Saturday, October 31, 2015

MAMI 2015: Day 1

Here it is again! My favourite week of the year. Mumbai Film Festival time. I did not blog about the films I saw last year and I felt I was missing out on an integral aspect of watching an orgy of films in a given week of the year. The years before that, I meticulously recorded my thoughts about the films I saw and it was therapeutic. So let's give it a shot this year as well shall we?


Two years ago at this very festival Jafar Panahi's 'Closed Curtains' impressed me immensely and introduced me to his quintessential technique of blurring the real with the fictional. Just like that movie Jafar Panahi is a character in this film as well. I can almost classify this film as "super-meta" but really it is much more than that. It's an ode to cinema and cinema lovers. One particular character steals the show when she (deliberately?) breaks the fourth wall and addresses the film goer him/herself. Yet this moment does not seem out of place but seems to effortlessly belong in the film. We're seeing events unfold from the point of view of a dashboard camera recording a day in the life of Panahi, who is play acting as a cab driver. It's also a rebellious film. On the one hand we're seeing the fabulous streets and infrastructure of Tehran while on the other hand through the conversations we learn the struggles and constraints of Irani society and especially the hassles faced by artists. Then there's that bit about Panahi's niece shooting a short film within the film. Like I said, super-meta. There's never a dull moment in Taxi. A ride well worth taking. This one exceeded my expectations.

He Named Me Malala

I went in expecting this to be your average TV documentary fare. To its credit this film is far superior than that. It is aesthetically shot with extremely well done animated sequences recounting Malala and her father's days in Swat Valley while he was establishing a school. Then there are some intimate family sequences of Malala with her brothers which serve well as comic relief and have an air of warmth and togetherness to them. Despite this a sense of repetitiveness seeps in after a while. For me the most interesting bits were the ones that told us about Malala and her father's efforts to spread awareness and education and challenging the Taliban before Malala was shot. But since all of that happened before the world's attention turned to Malala there's very limited footage of it and only a brief section of the movie deals with it. Nevertheless the true revelation of this documentary is how the filmmaker exposes Malala's father's role in her life. He truly comes across as the fearless hero responsible for the global success that Malala has turned out to be. At times there's also a self-congratulatory tone but the makers do a good job of not over doing it. It's a very well made film and I'd recommend it. Since Malala's still a teenager, if she continues on the trail of relief work and spreading education that she's on then we might see a more comprehensive documentary in say the next decade or so. 


I can't give definitive thoughts about this film because I walked in 20 minutes late and left about 10 minutes before it ended. It'd be incorrect to classify this film as "horror" though. It's more in the supernatural space revolving around black magic and superstitious beliefs. The defining factor of this film according to me was the background score and sound design. It's an odd comparison given this is an Assamese film but watching these stories unfold made me feel very much like reading one of Blaft's Tamil Pulp Fiction anthologies, Despite the obnoxious premises, at no point does the film seem stupid or to be biting off more than it can chew and that is to its credit.


Aligarh has its moments, and a very earnest performance by Manoj Bajpai. Despite this I found it to be terribly average. It tries to be a lot of things and ends up being neither one. It takes too long to take off. Scenes between Bajpai and Rajkumar Rao have some spark but they're few and far in between. Especially the middle section dealing with court proceedings buries the story down among all that legalese. At one point it seems the film is going to be about politicization of the AU but even that idea is abandoned. Then at times the film seems to be pursuing the pathway of a procedural, but even there no clear picture comes out, The topic of the film is essential no doubt and it's a story that needs to be told but I only wish it was done with better characterization, vigour and vibrant story telling techniques.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

If you've got a moment

If you’ve got a moment I’d like to suspend you in time and space

If you’ve got a moment I’d like you to take a trip down memory’s lane

If you have a second to spare you may find a foreshadowing of emotions

If only you took a breath to realize there are universes perishing within a blink

If only you’d stop mixing up ‘holding still’ with ‘stepping back'

If only you’d let the colours absorb rather than brush them over in a haze

If only you’d let the words and sounds penetrate through clearly

If only we’d hear ourselves more than the clicks and beeps

If only we’d sense the joy in every resounding beat

If only I could find myself a moment I’d like to suspend myself in time and space.

Friday, October 25, 2013

MAMI 2013: The Final Day

Language: Spanish
Director: Amat Escalante

"Heli' was the most disturbing & depressing film I saw at the fest, but that in turn only reminded me of the power of cinema to sometimes make us sit through experiences that shake us up.

An innocent family gets embroiled in a drug trafficking case in the outskirts of Mexico. This results in the local paramilitary force picking them up from their house & what follows then is an extensive torture set piece both physical & cerebral. Instead of trapping the audience in a torture chambers & making it a 'torture porn' flick the film explores the aftermath of this horrific incident & how it changes the lives of the scarred individuals probably forever.

The harsh sun-parched rocky terrain of the region seem to be mirroring the turmoil of the characters.

This was the perennial film festival mindfuck for me.

Don Jon
Language: English
Director: Joseph Gordon Levitt

Well made, smart & funny but ultimately a predictable film. I felt there was a better movie in there somewhere.  Levitt shows a deft hand at handling the material he's working with & for the most part I kept hoping the film would go beyond where it was intended to but it was not to be. 

Johannson looks gorgeous but I felt was a strange choice for this role, Julianne Moore on the other hand is a treat. My favourite though were Tony Danza & Glenn Headley as Jon's parents. 

Despite it's cliche ridden ending I enjoyed watching it, was just expecting something more.

On My Way (Elle S'en Va)
Language: French
Director: Emmanuelle Bercott

For the first 15 minutes it seemed like this would be a woman-dealing-with-mid-life-crisis film like 'Gloria' but then it picked up & turned into a road movie-cum-family dramedy that follows the events occuring in the 48 odd hours in the life of Bettie, an ex-beauty queen of an era gone by where she makes amends with her daughter and connects with a grandson she never knew. Filled with humour & pathos this was a pleasant surprise. Sweet film

Brave Miss World
Language: Hebrew & English
Director: Cecilia Peck

A former Miss World Linor Abargil turns to activism & her Jewish heritage to overcome the trauma of rape in this documentary by Cecilia Peck. 

Dealing with a serious issue like rape & sexual harassment that occur the world over the film has to be commended for giving a voice & platform to previously silent victims to expose the horrors they have gone through & in some cases continue to go through. That said however there seemed to be a tad excess of self-praise & the sections dealing with Abargail's family life mirrored a reality show. Mixed feelings about this one. Serious issue but an obtuse portrayal.  

Language: English
Director: Costa Gavras

As a part of the Costa Gavras retrospective I chose to watch this 2002 flick on the big screen as I am fascinated by films based on Nazi Germany.

Based on real events & (partly) real characters 'Amen' plays out like a tense thriller about the lengths to which  two individuals, one a Nazi army officer & the other a Jesuit priest went in order to reach out to the Pope to let the world know about the atrocities being committed on the Jews.  Alas! to no avail.

This may not rank very high in the pantheon of WWII movies but is still riveting nonetheless.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

MAMI 2013: Days 5 & 6

For Those In Peril
Language: English
Director: Paul Wright

No film festival is complete without that one 'weird' film. This was that weirdo for me. The film deals with the protagonist's loss of his brother in a boat accident which he himself survived. The entire movie is consciously haphazard. Scenes inter-lap & juxtapose into each other to give the audience a heady experience & there is no discernible 'narrative'. A lot of figuring out is left to do on the audience's part. What I could get from it was how the loss of someone close changes everything-your internal feelings as well as your external outlook to see things including relationships, how the line between insanity & sanity starts to blur due to the grief.

It's all very stylistically shot though, I especially appreciated the sound design. All the film's flashbacks are shown through grainy footage that mirrors those shot by a cell phone or handycam, which may (or may not) be a comment on how memories quite literally become 'grainy'.

Despite this I really found a lack of emotional connect & the ending's just bizzarre. I was really put off by it, but there's a niche audience out there for this kind of a film & that's cool with me.

Another House (L'autre Maison)
Language:- French
Director:- Mathieu Roy

I felt this was an uneven film but when it worked it worked quite well. It questions our treatment of those that brought us into this world after they have reached an age where they find difficult to sustain themselves. There's a note of melancholy throughout the film but it never transforms into garish melodrama, the heart strings are tugged gently.

Despite dealing with a despondent subject it ends rather optimistically (or as optimistically as a film involving Alzheimer's, old age homes & war can end). The last 5 minutes are a meditative experience.

The Great Beauty (La Grande Bellezza)
Language: Italian
Director: Paulo Sorrentino

Okay, time to bring out the superlatives: Exceptional, brilliant, dazzling, par-excellence, gorgeous take your pick, 'The Great Beauty' is all that & more.


What terrific writing! Some of the best dialogue I have heard/read in quite a long time. Razor sharp wit. Quoting lines from this is going to be my next obsession. A central character that deserves his own mantle piece in cinematic time capsule & so many themes explored that listing them out would take up the rest of this post. Every scene, every frame, every sentence has been incorporated for a reason with meticulous detailing. 

This crisis of existentialism flows like poetry & hits like an arrow. Hard to find a flaw here, even the music is so magnificently used where opera rubs it's shoulders with indie pop. This is powerful cinema, it almost energized me & I cannot wait to revisit it. This movie alone was worth coming to MAMI for. Easily one of the best.

A Touch Of Sin (Tian Zhu Ding)
Language: Mandarin
Director: Jia Zhangke

This is a very cool movie. 4 mildly interrelated stories where the protagonists encounter death in one way or another in their journey. Basically the subject matter explores whether violence is something that is inherently human or something that only swells up when we're pushed to the extreme? The violence depicted isn't very grotesque but the sheer boiling intensity built around it makes it very striking. 

I personally like the leitmotif of captured animals running across all the 4 stories. It's the 'every man''s tale of revenge & crime. Visually eye catching & emotionally turbulent.

The Scorsese & Tarantino type fans may also dig this one. 

Language: Spanish
Director: Sebastian Lelio

58 year old divorcee having a mid life crisis. That sounds depressing but the film is not. On the contrary it's uplifting & at times funny with an outstanding performance by leading lady Paulina Garcia. If this was a Hollywood film there'd be Oscar buzz around her name. Unfortunately it isn't (she did win the Silver Bear at Berlin though). What's noticeable in 'Gloria' is how deftly the intimate moments of everyday life are captured. I loved the way music is incorporated, there's no soundtrack to the film, music only comes into play when someone turns on the radio, plays music in a party or inside a club. it is very cleverly incorporated into the screenplay. This is a compassionate film.

Ilo Ilo
Language: Chinese, English & Tagalong
Director: Anthony Cheng

"Ilo Ilo is a small Singaporean film with a big heart" described director Anthony Cheng. Those words couldn't have been truer. I love this film. Inspired by the director's real life it's about a 10 year old boy forming a bond with his Fillipino maid against the backdrop of the 1997 Asian financial crisis. Chen has amazing eye for detail for the time period & the film exposes how each of us in our own ways are flawed yet we have the tendency to go beyond them. This film is a fine example on how to keep it low budget yet create something compelling & lovable. There are just 4 major characters throughout & a majority of it is shot indoors. Yet there's absolutely no sense of monotony. The casting decisions are excellent almost as if these roles were created for these actors & vice versa. It's wonderful to see such an affectionate film coming from this part of the world. 

Language: Hindi
Director: Janki Vishwanathan

A social satire set against the backdrop of rural India. This film instantly reminded me of  Marathi film 'Deool' I saw at MAMI 2 years ago about blind devotion that leads to discrimination & divide. As far as satires go the whole mountain-over-a-molehill subject has been dabbled with numerous times before still the director provides enough interesting material to stay engaged. The film falters at times though, the depiction of politicians is caricaturish & the ending's slightly abrupt. Despite it's flaws it's a film with honest intentions, I hope it gets a wide release.

The Little Mermaid 3D
Language: English
Director: Ron Clements & John Musker

I had a chance to watch the remastered 3D version of this Disney classic on the big screen & I took it. We had a Disney representative take a small class before the screening explaining briefly with the help of slides & videos how they transformed the feature to 3D. Very interesting.

The film's still as enchanting as ever although another perspective did arise as the last time I watched this was many years ago when I was 12 or 13. Isn't it sexist that Ariel wants to give up her royal lineage and become a human just because she's fallen for a prince who is and I quote "sooo handsooome!" & why does the lobster have to be Jamaican? Are there Jamaican lobsters? Thought for another day perhaps.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

MAMI 2013: Day 4

Another very satisfying day. On the film watching front there was 1 film that failed to meet my expectations, one that exceeded them and one that was achingly good. I also spent one session watching & discussing short films by young Afghan filmmakers.

The Nun (La Religieuse)
Language: French
Director: Guillaume Nicloux

Set in late 17th century 'The Nun' is a period piece though it isn't an epic. It is an intimate account of a 17 year old girl Suzanne who's coerced into becoming a nun to atone for her mother's sins as she's an illegitimate child. What follows is a tale of corruption & discrimination under the roof that preaches that God created everyone equal.

I really liked the portrayal of the protagonist's fighting spirit. She's against the church though not against religion. against discrimination but not the institution itself. The treatment thankfully isn't loud or sensational like some other films revolving around similar subjects often incorporate.

That said the pacing is languid & quite frankly this is not something I haven't seen before. Watch it if you have an appetite for serious drama as there are hardly any laughs here. Strictly average.

Katiyabaaz (Powerless)
Language: Hindi & English
Director: Deepti Kakkar & Fahad Mustafa

Summary: In Kanpur, India, Loha Singh is the local robin-hood, stealing electricity so that homes and businesses could function normally in the face of day-long power-cuts. Meanwhile the first female chief of the electricity supply company has vowed to rid the town of illegal connections and increase supply. In a summer of crisis, sparks will fly

Fantastic documentary! Went in with low expectations but came out having watched one of the most delightful Indian documentary I've seen.

This film is a live wire (no pun intended), take all your inhibitions & preconceived notions about documentaries being boring like a history lesson & toss them in the bin. This film had me riveted throughout. Loha Singh is one of the most colourful personalities I've ever seen in any kind of cinema. Throw in a pastiche of North India & a vivacious soundtrack by Indian Ocean & Varun Grover & you have a complete package. Must must must watch hai yeh toh.

P.S:- In the first few minutes I felt the movie looked too 'polished' for a documentary but by the end it ended up as a boon that set it apart from the numerous other docus.

The Past (Le Passe)
Language: French (Some Persian)
Director: Asghar Farhadi

This again is one of those films that I'd love to do a longer post on sometime in the future simply because there is so much to say.

Shorter version-This is excellent cinema.

Director Asghar Frhadi  establishes his Mis en scene so absorbingly that it is hard not to get drawn in & stay with these characters.

This film's story is the aftermath of events that have set forth a chain of actions, hence the title.

Typical of Farhadi's style the film has lots of subtext, with elements such as the use of mirrors, rain & presence of children as observers. Each scene unfolds with astonishing attention to detail.

 Nothing makes me happier than a film that I can enjoy both on a plot/story level as well as on a subliminal level. Such gems are rare & Farhadi's Le Passe is one of them.

I spent the afternoon session watching a bunch of short films made by comtemporary Afghan directors on various topics. The pick of the lot was Mahbooba Ibrahimi's documentary 'Driving Test (Permis De Conduire)' about a young Afghan woman cab driver, it's a spunky slice of life piece despite it's serious connotations & 'A Time Called Oldness (Zamaane Banaam Peeri)' by Hamid Alizadeh about an old shopkeeper who loves to collect antique radios & TV sets. I had a chance to speak with Alizadeh, he told me that the young generation of Afghan filmmakers want to make films on subjects other than war, to show the world there's more to Afghanistan than what is perceived to be a ruined civilization.

Monday, October 21, 2013

MAMI 2013: Day 3

Back is beginning to sore, neck is beginning to sprain, eyes are beginning to redden & it's only day 3! But who cares when there's awesome cinema on display? Right then let's get on with it. 5 films seen. Took some chances which pleasantly paid off & I was more or less pleased with all of them.

Language: Arabic (Some Hebrew)
Director: Rani Massalha

The Israel-Palestine conflict has interested me for quite some time so I did not want to miss out an opportunity to catch cinema coming out from that troubled & tempestuous part of the world. The word 'Giraffada' is a portmanteau of the words 'Giraffe' & 'Intifada'.

This is an important film. It is lovely & heartfelt at the same time hard hitting & audacious.

Plot: Yacine is a veterinarian of the only remaining Palestinian zoo. His 10 year old son Ziad has a special bond with the 2 giraffes at the zoo, When the male giraffe is killed in an Israeli air raid, Ziad & his father set on a mission to steal a giraffe from an Israeli zoo & smuggle it back into Palestinian territories. The film is inspired by real life events.

The film portrays the terrible, hostile & stale conditions the Palestinian people have to live & face every single day, how they've been relegated to quite literally being prisoners in their own land. In one striking scene as a group of young boys are sitting & playing around when an Israeli military vehicle swoops in  & asks them to 'Go back home' they flailingly reply "We ARE home".

This bleakness of reality is countered by telling us the story from the perspective of the child. The green eyed Ahmad Bayatri gives an endearing performance as Ziad to whom the heart instantly reaches out. Ultimately that is what Giraffada's appeal is, it's a story with a lot of heart. Sadly thousands of Palestinian children like Ziad are losing the essence of their childhood every single day. At least 'Giraffada' gives us a tale where a brave father fights to keep his child's innocence alive. This is my favourite film at the fest till now. It made me feel thankful for the freedom I have in my country.

Beyond All Boundaries
Language: English, Hindi & Marathi
Director: Sushrut Jain

My first documentary of the fest, it was everything I expected it to be. The film follows 3 cricket fanatics who gave up everything to pursue their passion in the backdrop of the 2011 World Cup. This is real-life feel good cinema where the under dog finally triumphs. The central theme is how in a country divided by innumerable factors cricket miraculously unites us. Lighthearted, evocative, straightforward & most importantly enjoyable, BAB is a delight. It's a testimony to the Mark Twain quote "Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities, truth isn't".

Check out the trailer below.

Beyond All Boundaries - NEW TRAILER from Sushrut Jain on Vimeo.

60 Going On 12 (12 Ans D'Age)
Language: French
Director: Fredric Proust

Another feel good fare. 2 old friends in their post retirement stage want to relive their youth & do everything they couldn't in their younger days. It's a crowd pleaser with lots of funny moments all the while building up on a climax that centralizes the importance of family, friendship, love & the yin-yang relationship between youth & old age. There were instances when it reminded me of the similarly themed Basu Chatterjee gem 'Shaukeen'.

Some terrific acting all round, an easy to follow, brisk screenplay only elevates its status.

This was my 4th French film at the fest & yet my knowledge of the language starts with 'Oui' & ends with 'Merci'. Sigh.

Language: Bengali
Director Rituparno Ghosh

This played as part of a retrospective to pay tribute to the late Rituparno Ghosh. It was his last full length film

I love myself a good whodunnit where a detective solves a crime & that exactly what 'Satyanweshi' is. Though it takes it's own leisurely pace to unravel which I felt at certain brief instances was bordering on dull, the moody atmospherics, wonderful eery background score & an authentic recreation of the period it is set in create an absorbing mystery.

Bad Hair (Pelo Malo)
Language: Spanish
Director: Mariana Rondon

Tired & exhausted, my foremost objective while this screening was not to fall asleep & to it's credit it did engage me enough to not doze off.

It's a film about a 9 yr-old boy obsessed with his hair living with his thankless single mom who never fully appreciates him & would be a nominee for the 'worst mom ever' award if ever there was one

The scenes with the children are quite adorable (The little girl playing Junior's beauty queen aspirant neighbour is a hoot)..In turns funny & stoic I thought it was well made but felt something missing. Probably my sleep.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

MAMI 2013: Day 2

On day 2 I witnessed the prestigious Palm d'Or winner from Cannes, an enticing Coehn Brothers flick. Michael Gondry's wildly imaginative feature & er...Sofia Vergara shooting bullets out of her bosom. 

Inside Llewyn Davis
Language: English
Director: Joel & Ethan Coehn

Any Coehn brothers feature is a must watch & this one is no different.

 Set in 1961 it portrays a week in the life of struggling  out of work folk singer Llewyn Davis played wonderfully by Oscar Isaacs (eerily resembling 60's era Cat Stevens). Any creative person trying to make a living with his art will relate with Llewyn. It's a classic case of how when one decides to stick by his principles the whole world seems to be selling out. The dialogue is funny & sharp especially during the early parts of the film. Cinematography is great. From the cramped spaces that struggling singers are living in, to plush studios to estranged highways everything is captured fabulously. Another aspect that is noteworthy is the taut editing & how the director's employ it to portray the passage of time in varying degrees. Of course music plays an essential part in the film and by cleverly casting actors who're pretty much established singers in their own right the makers make every performance scene raw & heartfelt. A special mention to Carey Mulligan who is a scene stealer as Llewyn's acerbic mistress, she's every guy's worst nightmare. ILD may not be one of Coehn brothers' best but it's still very good. Watch.

Mood Indigo (L'Écume des jours)
Language: French
Director: Michel Gondry

No matter how many words I write I cannot do justice to the visual spectacle of this film. You just have to watch it to believe it.To give you a vague example, try & imagine your wildest, most bizarre dream portrayed on screen. now multiply it by 10, that would probably be the starting point of Gondry's imagination. On the plot level it is a simple story of love & loss between a man & a woman but the treatment is dazzling. I was spellbound. Watch it to see how a simple story can be elevated to a completely new level owing to wonderful use of visuals, set design, VFX, colour etc. It exemplifies how fantastic visual storytelling can get. Absolutely loved it.

Watch the trailer to get only a small glimpse.

Machete Kills
Language: English (some Spanish)
Director: Robert Rodriguez

What can I say? I am a Rodriguez fan & I could not resist it. I knew Indian censors wouldn't allow this to release anytime soon so I shamelessly jumped on to the bandwagon to catch it. Film festival prestigiousness be damned ;)

Pretty much the same deal as it's prequel only this time the body count has increased, so have the celebrity cameos with a tad bit more badassery. It was good to see a film that did not take itself seriously at all for a change at the fest. 

Blue Is The Warmest Colour (La Vie d'Adèle) 
Language: French
Director: Abdellatif Kechiche

Undoubtedly the film with the most amount of buzz at MAMI as it arrives after winning one of the most illustrious honour in cinema, the Palm d'Or at Cannes. 

I would love to do a detailed, longer post about the film perhaps sometime in the near future, for now though I'd just say the film is intense involving multiple layers dealing with themes of love, passion, sexuality, adolescence, youth & art. Aided by powerhouse performances by it's 2 leads. 

With a running time of 3 hours the film does test your patience but the pay off is well worth it. I didn't mind most of the films often long & elaborate scenes between the characters because the director creates an 'environment' such that I want to share head space with them. 

That said this might not be a film for everyone. The lovemaking scenes are very graphic & may seem a little drawn out. Also the film requires commitment and concentration on the viewer's part. 

The reason the acting for me is so praiseworthy is because (without giving much away) the lead character is a completely different person than she is at the beginning of the film, and throughout almost all of the film we see her through tight shots & close ups, & to bring about that change with facial expressions & body language gradually & convincingly is no mean feat. 

There's a lot more I had going through my head after watching this that is yet to be processed, but maybe I'll save it for that longer post. All in all though BITWC is bold, heartbreaking, heartwarming, disturbing, & moving & I believe any good piece of cinema is bound to make you journey through a range of emotions as you sit there in that chair. 

Saturday, October 19, 2013

MAMI 2013: Day 1

It's Mumbai Film Festival time again & as I did the last time I attended I intend to blog about the films I see everyday to keep a neat document of my cinematic memories. Now since I run around all day to catch screenings & come home late it doesn't leave me much time to write an in depth frame-by-frame detailed post about the films. Hence these are just my basic thoughts about what I felt about these movies.

So without further ado let us begin.

Day 1

Closed Curtain (Pardé)
Language:- Persian
Director:- Jafar Panahi & Kambuzia Partovi

What starts out as a film seemingly about a man spending time alone at his beach house with his dog for peace of mind soon turns into a film about the invasion of privacy & the travails of living under exile with the arrival of new characters. And then mid-way through the film, director Jafar Panahi enters the movie as a character. He is playing himself. From this point on the difference between what's happening in 'reality' & what's occurring in the director's mind becomes paper thin. It fondles with this interesting idea of how a creation views it's creator. Though heavy with subtext & surrealism it is handled deftly. There are long stretches of scenes that required patience to watch especially as the film incorporates no music whatsoever. By the end the film leaves the audience to unravel the sequence of events that may or may not have taken place, the good thing though is each viewer may find his/her own conclusions.  

The Immigrant
Language: English 
Director: James Gray

Confession: I chose to watch 'The Immigrant' mainly because I have a big time crush on Marion Cotillard.

But with Joaquin Phoenix in the mix & a Palme d'Or nomination at Cannes I expected a first rate feature. Well, I was wrong.

'The Immigrant' is bland & boring. Apart from the splendid art deco & costumes which recreate the 1920's there's very little to keep you hooked here. Joaquin Phoenix overacts with aplomb as the oleaginous pimp, Marion Cotillard is not bad as the conflicted central character but her 'victim-of-circumstance' act borders on monotony. The only bright spot is Jeremy Renner who shines in his performance as a sprightly magician but unfortunately does not have enough screen time. Treatment wise there is a sense of lethargy all through. A plot like this sounds Oscar bait on paper but it just doesn't convert on screen.

Watch 'The Immigrant' when it's playing on TV someday on a lazy afternoon & you have nothing better to do. Actually don't, take an afternoon nap instead.

Language: Marathi
Director: Nagraj Manjule

Fandry is an amazing movie. You know you've seen good cinema when you've been entertained yet educated, laughed yet felt a lump in the throat, sensed devastation yet felt a sliver of hope trickling through.

Social evils are alive & thriving in our country no matter how much we try & put a blanket over them, & to a greater extent in our villages where more than 70% of our population still lives. 'Fandry' is the story of an adolescent boy called 'Jabya' belonging to a lower caste in a Maharashtrian village. A story of his lofty aspirations as well his crushing reality.

There have been numerous films about the horrors of the caste system but none quite like this one. There's never a dull moment here, Through the story of the boy we are more or less coming face to face with our hypocrisy and ignorance. This does not mean that the film is deeply depressing. The subplots about Jabya trying to woo a classmate (belonging to a higher caste) with the help of his friend & having a boyish obsession with catching a black sparrow (which is his means of fanciful escapism) provide enough occasions for hearty laughter. Really though the film addresses the core issue without being preachy & to say that that is commendable is putting it mildly.

The acting all around is top notch & a special mention to the wonderful soundtrack by Aloknanda Das Gupta. I had the privilege to hear the director speak post the screening where he said it's a personal film for him as most of the things are based from his real life experiences and it shows.

Picasso's Gang (La Banda Picasso)
Language: French
Director: Fernando Colomo

The comedy genre is seriously underrepresented in film fests in my opinion, more often they're not considered 'on par' with gritty hard hitting cinema & hence I made it a point to watch this light hearted comic caper.

It is shot excellently with a brisk & bouncy screenplay & fantastic performances by all the actors. If you're an art & literature connoisseur of the early 1900's there's even more for you to love here as you might be able to spot the references & "in" jokes better. The 'gang' here refers to a group of artists which went on to revolutionize the world with their art but before that they were but youngsters trying to make ends meet, sometimes by not very healthy means and how they get embroiled in a theft at the Louvre museum.

A heavy handed topic like early 19th century art is lovingly repainted with a comical brush and it's much fun while it lasts. Time well spent.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Earth Is Home - My thoughts on Alfonso Cuaron's 'Gravity'

'Gravity' blew my f*cking mind away!

To say that the film is extra ordinary would be doing it a disservice. It's mind-bending. Ever since cinema was invented there's been this pursuit of making the experience more immersive for the viewer, wanting to give them an almost first hand experience to make them feel the surroundings, situations and atmosphere that the characters on screen are feeling in the story. Alfonso Cuaron does this frighteningly well in Gravity.

So well in fact that watching these two astronauts repair a hubble space telescope in the acutely hostile vacuum of space thousands of kilometers high in the opening scenes I expected my ears to "pop" every time I swallowed. At multiple occasions as a character cart wheeled out of control I felt nauseous with a hint of vertigo. For about 90 minutes you the viewer is in space with the central characters. Every thrilling moment shall keep you on the edge. The use of 3D is spectacular, the visual effects (especially developed for this film) are absolutely breath taking, the sound design one of a kind. But I am not writing this to elaborate on those, there are innumerable reviews you'd find online which would do that for you.

I love it when any work of art reminds me how lucky we are to get to experience life, how if we took a few moments everyday to just look around and appreciate how we are a part of a meticulously structured universe which stretches far beyond our eyes can see, whose vastness knows no bounds probably we'd be much more thankful and humble. Gravity is a story of two astronauts lost in space where every breath is literally costing them their life. All they want is to get back home. Home is not a country, not a city, not a street. 'Home' in this context is the earth. Their yearning for breathable air and walkable ground made me think twice about how we take those commodities for granted. None of that technical wizardry would be of any merit if the film also didn't have a soul. which it does in plentiful. For a few minutes Gravity made me feel glad that we call the earth our home. Time and again while watching I was reminded of the fantastic Carl Sagan video of 'The Pale Blue Dot' (link below).

(Mild spoilers ahead)

A few scenes/images stuck in my mind from 'Gravity':-

After a staggering and violent struggle with the flowing debris in space when Sandra Bullock's character Ryan finally finds her way inside the space shuttle she takes off her space suit and curls up in a fetal position with the wires around giving the illusion of an umbilical cord (you see a glimpse of it in the trailer below at 01:44). It is a beautiful shot, and possibly signifies the 'rebirth' of Ryan after this close shave with death and/or how there is an innate innocence present in the emotion of human triumph or that the moment you find a safe haven it's reminiscent of the extreme safety and enclosure of a mother's womb.

Another image that fascinated me was when Ryan finds a picture of Jesus on top of the control panel of the Russian space station. The reason why it fascinates me is because our idea of God/Higher power/Supreme being has always been that He's "Up there" beyond the skies and the fact that these astronauts, these learned men & women of science who dare to go "Up there" also carry with them a sliver of faith even though science and religion are presented to be often at odds.

When Ryan is asked what is it that she loves about being in space she replies "The silence. I could get used to it", but later on in the film as she is stranded alone with absolutely no one to communicate with she desperately tries to make radio contact and finds a distorted Chinese signal of a man singing a lullaby to his dog. At that moment she tries in whatever way she can to communicate with this man, going as far as mimicking the dog. It's a heartbreaking moment reminding us that we're slaves to contact, to communication, to company.

There are many more that had an impact on me but for the rest I recommend you watch the film yourself and make your own deductions :)   

P.S:- If you like 'Gravity' please read Ray Bradbury's short story 'Kaleidoscope'

Monday, December 31, 2012

2012: A year end list

2012 was not an ideal year for me as far as movie watching went. As opposed to last year no major film festivals were attended by me & neither was I able to completely engross myself in the passionate fervour of dedicated film watching. Other things came calling in life & sadly this one aspect got left behind a bit. My bad. I'll try & make up for it in the year to come.

Never the less, here are the films that made a resounding impact on my heart & mind & made 2012 a much more tolerable year. They're in no particular order really, because again, my list isn't as meticulously worked out as they have been in previous years.


Time travel is one of my favourite genres & Looper is as good a time travel film as they come. Avoiding all the frivolous razzle-dazzle & complicated time-space continuum collisions that are often associated with time travel stories, director Rian Johnson's film primarily concentrated on the character of Joe Simmons, a hired assassin who is faced with the daunting task of killing a futuristic version of himself.

Looper forces us to think about the predicaments of whether we would really like a see what becomes of us in the future? How the machinations of life turn us into something we never thought we would become, & how does a man stick to his job when his entire being is held into account. Aided by some cleverly executed action sequences Looper proved you don't need to spend a gazillion dollars to make a good, potent sci-fi film.

To Rome With Love

I don't believe there's any such thing as a "bad" Woody Allen film, & although I admit TRWL might not be as spectacular as last year's 'Midnight in Paris' it still had enough gumption within itself to make me fall in love (yeah I know) with it.

Following 4 interspersed yet unrelated story lines TRWL gives you characters that live in your imagination long after the end credits roll out. The film has its fair share of comedic misunderstandings, magical realist meanderings. & a sense of uninhibited pleasure. Not to mention a dream cast for a Woody Allen film if there ever was one. This film was such a delight for the sheer quirky Woody Allen-ness of it all.

The Hobbit

For anyone who has seen even one of the 'Lord Of The RIngs' films (& if you reside on planet earth & have even a fleeting interest in the world of cinema it's highly unlikely that you haven't) it is no secret that director Peter Jackson likes to remain religiously faithful to the source material. Hence it was no surprise to know that Jackson would be splitting up the much loved prequel to LOTR into another trilogy. What one did wonder though was if he'd be able to recreate the same magic?

The good news is yes, he does. So off we went once again into this glorious, larger than life, grand world of Tolkein's middle earth, met some familiar faces & got introduced to plenty of new ones & an unforgettable adventure was had. Never mind the slightly bloated mid section & the slightly overplayed climax, for it's all forgiven because of the sheer magnificence of it, Hey, YOU look at that awe-inspiring waterfall in the city of Rivendell & tell me you weren't spell bound.

21 Jump Street

Hands down the funniest film of the year for me. 21 Jump Street is the ideal screwball comedy that's as funny on repeated viewings as it was on the first one. Mad props to Jonah Hill & Channing Tatum for pulling off this hilarious feat.

The film had the ideal comedic premise of 2 police officers who're forced to relive high school as they go undercover for a case, & by exploiting this premise from every nook & corner directors Phil Lord & Chris Miller gave birth to this laugh-a-minute gem. Equal parts raunchy, loud, affectionate & satirical 21 Jump Street was an absolute rib-tickler.


Though it polarized audiences across the board I for one simply loved Prometheus. Maybe it's just the affection I have for stories that end with an open interpretation, that DON'T answer all the questions raised through the tale that made me appreciate Prometheus all the more. Or maybe it was scribe Damon Lindelof's treatment of the script, after all Lindelof was the head writer on the TV show 'Lost' which remains my most  favourite show of all time.

At face value Prometheus is brilliaint science fiction. Space ships, aliens, mystery, horror it's got it all. But then there's a slightly deeper more introverted aspect of the film which begs to ask us where exactly we came from, & where do we go? It's a seamless blend of story, special effects & pitch perfect casting. I honestly believe Michael Fassbender's performance as the android David was one of the most compelling performances of the year. In my view Sir Ridley Scott's return to science fiction was a winner all the way & I cannot wait for the sequel.

The Dark Knight Rises

Let's be fair. Probably no movie ever would've been able to live up to the hype that TDKR had to live up to. No other film this year elicited a response from fanboys across the globe as TDKR did. And despite such huge expectations the average fanboy/movie lover/film enthusiast/Nolan-worshipper came out of the movie halls fairly satisfied. Now I would count that as an achievement.

I personally though see TDKR as the "anti-Batman" movie, and here's why- for a major chunk in the middle of the film Batman is absent. The running theme throughout is how things would be WITHOUT the Batman, that's the starting point & that also turns out to be the end point of the film. Hence it makes Batman's character all the more relevant & heroic.

The most challenging task faced was probably by the bad guys as they were filling up the mighty shoes left behind by Heath Ledger's iconic portrayal of the Joker, & though Tom Hardy did a fairly good job as Bane the surprise package was Anne Hathaway's Machiavellian turn as Catwoman. And of course not to mention Joseph Gordon Levitt's pleasantly surprising kick in the side (apologies for the horrible pun). 

The best super hero trilogy ever made. Period.

The Avengers

I love comic books. I love super heroes. I love popcorn flicks. And I love Joss Whedon. So how in the blue hell can I not bestow my unconditional love upon The Avengers?

Eeeverything fell RIGHT into place with The Avengers. Rarely does one come across an instance where a film gives everything you expected out of it & then some. 

Heck, this movie is the definition of pure unadulterated FUN! It completely does justice to all the characters who've come to life from the vibrant action packed panels of comic books bursting on to the screen, you get 6 superheroes (+ 1 Nick Fury) in one single movie, you get a giant ass ship in the sky going BOOM! you get flying inter dimensional beings taken out like pithy tin soldiers by a big green monster. OMG WHAT IS NOT TO LIKE??? 

The 2 key elements to take away though are the humour, unlike TDKR The Avengers celebrates the fact that it doesn't take itself very seriously almost holding up that quality like a shield & the other of course is balance, where each hero's voice is so distinct that it stands out in a crowd.  

Yes, The Avengers is every comic book geek's wet dream come to life.


Argo was by far the most gripping film I saw all year. No other film kept me at the edge of my seat like Argo did. Tense, thrilling, nail biting, Argo's one of those rare films that's so good that you're energized after watching it. 

In order to extract six fugitive American diplomat personnel out of revolutionary Iran CIA agent Tony Mendez (played excellently by Ben Affleck who also directed the film) goes in with the cover of making a fake science fiction movie called 'Argo'. Yes, the movie is based on a real life incident which blows my mind even further.

There is never a dull moment & the film is both spellbinding & at certain instances rip-roaringly funny. The supporting cast is pure gold. The tale is wonderfully woven & told through the language of cinema. I especially loved the prologue which is played out in the form of a motion comic & how real life images have been recreated in detail to give the film the gritty realistic look it deserves.

It's fairly convenient to incorporate gunfire & chase sequences to give shape to a thriller, but to manufacture a thriller out of such exquisite craft is a tremendous achievement. Kudos Ben Affleck, you're one ace director. 
So that was that. Here's hoping 2013 will bring another bagful of interesting films along with it. Till then have fun & Happy New Year!