Review of ‘Sixteen’, a 2013 Bollywood film Directed by Raj Purohit, and Starring Izabelle Liete, Mehak Manwani, Highphill Mathew, Wamiqua Gabbi

Sixteen Official Poster, 2013.jpg

Sixteen (Wikipedia)

GRADE: BB / 60%

Summary: Sixteen is a simple story with a share of heavy-duty moments handed to actors who seem less capable of handling the same. The plot makes for an interesting though not compelling watch.

Cast

Wamiqa Gabbi – Tanisha

Izabelle Liete – Anu

Mehak Manwani – Nidhi

Highphill Mathew – Ashwin

Keith Sequeira

After hammering his boorish (although caring) dad dead with the same trophy used by his dad as a weapon to verbally denigrate him for declining results, Ashwin flees his home on foot. A few shots show him running hopelessly along the streets of Delhi, and the camera moves in and out during this scene. It’s just how this scene should be shot, except that actor Highphill Mathew does not know what he should emote in this short span of seconds. All he does is run- he could be a runner for a city-based marathon, or a guy who’s escaping a bunch of thugs or simply a jogger who wants to remain fit. But he’s none of that, and that’s where Mathew falters; he needs to convey a range of conflicting emotions while he is running, for the simple reason that he’s just killed his own dad, whom he loved for his caring nature and loathed for his violent temperament. Alas, all his sweat and his father’s blood go wasted.

Sixteen is a simple story with a share of heavy-duty moments that are handed to actors who seem less capable of handling the same. The scene mentioned above isn’t the only time Highphill Mathew slips, in fact in another scene coming towards the end of the film, he again isn’t able to do much justice to his character. It’s a scene which has the actor break down out of compunction for his past misdeeds, and all poor Highphill is able to do is whimper weakly because he’s no Laurence Olivier.

And this is where the low production value of Sixteen acts against the film because it supplies a theatrical look to the indoor scenes. And the ‘stage’ needs actors who can bring the fullest of emotions to set the screen on fire, because there is no great locale or elaborate décor to draw attention away from the acting. Its sweet when things work, but when things don’t, our actors look like stationery lazy stools and chairs supplied with lazier voice-over. And director Raj Purohit has his own amateur moments; note that he’s responsible for most of the creative decisions, also writing, editing and penning lyrics apart from directing Sixteen.

a) Most of the film is captured in mid-shots (head to torso) of two characters occupying the screen. And mostly it’s the camera cutting back and forth from one person to the other.

b) There is a soundtrack with about six-seven songs that is completely unnecessary (who is going to buy the album anyway?). Unmemorable numbers with forgettable lyrics penned by Purohit extend the film to over two hours; a taut ninety minutes would’ve been enough for Sixteen.

c) Characters in this film are neither entirely good nor totally evil. The shades of grey make them interesting. However, Purohit unnecessarily misleads audiences by painting a crucial character as a villian, a sexual predator, a potential pedophile in one scene by adding ominous background music for him, when the guy is just like any other human, with shades of good and stains of bad.

d) We get a cheap little editing technique in one scene. One girl is shown asking many questions to her friend, and the camera cuts repeatedly after each question. After we hear the questions, we then get to know how the other girl has answered the questions. So the camera shows her next saying ‘Hmm…’ a couple of times. This kind of editing suits a short film, but it looks clumsy in a feature film like this and also confuses the viewer about the tone of the movie. Is the scene funny because the girl isn’t paying any attention, or should we sympathize with the girl, whose boyfriend has just dumped her? The latter requires the character to stay stationery so that we can know that she’s sad and that her friend is concerned about her. Instead, this is turned into one sloppy gag.

e) Purohit wants a feel-good ending for the film. But he’s the guy who wants his audience to smile so he can see their sixteen teeth on the upper jaw and sixteen on the lower. So there’s a prolonged happy ending that assures, then reassures, then emphasizes, then marks with a big arrow that the ending is indeed a happy one. I would’ve smiled showing all my thirty-two brown teeth (thirty-one real and one fake) had the film ended with the other happy ending I saw ten minutes before.

Now that I’ve scolded ‘Sixteen’ like a fussy parent for its little mistakes, I can calm down and encourage the movie like a forgiving parent for all its goodness. The plot makes for an interesting (although not compelling) watch and I’m happy this film is uninhibited in its portrayal of young Delhi. The most memorable storyline would be the ‘Lolita’ inspired love triangle between 16 year old Tanisha, her aunt and a dapper 32 year old writer who lives in their house as a tenant. The story of the two other girls Anu and Mehek also have interesting turns, especially the point where the promiscuous Anu realizes that her parents live an open marriage (my cousin, who saw the film with me, cried ‘What!’, never having heard the term ‘open marriage’). Ashwin’s story starts strong but dwindles after his escape, and both I and my cousin totally forgot his character until he came back after a long absence.

I asked my cousin, a regular visitor to Delhi, what she thought about the depiction of these teenagers. And then she began with stories of how absolutely crazy, stupid, looks-and-fame obsessed Delhiites were, just like Anu, Ashwin, Tanisha and Mehek. All at the age of sixteen.

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