bios in Neram) who keeps a ‘cool’ nickname for himself, likes ogling at girls a lot (another idiotic scene at hospital when we hear his inner voice saying ‘Oh, lady’s voice!’ as a nurse enters the room during an otherwise engaging scene) and also, like many others in the film, owes some money to Vatti Raja. The manner in which their lives intertwine is interesting because most of the characters don’t know, even after they meet, how actually similar their problems are. All this happens post interval, and so many things seem to be a work of sheer chance or fate that I wondered why the film wasn’t titled ‘Chance’ or ‘Faith’, the Tamil word for them.

NP at CCL2 party Vizag India 2011 cropped.JPG

Nivin Pauly Plays Vetri in Neram (wikipedia)

Neram plays out like a simple comedy, although it attempts to emulate a Tarantino film. While Tarantino’s dialogs are so mesmerizing and mystifying that monologues which would be considered ramblings if heard elsewhere sound monumentally profound, Neram simply kids around with quirky characters; its non-linear narrative has to be given credit though. The actors play in accordance with their script; they are less irritating when the script wakes up but not even one would remain with you after the film. And who took the decision of giving the role of Vatti Raja to Simhaa, who is in no way intimidating? I understand this is a comedy but I should at least feel even a little of what the characters feel towards another to get more involved with the film. Even a little more dexterity in editing would’ve helped a great deal; take the scene when Vetri’s friend’s boss rebukes him for shaving off his beard. He then goes inside and screams at another employee but later apologizes when it turns out to be a girl; the second part happens off-screen and we could only hear the gag. Based on the audience response, very few caught the gag because I heard little reaction from the audience; the gag (a little silly, of course) isn’t treated well, with not enough sound so audience members could hear it and a sloppy editing treatment which cut off the gag quickly. I guess the film wanted to pack as many punch-lines as possible in little time but timed a few of them wrong. Well, maybe I’ll see a better output from its director Alphonse Putharen another time.