Saturday, August 01, 2015

Masaan: Some Scattered Thoughts

I used to be a regular reader of PFC, the now defunct digital Mecca for budding Indian cinephiles. I am not very sure about what it morphed into and how it ended but for a few years in between, I checked it more often than Gmail and Facebook (well it was Orkut!). For the first time in my life I had seen so many like minded people in one (virtual) place. Neeraj Ghaywan used to be one of the contributors in PFC (And so was Varun Grover). His posts used to be long, detailed and insightful. The one I remember clearly was the one on Kusturica's Underground. I had already seen Dolly Bell by then but yet I had not seriously explored the Serbian. After that post I watched everything by the Serbian within a few days. 

So, although I do not personally know Ghaywan but I always thought he should make a film someday. That film has indeed been made now and I have finally managed to watch it too. I was also glad to see the near houseful theater in Delhi on a Thursday afternoon. I was actually wondering if it will ever get a normal release.

Coming to Masaan, unlike its funerary name, lightens up the mood of any film lover, not through its content but through its craft. As everyone must be knowing by now, it tells nearly disconnected stories of two sets of people. On one hand we have a victim of moral policing and her father. On the other hand we have a young couple from polar opposite social as well as economic strata. At the start, it proceeds like a dream for those who loved Slumdog. Every unfortunate (but genuine) Indian stereotype is covered in the first 15 mins or so, from horny youth getting punished for doing the obvious to people stuck in unpleasant occupations defined by their bloodlines, from orphaned child laborers to corrupt cops and at a broader level, from squalid towns to polluted rivers. There is hope too, in the form of youth planning to break away from the life handed to them by the society. 

However, as the film proceeds, we see the larger point, the continuous flow of life just like that of the river on the banks of which it unfolds. It feels no need to sermonize or criticize anyone including the vilest. But this objectivity is expected from a film such as this. What is more important is that it is not even interested in any kind of resolution or even closure. In fact the characters have mostly been denied any satisfactory closure and the little bit of coincidence towards the end, although a bit forced, delighted me due to a faint glimmer of hope for a couple of characters, just like the ending of Talk to Her did. The fact that I felt so for those characters, is a testament of the films effectiveness as far as I am concerned. 

Masaan is another addition to growing the list of "small town" films that are thankfully replacing Bombay (and New York and Paris) nowadays. Interestingly, I think a lot of such films are actually based non-Lutyen's Delhi. This tells something about Delhi. Unlike Mumbai, it has still retained that hinterland feel apart from certain upmarket localities. That is why Aankhon Dekhi worked the same way as Masaan while Dhobi Ghat always felt a bit alien to me. 

While the writing takes care of minute, slice of life details of small town existence, perfect casting and non-exploitative cinematography keeps the film running smoothly. While all the leads were excellent, I was delighted by many small cameos such as that of Pankaj Tripathi. Use of poetry lifts up certain dramatic moments but I felt the songs were not as stirring as they should have been, considering Indian Oceans past works. Anyways, Masaan made me resurrect this long deceased blog and write about films after ages. Let's see which other film makes me do so again.

Monday, May 16, 2011

A new site

In case anyone stumbles on this page. Let me inform you that I have started a new website with my own domain. Do visit.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Avatar: Cameron Reincarnated?

Why do we watch films? To get entertained? To get educated? To ogle at the things we can’t catch otherwise (I don’t mean anything vulgar here)?

Yes there are many reasons for watching films and when we bash a film this is because they fail to satisfy any of those criteria. Some people would argue that entertaining movies are mindlessly targeted and criticized at times by some people just because they do not offer any cerebral fodder. But I would like to point out that this is a very misplaced notion. People like me who are too nitpicky, actually abuse mindless entertainers when they fail to entertain and not when they actually entertain. Avatar is an excellent case study in this context.

Coming back to the film, I believe no one needs to be told what it is and in fact I’m sure no one even wants to read the plot once again. Just to reiterate, the plot is nothing new. A mélange of man Vs alien conflict, a thinly veiled environmental message (which also serendipitously coincides with hope-(less)-enhagen disaster), a semi dystopian futuristic tale and a star crossed love story, the plot never comes as a surprise, nor does the climax. Even the climactic battle might offer a seen before feeling although it is bigger and better than any of its predecessors excluding LOTR.

So, unsurprisingly again, the biggest asset of the film is its visual effects. This is the mother of all CGI vehicles and the makers have left no stone unturned to deliver a unique visual experience that can make even most cynical of the jaws drop. Cameron creates a brave new world here which is supposed to be alien but seems extremely relatable in reality. With all those dense forests full of exotic animals and humanoid aliens who have also learned to speak English, we can see that the spacecrafts are merely the new age allusions to the legendary Mayflowers or Santa Marías. But this realization never dilutes the impact of the visuals. Especially astounding are the shots of the Pandora skyline where multiple planets and moons loom large over the horizon, the meticulously created luminescent forest with fluorescent flora & fauna and also the alien versions of dinosaurs and pterodactyls.

The film boasts of a very competent cast with Sam Worthington, Zoë Saldaña, Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang and Michelle Rodriguez. But I am actually concerned about attributing the performance to those actors. Because as we know, large parts of the shots are CGI generated and hence I do not even know if those expressions were real or animated! Probably the makers can take that as a compliment! The background score is also being praised by many people, but I thought the visuals overpowered it & I never really noticed it.

Nevertheless, influences are more than visible in the plotline. Dances with the wolves (Native Vs White Americans), Pathfinder (Vikings Vs Americans), Pocahontas, Fern Gully (I haven’t seen the last two) etc have been quoted as the predecessors of the film in terms of the theme. But I found a more than striking resemblance of the film to Hayao Miyazaki’s masterpiece Mononoke-hime (1997), visually as well as thematically. The entire talk of forests spirits, mythical creatures and men Vs nature conflict kept me reminded of that film which might not be as well known as its Hollywood counterparts. I actually wrote a piece about it sometime ago.

So, just to wind up, it is a technically immaculate film and I am not even qualified to comment on Cameron’s directorial capabilities. It does qualify as a film that is supposed to entertain and does so very successfully despite being predictable. Also, let me clarify that I added the word “reincarnated” in the tile not because Cameron is making a film after 12 years but because he gets back to his roots after more that one and a half decade. I was never a fan of Titanic except for the painting scene. In Avatar, he underplays the romance and gives us more of the action and adventure. So, watch it if that is what you are looking for and don’t go there expecting another Titanic.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Feeling Blue: A non review...

Finally skepticism gave in to curiosity & I saw it 2day...& yes the history was repeated again. I felt exactly the same way I felt after watching Dhoom 2 & Tasveer. Moreover, the climax has an eerie resemblance to the climax of Tasveer 8X10...both are set on a boat (or yacht whatever it is)...& both offer mind-boggling "revelations"...

But everything else apart, I have one question. Why do all Bollywood action films take so much time to get to the point? It was promoted as a nonstop action adventure joyride, but in fact in the entire 1st half there is no action at all. All you get to see is 3 or 4 songs, some senti about friendship & brotherly love, bikinis (the only good thing about it, especially for male chauvinists) & a bike race which is definitely ripped off from torque, F&F, 2F2F & ilk...

The makers need not do anything path-breaking, but they should show at least what they promise. Bond films work because they don't even give time to think how silly they are. How disappointing it is to see AK not getting to kick anyone in an action movie?...

Anyway, here are some logical inferences I derived from the movie...

1. When a ship coming to India from England gets shipwrecked, it ends up near the Bahamas across the Atlantic...
2. When someone breaks into your house with deadly weapons, the first thing you do is to grab your sunglasses (somehow it reminded me of that scene from Scary Movie when Carmen Electra grabs the banana while running away from the killer)
3. Sharks are normally very non violent in nature and friendly to homo sapience. In fact you can simply grab them and show them where they belong to.
4. It takes merely a few hours to prepare, reach, spot and bring back a treasure hidden at the bottom of the Atlantic that no one else could find in last 60 years...
5. Everybody understands Hindi in the Bahamas...That is why Lara sends SOS in Hindi...
6. It is a modern day interpretation of Ramayana, as explained by Rahul Dev so eloquently just before the climax. (Take that Mr. Maniratnam)

Probably there are more symbolism and references that I've missed out. But let me stop here for the time being.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Der Baader Meinhof Komplex: The Film, the Ideology and the Fallacy

German Cinema never ceases to fascinate me. It is not merely style or the substance, but the sheer honesty with which they portray the darker shades of their past, that mesmerizes me. With Der Baader Meinhof Komplex, they take on another gory period of their recent history and turn that into an absorbing cinema.

No I am not exactly reviewing this film. For those who have never heard of this one before, it is about the heydays of Red Army Faction (RAF), a violent leftist terrorist group in Germany that existed during the late 60’s & 70’s. As I found out later on (through wiki obviously), most of the incidents including assassinations, encounters and hijacks depicted in the film are honestly portrayed without much fictionalization. I also noticed that most actors have striking resemblance with the characters they were playing. Such authenticity make the proceedings much more engrossing and chilling!

Just like any other regular European fiesta, this one also comes with a generous serving of casual and nonchalant nudity (which I have always enjoyed being a victim of conservative Indian society). Nevertheless, that is not the point I am trying to make. Through the entire course of the film I just could not help relating those German anarchists to Indian Naxalites, regional terrorists and ilk. It is simply not the ideology that is similar. Right from the reckless vandalism to the ultimate tragic culmination, everything seemed so familiar and of course so futile!

RAF gained ground protesting the US involvement in Vietnam, Palestine & other such issues. Despite their seemingly generous intentions, those unruly youngsters embarked on a path of mass arson, bomb blasts, kidnappings and ambushes. They also enjoyed a degree of mass support initially which withered away even faster than their ammunition.

Such radical groups world over have an identical life-cycle: A bunch of hot blooded youngsters with larger than life ideologies and nearly zero (or probably negative) common sense firing at imaginary enemies and finally hurting their own people!
The RAF was wiped out and the members met with tragic ends. It might be in poor taste to say this, but that was in fact very fortunate for Europe. If we look at all the indigenous groups operating in India, they have had a similar beginning and metamorphosis. But they did not die their natural death, probably because of sheer demographic as well as economic diversity of the nation that kept fueling separatist as well as communist ambitions or probably because of sheer spinelessness of the state machinery.

It is not that those guys never had a point. But if we look at them now, it is evident that they have lost that sole point to justify themselves. This is what happens when ideology becomes livelihood and revolution becomes your 9 to 5 job that you can’t resign from.

Coming back to the film, it doesn’t make any judgments. It just shows the history as it is. But still the message comes out loud and clear. The futility of misplaced idealism has been portrayed with honest brutality. Director Uli Edel, whose Hollywood misadventure Body of Evidence was one of the worst movies I ever saw, does deserve credit for this one.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

The Hangover: Why did I like it?

No I’m not writing a review. Enough reviews are available if you really care about them. I’m just trying to analyze my own psyche here. I just saw The Hangover and I liked it. I’m not sure why exactly I liked it. It is probably because of the gay (not in “that” sense) abandon with which they indulged in their sinful escapades. In fact it is every man’s (dunno about women, I’m still clueless about them) fantasy to get intoxicated and do things they can’t when they are in their senses. These are the classical “stop making sense” moments. The sheer bizarreness of the plot elements satisfies the perennial male fantasies to the fullest. Getting away from preachy kin, long drive to a place like Las Vegas, losing all the senses, marrying a stripper…the list goes on.

But I must clarify here that it is not exactly a stoner flick. That is not the point. It is not another Up in Smoke or Pineapple Express (Yes I liked them). Nor is it about self destructive losers like Leaving Las Vegas (I liked that one too). In fact it reminds me of the films like The Sideways & to some extent Thelma & Louise. It’s about reclaiming life even if for a few hours. Most of such films have characters suffering from mid life crisis who finally break free. But The Hangover is about younger people. That is exactly why I can relate to them. I’m yet to arrive at mid life. But I do have a crisis. What have I done so far? Was it worth it? Finally, what’s the fucking point? Every thing I have been taught and I have done so far seems questionable. It is probably the mid youth crisis!

On second thoughts, I also liked it because I simply like such low budget indie flicks with excellent scripts. That is why I liked Li’l Miss Sunshine. No megastars, no stunts, no CGI…. just pure intelligent filmmaking. Whatever it is, after a very long time I didn’t regret paying for the ticket after watching a film. In case you stumbled upon this page searching for a review, it is definitely recommended!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

My Top 10 films of 2008

The Oscars are here…on the other hand I have not posted anything in my blog for more than three months. So to mark both the occasions I have decided to put my own list of top 10 films from the last year.

Let me declare a few things before I start.
• I have not seen all the movies released last year. So don’t feel offended if I have missed something that you have loved
• I am considering Hollywood and a few foreign movies I have seen. For practical reasons there is no Bollywood in this list
• No there is no Slumdog either. It’s not only about the poverty porn, it is difficult to accept a film with so many logical loopholes and factual errors

Anyway let’s start…10 films I liked the most…not necessarily in any order of preference…

Låt den rätte komma in (Let the right one in)

If you thought vampires are passé and they can only suck filmgoers and critics’ blood then watch this Swedish neo gothic(if may say so) surprise hit. You will realize what a new bottle and a new bartender can do to old wine. A tale of friendship between a lonely boy and a girl who turns out to be a vampire, it’s not your average action/horror stuff. I don’t want to spill the beans…just watch it whenever you get a chance. The Academy might have overlooked it, you should not.

Vals Im Bashir (Waltz with Bashir)

Gutt wrenching, spine chilling and atmospheric, this Israeli film might interest you simply because it falls into the rare genre of animated semi documentary. But that is not the only thing about it. A brilliant piece of filmmaking and story telling, this film redefines the world of animation. Some people are alleging that it downplays Israeli atrocities during Lebanon war and tries to put the blame only on the other side. But I would like to believe that this is an anti-war film which is more about the trauma the soldiers have to go through in any war and it hardly takes any sides.
Coming to technicalities, it is traditional 2D animation and don’t expect the finesse of Pixar, Miyazaki or even Dreamworks. In some close up shots the movements are not perfect, but the landscapes are amazingly done. The opening sequence is one of the best in recent times in any genre. A strong Oscar contender in the Best Foreign Language Film category, it has already pocketed the Golden Globes and I wonder why it was not nominated for best animation as well!

Che Part-I: The Argentine

I’m not a commie. But one need not be a commie to admire Che Guevara. Those who have already seen Motorcycle Diaries would definitely understand that. I think this one was ignored in the US just because it talks about the posterboy of that “untouchable” ideology. This is an epic movie in all respects that traces the rise of Che from his student days to his triumph in Cuba not necessarily in that order. Soderbergh takes the story back and forth in time and also intersperses the proceedings with Che’s speech in the UN. Benicio Del Toro triumphed at Cannes for his portrayal but was ignored otherwise. This film certainly deserved much more. (For the uninitiated, Che part II deals with the remaining phase of his life & I have not seen it so far)

Gran Torino

Watch it because Clint Eastwood even at this age makes world class films with remarkable consistency and if that is not enough, he can still point a gun at you, utter dialogues like “I'll blow a hole in your face then go inside and sleep like a baby.” and make you shiver. It tells an interesting story that is relevant to present day American society and probably to any other cosmopolitan society as well.

The Dark Knight

Needless to explain! And I think most of the people have seen it already. It is a rare example of quality film that is also a commercial success. And yes I like films with strong villains. Ledger, in his last act doesn’t simply play a villain, he overtakes the hero and makes an impression that you can’t get out of your mind even if you want to.


Again, needless to explain! But I have to admit that I was not sure about a robot falling in love, just the way I wasn’t sure about the rodent chef last year. But Pixar proved me wrong again. Anyway, I think prior reading of 2001: A Space Odyssey or prior viewing of the film of same name would be helpful in appreciating some of the jokes in this film a bit more.


If you took Brokebakc Mountain or even Dostana for granted, you need to watch Milk & see how the homosexuals broke the barriers and taboos inch by inch. Gus Van Sant recreates the America of 70’s with the help of an exceptionally talented ensemble cast led by Sean Penn, James Franco, Emile Hirsch and Josh Brolin.


This is another period drama from the 70’s. Ron Howard goes back to the Watergate days and recreates the series of interviews between President Nixon and British talk-show host David Frost which is no less than a real duel where one fights for his honour and for life as well. Watch it for the performance of Frank Langella as Nixon and Michel Sheen as Frost.

In Bruges

An intelligent piece of indie filmmaking, I watched it with no expectations and recommended to everyone else after watching it! Set in the gothic Belgian city of Bruges, this witty black comedy surpasses its own genre and becomes some sort of a social commentary. I also liked Colin Farrel’s performance for the first time along with the other lead Brendan Gleeson. Not to mention Ralph Fiennes towards the end.

Frozen River

An unusual drama set in a very unusual location with unusual characters, this one should be watched for its unusualness. It is set against the backdrop of illegal border crossing in the Mohawk reservation between New York State and Quebec. Good direction by first timer Courtney Hunt and some great performances by Melissa Leo and Misty Upham make it a moving drama rather than a mere study of the crime.

So these were the 10 I finally picked. But I had to leave out a few good ones after a lot of pondering. Namely Eastwood’s other release The Changeling, stoner comedy Pineapple express, another comedy Tropic Thunder, Woody Allen’s Vicky Christina Barcelona, Italina Crime flick Gomorra, Aronofsky’s The Wrestler to name a few.

You don’t have access to any of these?.....screw it... watch Dev.D!!! and wait for Gulaal next month…see the trailer below…