Stoker (2013) – A Brief Review

220px-Stoker_teaser_posterAfter India’s (Mia Wasikowska) father dies, her Uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode), who she never knew existed, comes to live with her and her unstable mother (Nicole Kidman). She comes to suspect this mysterious, charming man has ulterior motives and becomes increasingly infatuated with him.


Stoker almost immediately establishes itself as a feature that’s fixated more towards its cinematography than storytelling. In 2011, Sean Durkin’s Martha Marcy May Marlene similarly let its camerawork compensate for the sparseness of its narrative, and director Park Chan-Wook’s Stoker adopts this approach to lodge us into the mental state of each character. Hence, the emphasis on state through confined spaces, backlit landscapes, filtered images and distant silhouettes captured in odd, tilted angles and using very specific camera movements lets us forgive the fact that this is basically an ‘uncanny protagonist’ (Carrie/Martha Marcy/Pauline i.e. from Heavenly Creatures) meets ‘mysterious stranger’ (Esther from Halloween / the ‘Stepfather’) fare. It becomes more than that actually when it avoids taking a beaten path with its final sequence, which seems to whisper ‘A happy ending for the central character need not be the “desired” resolution you hoped for, as a ‘virtuous’ citizen at least’.


What you get may disturb you, especially if you are the sort of person who wants the protagonist to opt for the right path in the end. I don’t think anybody would’ve wanted Edmund from The Chronicles of Narnia to end up replacing the White Witch as the primary antagonist. Good sense must prevail over any temptation; otherwise, the world would be brimming with Beibers and Cyruses (actually, it is). And so one may be slightly nonplussed by Stoker’s transgression later on, but Chung Chung-hoon’s cinematography does enough till then to ensure the transgression ultimately doesn’t seem unconvincing or farcical. There is much to relish in the manner the camera captures the exact elements at the proper height, angle and focus in a particular frame to convey characters’ personalities, their motives, their state of mind, the relationship with other characters as well as the unsettling overall atmosphere looming over the Stoker family.


In a film that has two people with super-strong senses and crazy-good piano skills, casual murders and masturbation sequences fantasizing about one of the murders just committed and a shot of a spider climbing up the protagonist’s legs, it’s best to forget that the main weapon used in the film is a deadly… belt.

Chaplin Review (2011) – A Bengali Film




Rating: 40% 

Director: Anindo Bandhopadhyay


Bangshi – Rudranil Ghosh

Rina – Rachita Bhattacharya

Nimua – Sohum Maitra

Zafar – Mir Afsar Ali

A few too many people hold sympathy for struggling mime artist Bangshi’s Tramp. The original Tramp, immortalized by actor-director Charlie Chaplin in silent feature films such as ‘City Lights’ (a testament to his mastery over both comedy and pathos), ‘The Kid’, ‘Modern Times’ and countless short skits during the earliest days of cinema, persistently remained an outcast. Legendary critic Roger Ebert cogently remarked in his essay, while adding City Lights to his ‘Great Movies’ collection, that “…his shabby appearance sets him apart and cues people to avoid and stereotype him; a tramp is not … one of us…the Tramp is an outcast, an onlooker, a loner”.

Hence any slapstick or dramatic incident involving him treats us with an altogether special form of happiness or pain; the same applies for reclusive poet Emily Dickinson’s works, which are tinged with universally recognized emotions yet made distinctively special with her individualistic writing style. Dickinson was a real person, while the Tramp exists in a fictional world, where “he exists somehow on a different plane than the other characters; he stands outside their lives and realities, is judged on his appearance, is homeless and without true friends or family, and interacts with the world mostly through his actions” (Ebert). A few who do care or support him are usually in similar situations themselves or perhaps, as in case of City Lights, drunk or sightless. In the end, he may attain little joy, little respite, little or no companionship but we’re touched by his ability to smile alone in the face of adversities. He may not speak a word, and yet his emotions ring true.


Padmanabha Dasgupta, one of Chaplin’s screenplay writers, was apparently inspired to pen the draft (later reshaped by Anindo Bandhopadhyay, also the film’s director) after witnessing a nondescript Chaplin impersonator stuffing the only Cadbury bar given to him by the hosts into his pockets so he could carry it for his entire family. I’m aware of the immense struggle faced by local artistes, many who put in hours of hard-work only to find their work going unnoticed and/or unappreciated. I knew a man who would spend his mornings and afternoons practicing Bharatnatyam, an Indian classical dance form, his evenings in drama rehearsals, and work as security guard during night shift, along with earning some cash as an auto-rickshaw driver during weekends. He was ghostly pale, and you heard a strain of unhealthiness in his voice, like it hurt him even to speak after endless grueling. I saw him at a seminar a couple of days ago. He seemed healthier and happier.


Bangshi (played by Rudranil Ghosh), the film’s hero, performs as a Chaplin impersonator at birthday parties and events but has no other source of income, despite persuasions from Rina (Rachita Bhattacharya), a well-to-do social worker who’s also his son Nimua’s (Sohum Maitra) teacher in school. Bangshi and Nimua are a happy-go-lucky father-and-son duo who survive on little income, and yet find out ways to remain happy and get love and support from within their community. Close ones include Bangshi’s companion Zafar (Mir Afsar Ali), who’s compelled to borrow money from Bangshi after his previous owner cruelly refuses to pay him his dues, and Bangshi’s landlord, who dons a muffler around his head and fixes a stern landlord-y look but has love in his heart both for Bangshi and Nimua. Both latch onto optimism, even when their heart’s desires are unmet; Nimua is so eager to have a grand birthday party hosted for him, just like the ones he watches from a distance when accompanying his dad to work, but he knows his wish won’t come true when all he gets for meals is bread dipped in water.


And yet, his unfulfilled desires find some respite in his dreams. Bangshi’s own dreams may be realized, after he gets an opportunity to participate in a talent hunt for the ‘Great Indian Comedian’. But there’s a major shocker when Bangshi’s son diagnosed with brain tumor. Tears are shed and with days running out, Bangshi needs to set his life straight and pursue to fulfill his son’s dream.


The film begins with a private close up shot of Bangshi applying make-up to transform into (a fractured version of) Tramp. He has got a wider mouth with prominent set of teeth, and fuller cheeks. The first skit, perhaps a dream sequence, involves Tramp, a heroine and a tough guy chasing them, but it plays at such rapid speed it doesn’t register in our heads. In fact, except for the final sequence involving Tramp, there isn’t a single scene that draws laughs and, in a particular moment involving him getting slapped hard by an annoyed guest, we unfortunately empathize with the latter; the guy playing the trumpet, who only gets a scene or two, is funnier and less irksome.


Another issue is that although we assume from the opening sequence that the film will be restricted to Charlie’s perspective, it constantly shifts to behind-the-scene activities of the guys conducting the reality show, which includes Rina’s boyfriend. When their hearts melt eventually for this ersatz Tramp, we get sappy close up shots of literally everyone clapping and tearing up for the protagonist’s plight. Instead, if Bandhopadhyay had worked on drawing parallel between dad Bangshi’s desires and son Nimua’s dreams through camerawork (say, having scenes where we see from Banshi’s (first-person) point-of-view as he enters the unfamiliar environment of the television show auditions, just as we’re shown Nimua dreaming about his birthday from a first-person view), and left us audience members (and maybe just a few supporting characters who’ve remained supportive) to cheer for the two at the end, the film would’ve put a genuine smile on our faces. What happens is that when you add in too many people to indicate that a scene is supposed to tug your heartstrings or inspire you, it ends up losing impact. Just yesterday, spurious India TV reporter Rajat Sharma interviewed Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi on his show ‘Aap Ki Adaalat’; Modi maintained his composure and gave dignified, well-formed responses for every question raised. The channel could’ve done without all the audience members fervently screaming ‘Modi! Modi’, almost to a cultish extent which really got on my nerves. Some silence would’ve helped.




Highway Review

Highway_Hindi_Film_PosterHighway Review Summary: Best Way To Sum Up Highway – Dora The Explorer Undergoes an Eat Pray Love Moment during a YRF-style Kidnapping Plot Sponsored by National Geographic. The Result is a Frustratingly Disappointing Mishmash.  

Rating: 1.5 / 5

Director: Imtiaz Ali

Cast: Alia Bhatt, Randeep Hooda

Highway is almost stoned with verdurous landscapes eager to capture yet another snow-capped valley, yet another batch of folk artists warbling in the middle of nowhere. If it were to go under the scanner, I’m sure the reports shall detect directorial self-indulgence. Yes, we have come to expect a great deal of travel in director-writer Imtiaz Ali’s films.

His debut effort Socha Na Tha treated us to Goa, and his next and most popular Jab We Met circled through Himachal Pradesh and Punjab. His next two films – Love Aaj Kal and Rockstar went international. Of course, the locations acted as backdrop to the storyline in each of the four cases. Why are repeatedly subjected to shots of tranquil nature in Highway then? Yes, to convey an atmosphere and to a degree the characters’ frame of mind. Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity and Danny Boyle’s 127 Hours have shown great degree of expertise in employing environment alongside filmic elements to heighten the emotional state.


In Highway, however, scenery chews up everything and all we’re left with are memories of parting clouds, chirping crickets and vegetation and little of anything else. It feels as though a very filmi kidnapping story was spliced with truckloads of scintillating images from National Geographic, and what we get in the end is something a la Eat Pray Love except on the Highway, with a Yash Raj treatment to the kidnapping angle and plentiful of ped-paudhe. The mishmash makes for a unsatisfactory watch.


You know a film’s in trouble when itself doesn’t understand what its tone has to be. Some images are so sharp they seem to be injected with artificial coloring. It seems the characters’ themselves weren’t as besotted with the beauty as Imtiaz Ali was, and therefore the picture looks pretty but empty.

Talking about characters, Alia Bhatt returns in her sophomore work after Student of the Year as Veera Tripathi, a rich but unhappy girl (cliché) who gets kidnapped on night on the highway and soon goes “Yeah, I’m kidnapped! Now I can sightsee!”. She has a troubling childhood secret that’s eventually revealed to us and the other characters. Alia has a babyface, but her screen presence is far more refreshing than babyface contemporary Hansika Motwani’s. There isn’t much to her character, who goes through the routine cycle of outright fear and apprehension, followed by submission, cooperation, realization, then finally intimacy, in a movie that requires her to fall in love with her kidnapper.


She’s overtly nice and simplemindedly naïve for someone from a well-off family, and Alia portrays Veera as a bug-eyed Dora The Explorer. Her eyes don’t convey much about her past, and most experienced actors know you can convey a great deal about your character through your eyes. She doesn’t give us a fully realized character the way Kareena Kapoor presented us Geet in Jab We Met, the way Shahrukh Khan played Mohan Bhargav in Swades. More than a breakthrough performance, it’s a Filmfare-baiting performance through and through, especially in the scene where Alia tells her kidnapper how she was the victim of child abuse. What had me scratching my head was that she had no purpose behind telling him all that stuff at that point of time. See, I told you she wants that naked statue badly!


Randeep Hooda gives a less than impressive performance as Mahavir, her kidnapper, for he too cannot completely settle into character the way actors like Irrfan Khan and Nawazuddin Siddique would. The scenes play more like airbrushed reconstructions of events and the performances ring false. A.R. Rahman’s soundtrack redeems the film to an extent by creating an aura that’s more in tune with the film’s purpose, but that can’t undo all the mishaps and collisions caused by Ali, cinematographer Anil Mehta and the cast. It’s a highway to nowhere.