Satyagraha Reviewed on ourvadodara.in: Super disappointing! Go start a dharna against the film!

My first job for the site ourvadodara.in. Click the following link to read my review of Prakash Jha’s Satyagraha : http://ourvadodara.in/satyagraha-super-disappointing-start-dharna-film.
Also, do visit the site for any updates about Vadodara life. I shall henceforth post the latest Bollywood movie reviews on ourvadodara.in. Here’s the link to the home page: http://ourvadodara.in/

filmlouvre

Livin’ In a Bubble – Spring Breakers Review

Rating: A / 80%   

Summary: Spring Breakers is a badass as well as incisive (thereby satisfying both pleasure-seekers and knowledge-seekers) take on 21st century’s redefined ideal on life – ‘Bad is the new Good’. 

Directed By Harmony Korine

Cast

Vanessa Hudgens – Candy

Ashley Benson – Brit

Rachel Korine – Cotty

Selena GomezFaith

James Franco – Alien

 

Spring Breakers is a social commentary on the rampantly hedonistic attitudes of Generation Y-Z. Half of you probably have turned away after reading the sentence.

The movie is also acute study on behavioral psychology, by the way… are you still here with me? I know I’ve used words that make this film sound like its dispiriting discourse on teenage life, an educational session only geeks and scholars… and Sheldon Cooper would attend. Harmony Korine has no intentions of lecturing us. He’s smart enough to sense that audiences today easily detect bullshit. They’ll pounce on it like that crazy man on bath-salts, and rip it apart. 13 to 25 is the worst, (13 today is the new 19) endowed with the sharpest teeth to maul through anything that offends their tastes i.e. tells them what’s right and what’s wrong. Ecstasy is their cookie, beer their bottled water. Try changing them and they’ll put their ‘d*ck in your face’. A good ole spanking just won’t cut. A bullet wound, maybe. And Harmony pulls the trigger, his film aims right in your face.

(L-R) Benson, Hudgens, Korine

Spring Breakers is a badass as well as incisive (thereby satisfying both pleasure-seekers and knowledge-seekers) take on 21st century’s redefined ideal on life – ‘Bad is the new Good’. The rules have changed. Serve yourself well, then think a little about the rest (only so you aren’t accused of gluttony). Follow your dreams, but f*ck anybody that comes in the way. Candy (former High School Musical starlet Vanessa Hudgens in a m*therf*cking brave performance), Cotty (Korine’s wife Rachel) and Brit (Ashley Benson), the three bad girls in Spring Breakers won’t spend their hours selling lemon-juice in their university campus to earn enough funds for heading to their dream destination ‘Spring break’. They’d rather be gambling and robbing restaurants and stuff. In a pep talk before they head on their robbing mission (with squirt guns), Candy says ‘Let’s pretend we’re in a videogame’. The scene plays like the mission from a Grand Theft Auto game where you wait in the car for a getaway as your homies rob a bank. That’s just the beginning of the game.

Mission accomplished. Woo-hoo! They’re on aboard the shiny bus that’ll take the girls – our three bad girls and their bestie Faith (another Disney star, Selena Gomez) whose conscience, tied to Catholic upbringing and faith, soon questions her moral conduct – to Spring Break. This break isn’t very different from their usual hangouts. It’s just got more titties, more sex, more music, a lot more drugs – a 24/7 alienation from the real world, into orgies of partying at beaches. Faith wants time to stop and life to like, remain like this all the time. She repeats this line more than twice, like it’s the only ambition she has in life.

Her bubble bursts! The girls are busted and sent to prison. Soon, they’re bailed out by an Anti-Christ like figure Alien, stage-name and gangsta-name for Allen (James Franco, totally rocking his scenes with a demented vitality).They’re taken to his crib, where he tempts them to kick their old boring lives and join him, Faith pulls herself out and takes the bus home. She didn’t want things to get this bad. A tortured look on her face is the last we thing we remember of her. The rest become his girls, put on pink masks, play with knives and guns and rob people. There is pressure from a rival gang, and one of the b*tches, Cotty, is shot in the arm. She chickens out. The other two, Candy and Brit, stay behind with Alien to get their sweet old revenge. 

 

Harmony Korine gives Spring Breakers a twisted contemporary look that’s highly dependent on visual style yet totally plausible as a world we are coming to expect. The sunny tanned look for the beach party scenes is reminiscent of any beach song or club song that you’d hear on MTV these days (check out Justin Bieber & Nicki Minaj’s generic ‘Beauty and The Beat’).There is a distinct use of colored lighting, mainly the primary colors and neon lights, in most of the scenes to indicate the make-believe fun-world teenagers create for themselves. When the fun is over for a girl, and she finds herself onboard the bus to take her home, he gives a harder, bleaker touch to the scene. The scenes look more compelling, more provocative. We judge less, and observe more.

Like I said before, there’s much to learn on behavioral psychology. These four girls, Alien and most of the party-goers want their egos satisfied. The repetition of wishes and desires, which some complain as monotonous, is actually how dangerously one-track minded many have become in life. Their superego i.e. how their conscience affects their choices, is brought to light in those initial scenes. We realize why Faith, actively involved with the church, was disturbed when she heard Candy and Brit talking about their robbery. There’s little point looking for character development. It would be futile to expect narrative twists and turns. Watch instead (without making subjective assumptions and judgments) how Korine represents modern times on celluloid. You’d end up appreciating his social commentary a lot more.

Isn’t this education fun? Join in!

Review: Madras Café – John is the Indian Bourne! Boys, reserve your seats at this café!

 

Grade: BBB / 70%Madras Cafe Poster.jpg

Until LTTE chief Prabhakan’s execution in 2009, Sri Lanka was a battleground between LTTE insurgents who demanded the statehood of an independent Tamil Eelam, and the Sri Lankan military.

In a country that’s shaped somewhat like a hand grenade, army helicopters and tankers were as common a sight as cattle on Indian roads. Peace talks would be stifled by persistent bloodshed, mass murders and constant fear for life; one shot in the film shows a Theravada Buddhist monk walking calmly past rifle-carrying army, who seem to outnumber civilians in this troubled land. People who protested against the army were shot at irrespective of whether the protester was a man or a woman, an adult or a child. All that remains now as lurid reminders of those turbulent times are photographs, usually taken in bleak black and white. And memories that haunt forever.

Vikram Singh (a super-fit John Abraham) is a retired RAW intelligence officer who is haunted by the memories of his past. A recluse, he now drowns his sorrows in alcohol, which only manage to intensify his pain, his wounds. For three years, he has been visiting the church every morning yet the priest doesn’t know his name nor the cause behind his sorrow.Here I believe a church was chosen instead of a temple only because the latter would seem a tad melodramatic (and reserved for chest-beating saree-clad women who animatedly point their finger at God for not hearing their prayers), but never mind.

The film would come to a standstill if Vikram doesn’t open up, and hence on one fine day, he shares his secret with the priest. We then go to flashbacks for the rest of Madras Café, returning to the present only twice, once before interval and once at the end.

And thank God or rather dear-director Shoojit Sircar for not returning more often. John Abraham may be a dedicated actor, but he really can’t play a ‘depressed-defeated-reclusive-retired RAW agent’ convincingly. He himself acts like he wants to cut to the chase and get back to his usual hunky self, and when he does, he becomes our Indian Jason Bourne, not James Bond – Jason Bourne, the protagonist of Bourne Series, played by the dashing Matt Damon.

It seems our Indian Bourne was sent to Sri Lanka in the past, on a covert mission to disrupt LTF rebels after peace negotiations between the government and Anna Bhaskaran-led LTF rebels (i.e. the fictional representation of Prabhakaran-led LTTE with names altered to avoid controversy) failed. There he meets Jaya (Nargis Fakhri), an intrepid journalist who sympathises with the rebels, if not directly supports them, and is critical about the army brutality. She later provides him crucial information about covert dealings conspired between Anna’s representatives and foreign businessmen at Madras Café (an actual cafe), which would ultimately lead to a ‘former prime-minister’s assassination’ at Sriperumbudur. It’s obvious the prime-minister is Rajeev Gandhi, who was killed in 1991 in a suicide bombing by Thenmozhi Rajatman, who was a member of LTTE according to sources.

Vikram reports to senior Bala, who in fact is double-crossing RAW and covertly clearing the way for Anna, only for greed of money. He begins to suspect Bala and instructs someone to track his movements after a meeting held by Vikram goes awry and he is later kidnapped by LTF (only to be rescued promptly). It shouldn’t have taken so long to unravel both Vikram’s and Bala’s identities because they’re hardly covert about it. John’s super-serious I’m-here-for-a-purpose gaze, I-look-left-and-right-to-see-if-somebody’s-watching and Bala’s shifty I’m-up-to-no-good looks are easy give-aways.

And yet they do a good job in this deftly-written, fast-paced slick-flick that does away with the rapid cuts of Bourne series and instead relies on plot pacing and left-and-right-panning camerawork. The momentum itself takes your breath away and you hardly have time to get bored and start texting on your cell-phones for the entire duration of the film. It is certainly a cut above flicks like Ek Tha Tiger and Agent Vinod, but it’s not quite reached the caliber of movies like Kathryn Bigelow’s Osama Bin Laden-based Zero Dark Thirty. That in fact is a boon for the film because it makes it open to prospect of sequels.

Shoojit Sircar.jpg

Director Shoojit Sircar

I seriously believe Shoojit should cash in for a sequel set in another location and make it just as thrillingly as he’s made Madras Café. The film has characters that recognize each other on the telephone even though they haven’t talked for months, and it gives more importance to the hero’s journey than the situation itself. All that Shoojit needs to do for his sequel is to place John in another place, say Kashmir, involve him in another political imbroglio and bring back some of the characters (anybody except Nargis Fakhri, who’s super-duper-serious and not a dollop of fun) from Madras Café.

It was especially interesting to watch the internal working of rebel forces. One scene shows how LTF men and women camouflage themselves under leaves to sneak attack at the opportune moment. Maybe they should recruit some theatre patrons from Fame Cinemas in Seven Seas Mall in Vadodara. As soon as the hall became dark, these patrons clandestinely sneaked up from the cheaper bottom-two rows to the pricey rows above!

 

Review of Metropolis, a 1927 German Expressionist Science Fiction Film By Fritz Lang

GRADE: BB / 60%  Metropolisposter.jpg

Summary:  This Fritz Lanz film is the definition of absurdity, a characteristic I usually dislike. It offers a half-hearted resolution to the maxim ‘the heart is the mediator between the mind and the hand’. 

Cast

Gustav Fröhlich as Freder
Brigitte Helm as Maria and her robot double
Alfred Abel as Joh Fredersen, the master of Metropolis and Freder’s father
Rudolf Klein-Rogge as Rotwang, a scientist

I am a preacher of logic and rationality. Metropolis defies logic. This Fritz Lanz film is the definition of absurdity, a characteristic I normally dislike. It offers a half-hearted resolution to the maxim ‘the heart is the mediator between the mind and the hand’, elaborating it wonkily, like a student science project that uses quantum physics and shit to make candyfloss for extra marks (students of science, forgive me for my ignorance here, as I have no clue about quantum physics. Its one word I keep hearing often on the web, though!).

The ‘experiment’ ultimately turns disappointing because the process is unnecessarily and inexplicably complicated. It ends up looking absurd, a characteristic, I repeat, I normally denounce. The major complaint I had with Fritz Lanz’s 1927 science-fiction epic Metropolis, considered by contemporary critics as one of the most important films ever made, is quite similar to sci-fi author H.G. Wells’ own reservations about the movie (which can be found here: http://erkelzaar.tsudao.com/reviews/H.G.Wells_on_Metropolis%201927.htm). I agree with H.G. Wells when he attacks the film for favoring message over logic, although I wouldn’t be as vehemently hostile as he is (his review basically rips apart the film to shreds, and not just through any shredder but one that shreds it to nano-bits). There are two things I fail to understand:

1) The film talks about workers living in the underworld who toil for a reasonable ten hours at a factory, controlled by a magnate by the name of Joh Fredersen. A whistle billowing from a pipe-like machine marks the end of their shift. The only sign of their oppression is their style of walking, a rhymic march with slightly stooped backs. An elevator takes the workers to their homes, which aren’t all that shabby. To me they looked like card-board boxes with cut-outs for windows, but they appeared quite roomy, at least from the outside.

A screenshot from the film Metropolis (1927).

A screenshot from the film Metropolis (1927). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One day, there’s an accident at the workplace. Quite a number perish, and the film’s protagonist Fred, Joh Fredersen’s son, bears witness to the unfortunate sight. He informs his father, who until then is clueless about the mishap. There is nothing suspect about this accident. Accidents happen, shit happen. Frankly, I wanted to ask those workers ‘Whatyu fighting for?!’ because there seemed no strong motive behind their rebellion. It’s also funny that we know absolutely ‘nichts’ (nothing) about what those machines produce? Because, you know, they are supposed to ‘run the whole damn place’ and that’s why Joh is a monopolist turned autocrat. They run a city teeming with motorcars and planes, so these machines make automobiles and aircrafts?

When there is a breakdown later in the film, the whole city comes to a standstill. There is no power, so are we to assume these machines generate power? And what do the civilians living in between the underworld of workers and the ‘Club of the Sons’ (where the rich, including Joh and Fred, reside) do for a living? And why is it a compulsion that if a person is fired by Joh, he goes straight to the underworld, as shown in the film.

2) Fred is smitten by Maria,the messenger of peace and equality among the workers of the underworld, and touched by the plight of the poor workers’ children whom she brings along  to the Club of the Sons one day to damn the wealthy (albeit tactfully) for the excesses and negligence. He follows her to the underworld, is haunted by the condition of the workers and decides to support Maria’s cause for uplifting their living standards. He becomes a worker himself, and a mediator between the two world.

On hearing a word about Maria’s secret meeting with the workers, Fred’s father schemes with a mad scientist named Rotwang by creating a robotic clone of Maria using the robot invented by Rowtang which he originally built to replace his lost love Hel, the dead wife of Joh. Maria is kidnapped, bound in Rowtang’s laboratory to clone her face onto the robot’s, and then kept in captivity at Rowtang’s isolated home. The clone Maria is instructed to instigate workers to riot. She also sets tongues waggling in the world above with her seductive performances. In one dance, she pops out of an oval-shaped object, which I assume was a source of inspiration for Lady Gaga’s bizzare entry at 2011 Grammy awards. Also for Madonna’s Super Bowl performance, where her head-gear was definitely inspired by Maria’s. I wonder which diva was inspired by the good Maria? Maybe Janelle Monae, but she too became channeled as a robot in her wonderful album ArchAndroid. Okay, I digress too much.

The work force, incited by evil Maria, revolt against Joh’s regime and proceed to dismantle the heart machine, which in turn results in a deluge in the underworld. The machines too are damaged extensively in the process. Now, why in the name of Metropolis would Joh, the creator of Metropolis, destroy his own city? Of course he intended to subdue these workers by force at some point but perhaps he was too late. Way too late. Sergei Eisenstein had an entire army take quick action against revolting civilians in Battleship Potemkin. Mr. Joh simply waits.

The score by Gottfried Huppertz isn’t distinctive either. I bet some of Janelle Monae’s Metropolis inspired musical compositions, especially Suite iii Overture, would’ve done magic to some scenes in this film. The Gottfried Huppertz score and 119 min runtime indicate I have the 2002 DVD edition of Metropolis. There is a 2010 restored version with 25 minutes of additional footage. Would I buy it as a lover of films? Maybe. And as a preacher of rationality? Nien.

(IN CASE ANYBODY THINKS I’M JUDGING THE FILM TOO QUICKLY, PLEASE TELL ME SOMETHING THAT MAY HELP ME APPRECIATE THE FILM MORE. FYI, ROGER EBERT’S REVIEW DIDN’T HELP SO YOU NEED TO BE GOOD!)

Review of The President is Coming, a 2009 Hinglish Film By Kunal Roy Kapoor, Starring Konkona Sen Sharma, Ira Dubey, Shernaz Patel, Anand Tiwari, Namit Das

GRADE: CC / 40% The President is coming.jpg

Summary: Actor-director Kunaal Roy Kapoor’s satirical mockumentary is too incredulous to work as a satire or mockumentary, and edges on farce with non-stop tomfoolery. The characters in ‘The President is Coming’ are so in-your-face obnoxious and in-each-other’s faces offensive that they put you off so much, you’d wish that carnivorous plant from Cadbury Bournville commercial would devour them up.

Cast

Konkona Sen Sharma as Maya Roy
Shernaz Patel as Samantha Patel
Shivani Tanksale as Ritu Johnson
Anand Tiwari as Kapil Dev
Namit Das as Ramesh S.
Vivek Gomber as Rohit Seth
Satchit Puranik as Ajay Karlekar
Ira Dubey as Archana Kapoor

 

Imran Rasheed as Mohammed Aslam (Security guard)

 

When we were kids, we played a popular game called ‘Simon says’. In this game, one kid from the group became ‘Simon’ and issued instructions to the rest of the group, like ‘Simon says sit’ or ‘Simon says jump’. The person who failed to perform the action immediately lost the game and sat out until the winner was declared. The six contestants who compete in a reality show that offers the winner a chance of the lifetime to shake hands with President George Bush (now former President, of course) are so hare-brained and crotchety they’d all fail in first round of a Simon Says game, forget making the list of NDTV’s top entrepreneurs (as the film states. The only way this can be justifiable is if NDTV is equally harebrained) or worse, representing India to greet a President. It isn’t just the contestant choice that’s ridiculous but the selection committee itself which includes two unhinged women who conduct a series of absurd tasks in elimination rounds. It’s really a stretch to believe that the US consulate would these circus freaks to work for them, who seem fitter as inmates of a mental asylum. The only reality shows that fits the bill for these cartoons is the garish ‘Timeout with Imam’, the Indian ‘reality show’ (though it’s obviously scripted) that’s currently polluting MTV India. For those unfamiliar with the show, think Spencer Pratt & Heidi Montag.

Actor-director Kunaal Roy Kapoor’s satirical mockumentary is too incredulous to work as a satire or mockumentary, and edges on farce with non-stop tomfoolery. The characters in ‘The President is Coming’ are so in-your-face obnoxious and in-each-other’s faces offensive that they put you off so much, you’d wish that carnivorous plant from Cadbury Bournville commercial would devour them up. These aren’t likable caricatures, like Sheldon Cooper in Big Bang Theory or Meryl Streep’s wonderful Camilla Bowner in ‘Web Therapy’, whose verbal darts during their repartees are sharp but don’t hurt. In ‘The President is Coming’, the characters want to draw blood every time they open their mouths. At one point, a guy asks a girl ‘Are you a slut?… A whore?’ (later, it is found that the girl had recorded a sex-tape with another male contestant in the past) like he’s asking about weather. Even the wicked Barney Stinson from comedy series How I Met Your Mother would’ve been more tactful.

There are seven contenders fighting for the title of ‘The Most offensive character’ in the film. Let’s begin with the host Samantha Patel, a bossy uptight always-Miss-Right anchor who dons Barkha Dutt’s bob cut. There’s hardly a moment where we don’t see her putting down her timid protégé Ritu Johnson and telling her who has the last word. She’s later found to be a kleptomaniac stealing cutlery and statues from the location of the reality show. It’s surprising that this character, who wants to remain in the spotlight always, doesn’t ask the reality-show’s camera-man (who’s off-screen, holding the camera, through which we view all the action) for close-ups, or come too close to the camera only to block others from view.

(L-R) Anand Tiwari, Konkana Sen Sharma, Ira Dubey

The six contestants include Maya Roy, an author who loves the works of Ernest Hemingway, except she thinks she’s better. A strong-minded forward-thinking divorcee, she is irked by the misogynistic, homophobic, antediluvian thinking of co-contestant Ajay Karlekar, a Hindutva social worker who believes he and George Bush share the same qualities (he’s got that right, at least). She is also very shrewd, using contestants’ weaknesses to get them eliminated. One victim is South Indian Ramesh S., a closeted homosexual who is learns all the rules of straight-flirtation but never gets them right. Then there is billionaire’s daughter and budding entrepreneur Archana, a scatterbrained brown skin Paris Hilton without the puppies, and Rohit Seth, an accent trainer running the unimaginatively named ‘Speak easy’; this is the couple that was involved in the sex tape scandal. The guy who asks her whether she’s a slut is Kapil Dev Dholakia, a stockbroker who can speak stocks and shares very easily but nothing else. When asked what the capital of US is, he replies ‘Dow Jones’. The film gives this painful guy a sweet revenge by dressing him up as Madonna in the Round ‘American Masquerade’.

You just can’t choose some who calls Osama Bin Laden as Sri Sri Ravi Shankar as one of the top six contestants of any quiz based reality show, especially one where the winner meets Mr. Bush. One just can’t be so ignorant, so offensive and so ludicrous unless paid handsomely by the TV to act this way. There’s also some obvious blunders for which no explanations are provided. Firstly, where’s the entire crew that’s shooting the event? Are we to believe one that there’s only person shooting AND operating the boom mic (a device to capture sound. Oftentimes makes special appearance in films due to careless editing) and there’s no security except one mousy watchman? And why would one character reveal a maleficent hidden agenda in front of TV cams and security cams? All these annoyances and blunders rob the spotlight from moments of mild delight.

Ernest Hemingway once said ‘The most essential gift for a good writer is a built-in, shock-proof shit detector. This is the writer’s radar and all great writers have had it’. Anuvab Pal may not even make it to the long list of such writers. His film reeks.

Site links to Shows Referred in Review:

The President is Coming: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vi30SReUUMw

Timeout with Imam: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dpgw5iARk-o

Cadbury Bournville Commercial: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ChY610zS94g

Meryl Streep Web Therapy:

1) Aversion Therapy: http://www.lstudio.com/web-therapy/camilla-bowner-aversion-therapy.html

2) The Healing Touch: http://www.lstudio.com/web-therapy/camilla-bowner-healing-touch.html

3) Reverse Psychology: http://www.lstudio.com/web-therapy/camilla-bowner-reverse-psychology.html

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Review of 2011 Anurag Kashyap Film That Girl in Yellow Boots, Starring Kalki Koechlin

GRADE: A / 80% That Girl in Yellow Boots.jpg

If I say Anurag Kashyap‘s ‘That Girl in Yellow Boots‘ is one of the most overlooked films of 2011, I’d probably hear a ‘Huh? Aisi film bani bhi thi? (Huh? Was a film like that even made?) from most guys. If it weren’t for the late film critic Roger Ebert, who in his review of this film gave it a 3.5/4, I too wouldn’t have known that such a movie was made by the ‘Gangs of Wasseypur‘ director, this being despite the fact that I’m an Indian living in India. The film, like its protagonist, was probably found its home at film festivals, but sadly remains an alien here, in its own country.

Ruth is a little girl lost in a big bad world. The world here is India, or Mumbai to be precise (widely known as the city of dreams, something like Hollywood), whose glittery surface belies the ugliness beneath. You can easily be taken for a ride and f*** up your life in this city, especially if you are an outsider, a foreigner. Ruth may be aadhi-angreez (half-British) but she’s no naivete.

Wise beyond her years, she knows how to deal with Indians using indigenous methods i.e. bribing, and where and how she can make easy money. She’ll fight back with any Indian who tries takes her for granted and thinks he can get away because she’s not ‘from here’, except with government employees at immigration offices, with whom its simply pointless to argue and wise to obey instead. She works at a all-female run massage parlour exclusively for male customers, and all the guys need to know is the meaning of the word ‘handshake’ (hope you know what it means. In case you don’t, please refrain from asking for one at any massage parlour; a bordello is the right location for that: hope you know what a bordello is!) to get one from Ruth at an additional rate of a thousand rupees.

Kalki Koechlin unveils 'The Year of the Tiger'...

Kalki Koechlin plays Ruth in A Girl in Yellow Boots (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Her personal life is dysfunctional, to say the least, eaten up by her cokehead parasite of a boyfriend whose only desire to make love with her remains unfulfilled each time he initiates (he gets her patented handshake instead). The only driving force is her quest to find her father, who leaves no clues for her except a letter stating that he’s in Mumbai, because she believes her father would love her unconditionally. So determined is Ruth in solving this puzzle that she doesn’t fully appreciate the fatherly affection shown by an elderly customer named Divakar, who’s the only person to come just to get a massage and is oblivious of her handshake add-on service. She looks for love at all the wrong places and eventually regrets it, her life falling bit by bit as the ugly truth surfaces. This, in a nutshell, is Ruth, an unhappy girl whose job ironically is give people a ‘happy time’.

Kalki Koechlin is wonderful as Ruth because she refrains from overstating her alienness. Filmed under natural lighting that avoids romanticizing her as a foreigner, giving her an ‘Hey, I’m one of you!’ look, she is believable in every shade of her character, whether its Ruth the ‘handshake girl’, Ruth the ‘suffering girlfriend’ or Ruth the ‘determined and fearless woman’. Her fate is heartbreaking and may disturb some audiences, and Koechlin is fully involved in the film’s emotional moments. Her performance, like the movie itself, has been overlooked at award ceremonies, which instead got their happy time watching Vidya Balan pant and feign orgasms in Dirty Picture.

This is a DVD worth buying. Throw away your old stock of action-romance films and treasure a copy of this film instead.

Review of Thalaivaa /Leader (rather Talai-vali/ Headache), a 2013 Tamil Movie Written and Directed by A L. Vijay, and Starring Vijay, Amala Paul, Satyaraj

Grade: 10% / Just Sad  Thalaivaa film official poster.jpg

Summary: Such a god-damn ridiculous piece of trash it should be kept out of human reach. This film doesn’t even deserve the controversy it’s getting.

Tamil A.L. Vijay‘s Thalaivaa has courted controversy after theatres in Chennai which originally intended to play the film received bomb threats, thus leading to a no-show on the first week of its release. It has however reached a cinema hall in the quaint but economically mushrooming city of Vadodara, my home-town. And my brothers, or rather bros, in Chennai, consider yourself saved (except for that poor fan-boy who committed suicide after his idol Vijay ‘s ( i.e. the lead actor and not A.L. Vijay ,the director) film didn’t see a release in Chennai. Bro, a word of advice: there are better things worth giving up your life for)! For the film is such a god-damn ridiculous piece of trash it should be kept out of human reach. Here’s another word of advice, this time for Tamil Nadu’s chief minister Jayalalitha, whom actor Vijay has approached for approving his film for Chennai theatres: don’t listen to him! Instead do this: set up gas chambers just like the ones used in WW2 concentration camps and get about a million people killed. Set up a nuclear plant in the hub of the city and leak it. You’d probably see your name taken alongside Hitler’s, but if you make the gravest mistake of releasing this film in the city you lead, consider your precious C.M. seat taken! In the first case, you’d be a dictator and yet not lose your precious ‘kursi’ (seat)…

I believe one S R K Karnan has filed petition with the Chennai High Court alleging that the film portrays the lives of his father and grand-father, two social leaders in Mumbai’s slum-ridden area of Dharavi, in a highly unflattering light by distorting facts and depicting the two men as dons and thugs. His petition would probably be rejected, but if he does make another one claiming his lineage is portrayed as boneheaded idiots, he’d probably win the claim. Thalaivaa is hardly a biopic. Neither is it about “the people” as the protagonists in the film often claim. It isn’t about Anna, who if Karnan’s claim is true has been based on his granddad. Neither is it about Karnan’s father. It’s all about the idiotic hero Vijay. His screen-time and close-up shots confirm this. He dances , he romances, he sings, he jokes, he does dollops of dishum-dishum (fight) and some poor imitation of Robert Di Nero in Godfather and Abhishek Bachchan in Ram Gopal Varma‘s Sarkar/Sarkar Raj, whenever he gets a free time from all the dancing, romancing and dishum-dishuming.

He’s a wannabe dada/don. The film itself is a wannabe Godfather, a wannabe Sarkar, a wannabe typical-Indian-romance (but with twist) and at times even a wannabe ABCD (Prabhudeva’s film on dance). It spends much of its time worshipping its hero Vijay, to an extent that it kills of Anna’s character (played competently by Sathyaraj) pretty quickly. It wastes little time to reveal its true intentions of becoming another in the endless list of forgettable kitschy ‘romance-drama-action’ money-spinners that are dumped on mass audiences by Kollywood and Bollywood. Sathyaraj, playing Anna, is a former coolie who eventually becomes the protector of honest slum-dwellers of Dharavi by delivering justice through violence and force. But the film relegates him to a shadow, one appearing occasionally to tell his son how busy he is, as soon as Vijay enters. He plays Anna’s NRI son-settled-in-Melbourne Vishwa, and the film abruptly switches gear from dead-serious drama to hokey-jokey comedy. Comedian Santharam joins in as Vishwa’s buddy Logu to fuel the film’s path of self-destruction, and for a while we get an unappetizing feel of watching ‘Sarkar + Comedy’.

ActorVijay.jpg

Hero VIjay plays Vishwa

Enter love interest Meera (played by dusky beauty Amala Paul) and the film enters ‘romance mode’, spending almost an hour till we exclaim “Oh my goodness! What happened to the original plot?!!” (that comes right before the interval, so you can be bold enough and try to ask whether you can come in after interval and pay half the ticket price. I wouldn’t recommend that either as things get even worse post-interval). Vishwa and Meera participate in a dance contest and win, overcoming hurdles like being attacked by their competitors. But why are these things important in a film about Dharavi, its people and its self-proclaimed leaders? Why on earth would he think including a series of comedy sketches, one involving a cook who cannot cook, another about a bunch of single-men in Melbourne pining for Meera and the third involving Meera lying about her marriage with a sleazy-looking B-grade movie star, would be a good idea? Because they absolutely do nothing to further the plot, and they last as long as durex condoms. And how ridiculous is it for a film to forget itself, and jump from drama to comedy to romance and return only to kill of the character of Anna, poor Anna in a car blast? And to listen to Vishwa and Logu call each other ‘Bro’ every single time because, you know, they’re in Melbourne and all, is borderline painful. Just imagine hearing something like: A- ‘Bro…’ B- ‘No, bro…’ A- ‘Of course, bro’ B- ‘Bro!’, (10x).

Twists before the second half – Meera and her dad turning out to be undercover police after they visit Mumbai along-with Vishwa under the pretext of discussing with Anna about Vishwa’s marriage with Meera, and a guy named Bhima claiming responsibility for killing Anna to avenge his father’s murder (Anna had killed a hate-monger named Varadarajan Mudaliar in the past). Bhima is really a weirdo – he meditates chanting Anna’s name (then Vishwa’s; actually the words chanted during meditation help in relaxation so it’s hard to understand how chanting one’s villain’s name will increase animosity towards that subject: weird spirituality) and he sounds like an evil cyborg, credit awful dubbing (he’s played by Abhimanyu Singh, a pucca Punjabi puttar). Vishwa meanwhile spends his time either channeling his inner Sylvester Stallone/Salman Khan, pounding men after men with brute energy, or drinking bhaang and doing masti (fun). The condition of this film post-interval turns from rubbish to muck to sheer atrocity. A song in the film goes ‘Thalapathy Thalapathy’; meanwhile you’d be experiencing a great deal of talai-vali (headache). I recommend a CT scan after watching this film.

If Thalaivaa is the film of 2013, then its a clear indication its the Dark Ages for Tamil cinema. This film doesn’t deserve the controversy it’s getting (controversy = publicity = ka-ching!).T he multiplex I visited usually plays a little too many ads. This time I wanted some more. They quickly make their point in their one minute time slot. The movie, however, takes ages to get to a point, and still doesn’t make any impact. Now why would you sit for a three hour pointless watch?

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 KapoorRahul 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!)