Sunday, August 11, 2013

Gattu and The Searchers

Gattu [dir. Rajan Khosa]

Children in India do not have a whole lot of home-grown entertainment specifically catering to them. Most mainstream Indian movies come under the very dubious category of "family film", which essentially means that they are a schizophrenic mash-up of conflicting ingredients. where rudimentary stories and banana peel humor sidle up with crude sexual overtones and/or stomach-turning violence. As a result, z-grade animation flicks like Bal Hanuman and gratingly precocious garbage like Chillar Party are what we have in the name of children's films. It is embarrassing that a miniscule percentage of an already low number of films produced by the Children's Film Society of India (CFSI), get any theatrical or home video release, although to be frank the few I have seen are such amateurish efforts there is little pride to be gained from their exhibition. But occasionally there is a whiff of freshness on the horizon. Gattu is one such example; here talented film-maker Rajan Khosa (Dance of The Wind) takes a simple story and mounts with enough sensibility to keep it interesting for both kids and adults.
The titular character is a street-smart orphan that works in his uncle's small-time recycling factory and is passionate about flying kites. The target for this spunky sport (and many like kids in the neighborhood) is Kali, a black kite that has gained notoriety as an undisputed victor of kite duels. The film is about Gattu's various little schemes to procure the means for his sport, including posing as a student to get access to the school roof from where to fly his kite. The 74-min running time makes for a breezy experience, the locations and characters mostly ring true, and the film thankfully does not preach or talk down to its younger viewers. Mohammad Samad as Gattu displays a natural non-cloying charm, and ably carries the film on his tender shoulders. Also, there are no annoying songs to slow the pace. In all, Gattu is a worthwhile watch especially for parents looking for sensible entertainment they can share with their kids.
Eagle Entertainment has put out a decent DVD with an anamorphic transfer of the film and short but insightful featurettes into the vision behind the film. it can be purchased online HERE.

The Searchers [dir. John Ford]

The Searchers is a good movie, no doubt. It's a tale of revenge where white man Ethan (John Wayne) goes up against a marauding Indian tribe that attacked his brother's family and carried off their young daughter. In the story we see how the thirst for revenge brings to the fore Ethan's innate prejudices and makes him at various moments as savage as his enemies. This is accomplished decently, but I think there was a conscious attempt to not strike such strong notes here as to significantly diminish the heroic archetype. I was more affected by his performance in Red River. Some of the film's humor, especially its caricature depictions of supporting characters, sits uneasily alongside its grimmer aspects.
What struck me most about the film was its use of the widescreen process (referred to as VistaVision). Unlike most films where the widecsreen is used to expand the canvas horizontally, the attempt here seems to be to pull the camera back with the intention of showing more vertical space, especially above the characters' heads; one sees a lot of this in the outdoor shoots in the ever-popular Monument Valley). The intended aim appears to be to show how the rocky landscape towers over the characters. While Man aims to carve civilization out of his surroundings, he is dwarfed by the sheer force of unforgiving nature around him and must constantly resist the impulse to be more than savage brute.
Warner's blu-ray for the film gives an excellent presentation with a panoramic 16:9 transfer that is stunningly detailed, and the original mono track (albeit only in lossy form, but it's clear enough, although it may lack the oomph of more elaborate mixes).

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