Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Don't Disturb the Dead [Shamya Dasgupta]

While there are flaws in Shamya Dasgupta's Don't Disturb the Dead (DDtD), a book on the Ramsay Brothers and their films, I am on the whole pleased because it was a volume that needed to be written. Most times, in the name of books related to the history of Indian cinema, we only get biographies, or rather hagiographies, of famous film stars. Also audiences, especially those born after the 80's, are unaware of the significant contribution, warts and all, made by the Ramsays towards acceptance of horror in the Indian context (Some young 'uns even think Indian horror initiated with Ram Gopal Varma's Bhoot).

DDtD is thorough in its portrayal of the Ramsay heritage, starting with patriarch FU Ramsay (the family was originally called Ramsinghani and came from pre-partition Lahore. The surname was shortened to Ramsay for the convenience of the British clients at FU's radio store, and has stuck ever since). It chronicles how FU and later his children (Kumar, Tulsi, Shyam, Keshu, Gangu , Arjun and Kiran) got into film-making and how they hit upon their patented horror film formula. The making of a Ramsay film was literally a family affair, with the sons working together in various aspects and even the women of the house pitching in with the hospitality arrangements (Keshu's wife Kavita later did costume design for some films). Tulsi and Shyam were joint directors on most Ramsay flicks; from what we read here, Shyam was the more horror-focused, while Tulsi concerned himself with ensuring the right mix of other ingredients - song & dance, comedy, sexual frisson - that would make their films commercially viable. Keshu Ramsay after a point left the family and started his own production, dropping the Ramsay surname for the films he made, including several Khiladi ventures with Akshay Kumar and then the blockbuster Khakee (which he produced).

DDtD covers the making of several Ramsay features with special attention going to their landmark presentations including Do Gaz Zameen Ke Neeche, Purana Mandir (PM) and Veerana, and later their hugely popular tele-serial Zee Horror Show. There are enlightening interviews with Ramsay stars like Mohnish Bahl, Aarti Gupta-Surendranath and of course Aniruddha (Ajay) Agarwal, the iconic monster-man of several Ramsay features like PM, Saamri and Bandh Darwaza. All of them are very complimentary towards the Ramsay family, about the atmosphere in which those films were shot, how even under the conditions of low budget and short shooting schedules, they did the best they could. It was especially heartening to see input from Aarti Gupta. With Ramsay films like PM, Saamri and Tahkhana she was, for a short spell, the Scream Queen of Indian horror, but soon after, she quit acting, married ad-man Kailash Surendranath, and became a producer and well-known Mumbai socialite. One feared she would be dismissive of these links to her low-brow horror past, but she fondly recalls the warm convival spirit of the shoots, and even though she regrets the negative impact of doing low-budget horror on her acting career, she never has anything bad to say about her experience (unlike beefcake Hemant Tarzan Birje, who blames the Ramsays for his career decline - he did Tahkhana and Veerana with them - and refused to provide any input for the book).

The repetitiveness and lazy padding are an issue. Too many times we are made to hear that the Ramsay policy was to "make them cheap and fast", how their audience was restricted to adult males or young couples, their essential criteria for selecting lead actors being solely "how smart or sexy they looked". The other caveat is the stupendously boring extended exploration of the life and career of all the current generation Ramsay kids (of whom only Shyam's daughter Saasha is currently into horror).

A few things I would have liked to see here: a better critical appraisal of the films themselves. Some of the Ramsay films (like Dahshat and PM) are arguably superior to the others in terms of their construction and impact, and needed to be discussed in that context. Interviews with regular Ramsay stable actors like Deepak Parashar and Anil Dhawan would have been nice. While there is chapter devoted to how the Ramsays got their masks and latex props fabricated by a Mr. Chris Tucker (no relation to the Rush Hour actor, I presume) I wish more had been explored about the make-up work in their films (for instance, what was the semen-like goo covering evil guy Nevla when he emerges from his coffin in Bandh Darwaza?). It's great that Shamya could get quotes about the influence of Ramsay movies from famous film buffs like Sriram Raghavan, Ram Gopal Varma and Sajid Khan, but his repeated reliance on the opinion of blogger Beth Watkins is puzzling, considering she has no specific interest in Indian horror. It would have been far more relevant to talk to Omar Ali Khan, who has reviewed a lot of Indian horror on his website, or to the people at Mondo Macabro who licensed several Ramsay films for their Bollywood Horror DVD sets.

Mr. Dasgupta also sometimes displays a degree of naive extrapolation that borders on ludicrous. While Aarti Gupta was apt for her parts in the Ramsay films, suggesting that she could otherwise have fitted into a pantheon of female Indian megastars including Sridevi and Madhuri Dixit is outright laughable. His idle speculations on the fate of the Ramsay family heritage and the future of their offspring should have also been left on the editing table.

Its misses notwithstanding, DDtD serves as a frequently entertaining and informative look at India's pioneers of the horror film and should definitely picked up by people interested in the topic.

A word of warning: Please skip the introduction written by a dolt called Jai Arjun Singh - it's rambling and pretentious, and more interested in flaunting the writer's knowledge of films than having anything relevant to say about the book that follows.


Thursday, June 8, 2017

Marriage of Maria Braun [dir. Reiner Werner Fassbinder]

I am ashamed to say I only recently cracked open my Reiner Werner Fassbinder blu-ray boxset released in Mar 2016 (In my defence I received it only around a year late, since I'd originally had it shipped to a friend living overseas to avoid it getting nicked or exorbitantly taxed at customs). This too was after a fellow member on a forum put me a query about the framing/AR of Marriage of Maria Braun. Anyhoo, I ended up watching the film and oh wow, it was terrific.

At the beginning of the film Maria (the amazing Hanna Schygulla), a gutsy and self-reliant gal, is getting married to Hermann Braun in the midst of an Allied bombing raid. Immediately after, Hermann goes off to fight and is reported killed. Maria, who is very clear about doing whatever is needed to survive and maintain her family, takes up with an American soldier who is good to her. But Hermann returns, and in the altercation that follows, the American is killed by Maria. Hermann takes the rap and goes to jail. Maria then takes up with a businessman Oswald, becoming both his hard-headed business adviser and sensual mistress, and doing a sterling job of both. But her heart remains with Hermann and she plans to be with him when he is released. A pivotal moment between Oswald and Hermann leads to Hermann scooting off to Canada after his release, and it is only later that he returns to Maria. When Maria learns the circumstances of his going away and return, it leads to a veritable explosive climax.

FB has said that in the later phase of his prolific film-making career (40 features and 2 TV series in 15 years, his shorts and theater work aside) he was less interested in promoting ideologies and more interested in the story-telling, and MoMB is a fine example of story-telling. Maria is a fascinating character, cold and iron-willed from one perspective, passionate and faithful from another, and on both fronts utterly honest. She never lies about her actions or intentions, but her personal magnetism is so strong, men are attracted like moths to her flame. It's a fantastically written and portrayed role, the sort I would love to see in an Indian movie. Technically MoMB is well done, with some arresting lengthy takes and the look of a ravaged Germany, but the story and performances are what grab the most.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Dopehri - A Dramatic Reading [Pankaj Kapur]

So last evening I headed to the Tata Theater at Nariman Point for an event billed as "a dramatic reading" headlined by Pankaj Kapur. Most of us 80's kids first knew of Mr. Kapur through the Doordarshan TV series Karamchand, in which he played the eponymous carrot-munching (and on occasion cigarette-smoking) detective, tailed by goofy secretary Kitty (Sushmita Mukherjee). Directed by Punkuj Parasher (oh, how the mighty have fallen) the series thrashed everything around it for pace and slickness, and was an instant hit. So of course one looked around for other things the actor had done. By happy coincidence this led to an exploration of non-mainstream cinema, for Mr. Kapur, like his National School of Drama predecessors Naseeruddin Shah and Om Puri, was a rising star of this scene. I have a faded memory trying to sit through Sudhir Mishra's 1987 political drama Yeh Woh Manzil To Nahin, simply because the cast had both Karamchand and Kitty. The 80's were Pankaj Kapur's golden era, with a string of memorable appearances in Mandi, Jalwa, Khamosh, Chameli ki Shaadi, Raakh, the 12 Angry Men ripoff Ek Ruka Hua Faisla, culminating in his justly celebrated portrayal of the frustrated researcher Dipankar De in Ek Doctor ki Maut. The decline of the parallel film scene post that era meant that Pankaj Kapur had fewer opportunities to display his histrionics at the cinema. Being better known then on for television work in Zabaan Sambhal Ke and Office Office, he nevertheless registered his presence in such parts as the terrorist Liaqat from Roja, the Don Corelone-sque Duncan character in Maqbool...even in that ghastly misfire called Matru ki Bijli ka Mandola he was one of the saving graces. With his hypnotic gaze and gravelly voice, a wonderful capacity for brooding silence, explosive drama or pie-eyed comedy, Mr. Kapur has a staggering repertoire; and there may have been bad roles (Mohandas BALLB anyone?), but I do not recall any bad performances.


Dopehri, the theater listing informs, is a novella written by Mr. Kapur himself. The plot is a simple one, the sort that would feature in Readers' Digest or fill an episode of Katha Sagar. Elderly widow Amma Bi lives alone in her haveli, save for the servant Jumman. But even Jumman is not around all the time, and her loneliness grows ever more frightening. After some escapades, including a visit to an old age home, Amma Bi is persuaded by her well-wisher Dr. Saxena to take in a paying guest. How the guest's arrival changes Amma Bi's life, in the process giving her an identity and purpose in life, forms the crux of the story. It's a standard human interest story, but two things make the narrative come alive. The first is the language: Mr. Kapur's prose doesn't just read, it flows. On several occasions, you could hear the audience go "wah, wah" (respectfully) when they heard a particularly artful turn of phrase. Hindi has a uniquely apt flavor especially when used for satiric humor and Kapur fluidly molds the language to his bidding. The second is the performance: As a narrator and actor he is tremendous, able to convey much by glance, by inflection, by the rhythm of speech. And he has a love for his written world and characters that is contagious. Simply by modulating his voice and speech mannerisms, he "plays" all the characters: we see and hear them clearly, their amusing quirks and foibles brought to life in our heads. At numerous times, he has the theater rollicking with laughter, without ever cheapening the material or being untrue to his creations. By the end, we have been moved by these characters.

The production is also simple but effective: The sets are suggestive rather than elaborate, a tree with a broken kite, an armchair with a table holding a "paan" box, a writing desk. With the help of lighting changes to suggest time and mood, they are sufficient to convey the setting, and the actor expresses an ease that gives a wonderfully homely feeling, like a favorite uncle narrating a cherished family story. In all, a heart-warming experience in a time where we can always do with one.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Byomkesh Pawrbo [dir. Arindam Sil]

Admittedly I am a sucker for period detective stories, and in Indian fiction, I have been entertained by the adventures of Satyajit Ray's Feluda and Saradindu Banerjee's Byomkesh Bakshi. Recent times have seen a huge revival of the big screen detective movie (I believe there are at least 2 competing Byomkesh film series in Bengali, yes?), and that's not even including the Dibakar Banerjee misfire.
I had earlier seen Arindam Sil's Har Har Byomkesh (and his other detective film Ebar Shabor). I had problems with
HHB's narrative (with its very predictable mystery - my review) but it was quite attractively shot. Byomkesh Pawrbo (BP) continues the tradition. The film is set in post-independence India in the Dooars, a gorgeous North Eastern jungle-scape (which definitely calls for a visit, assuming that's where they actually shot). Byomkesh, accompanied by wife Satyaboti and buddy-chronicler Ajit, is assigned to track a large cache of hidden arms that may be used for nefarious purposes. There is also a mysterious black garbed 'ghost' rider galloping on a black horse in the forest (sadly, there's nothing very ghostly about him, I confess I was hoping for something like Sleepy Hollow's Headless Horseman). In the archetype narrative, there are a bunch of red herring suspects, and it's fairly easy to guess who the bad guy is (although showing him to be personally involved in the dirty work stretches credibility). To be sure, it's writing-wise a very mediocre film, but that way most detective films are. I believe excellence is rare in this genre, and even Satyajit Ray wrestled with the conventions of the genre in his Feluda films.
In a nod to today's trends, Bymokesh (Abir Chatterji, again) is given the action intro normally accorded to Telugu masala heroes, as he single-handedly dispatches a half dozen goons with high-kicks and slow-motion in Kolkata's Chinatown. Thankfully the macho-giri is restricted to the intro and the climax, and for most part he remains bhadralok. I like his interaction with Satyaboti (Sohini Sarkar, she looks like Maushmi Chatterji but much cuter) in these Arindam Sil films more than in the previous movies. But both Satya and Ajit remain mostly spectators here, it would have been nice to see them have more to do.

For me the best aspects of the film were Soumik Haldar's postcard-pretty cinematography (the lush locales certainly help) and Bickram Ghosh's creative background score - my fav example of the score is when Byomkesh visits a red-light area in disguise - you have a naughty saucy musical theme tracking him, which eventually erupts into a song that uses the same instrumentation.

Apart from the obnoxious logo and the omnipresent 'Smoking kills' disclaimer, Sangeet India Network's DVD gives a strong presentation of the film with bold colors and excellent contrasts. The level of detail is limited only by the SD resolution (the forest scenery screams for an HD transfer). Be assured this stands among the best of the format. Sound is excellent as well, with (surprise, surprise) a DTS track that does justice to the action moments and to Ghosh's music. No extras, but the presentation is stellar enough to justify the buy.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Moh Maya Money [dir. Munish Bharadwaj]

Sometimes a Baradwaj Rangan recommendation isn't all that it's cracked up to be.

The ingredients were good: Given its relative scarcity, noir is always a welcome shade in Hindi cinema, and the combination of Ranvir Sheorey as an inveterate wheeler-dealer led to faking his own death for insurance money, Delhi setting and a convoluted exploration of dark deeds promised much.

But there are crucial slip-ups. The relationship between the lead couple is a mystery: Both Sheorey and Neha Dhupia act well, but the script never convinces us why their characters are together. She is an independent aggressive achiever, irritated by his shady shenanigans, and he's a needy blowhard. There is no suggestion as to the romance or attraction which justifies why they got together at all, rendering null the crucial central chemistry. Not that the film needed a youth romance flashback, but there are rapid and subtle ways of hinting this, and it's not that Munish Bahardwaj's script is exemplarily ruthless about extraneous detail. In fact there is an abundance of tepid sub-plotting which adds to the running time without hugely propelling the narrative.

The clumsy execution of the central crime also hurts the immersion factor. Considering the highly suspicious circumstances of the faked death, it's laughable that the insurance company prior to making a multi-crore payout doesn't ask for a basic level investigation that would undoubtedly have exposed the lie.

While the film falls in the noir genre, it's not shot in the trademark Chiascuiro play of light and shadow, looking dull and flat most of the time. All is not lost however: There are occasional moments where it shows fleeing glimpses of the engaging thriller it could have been, particularly when Sheorey is doing jugaad to arrange for a corpse to stand in for him. In a lighter vein an amusing drinking game can be made of the number of shots Neha Dhupia is seen packing a bag.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Bahoo-bali 2 [dir. SS Rajamouli]

Yesterday being a public holiday, I took the opportunity of watching Bahubali 2 with mum. I really wanted to like this film, and it has its moments of thrill, but I found it overall more exhausting than exhilarating.

Let me talk about the good stuff first, lest y'all think I'm just a grouchy snob. The visual spectacle matches up, although does not surpass the first film. The climactic battle scenes like when beta-BB single-handedly opens the drawbridge or they use palm trees as catapults to send up troops are testament to the imagination that transcends the technical quality of the VFX. Also, the way Rajamouli uses the combo of fast and slow motion in fight scenes is a lot more sensible and interesting than others have done. Anushka Shetty's Devasena is the BEST thing by far about this sequel. Unlike Tamanna's Avantika from Pt 1, who meekly sat down once the **HERO** turned up, Devasena is a sexy, feisty firebrand that gives as good as she gets. The scene where she and baap-BB are fighting side by side smolders with sensuous camaraderie, precisely what was missing in the first film. She is also the perfect Draupadi to Ramya Krishna's Gandhari/Kaikeyi and their saans-bahoo confrontations generate sparks (Nasser's Dhridarashtra is more akin to a Shakuni / Manthara).

Part of my frustration has to do with the narrative structure. Part 1 had the responsibility of introducing all the characters and the colorful world they inhabit. I expected that in the second instalment the pace would be significantly accelerated, considering there was so much ground to cover. But the flashback segment just went on an on, with a large segment devoted to another wooing exercise, this time between father BB and Devasena. While there is nothing so distasteful as the disrobing / molestation scene in Pt 1, this should have IMO been handled more quickly and without wasteful song sequences - I doubt anyone from the audience would say "Oh, I won't watch BB2 because it has no / less songs". What makes it particularly galling is that for all the epic scale, the personalities and emotions are so simplistic it does not for me justify the time spent. Bhallaladeva's Duyodhana/Ravana mix could have made for a more layered antagonist, but no, he's purely EVIL [all caps]. And [SPOILER]for all the suspense raised over why Katappa killed father BB, simply saying "I was ordered to" comes off as a damp squib and reduces one's respect for the character if he's going to be a blind cuck. Even Nazi officers who ran concentration camps and gas chambers said they were following orders, how are his actions any more redeemable?[/SPOILER].

Because of the unbalanced pacing, all that there's time for after the flashback is the revenge climax, which hugely short-changes the current characters. Tamanna's role is so tiny it can't even be called a cameo, why then bother having a female "lead" then? Rajamouli has some great ideas and a grand sense of scale, but he also seems to have been fatigued by the rigor of working on such a massive project and lost focus amidst all the threads. Eega was fun from beginning to end (well, at least from where the fly made an appearance), because he took one interesting idea and played it to maximum potential. Here he juggles with too many eggs and a fair number slip his grasp.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Dreams [dir. Akira Kurosawa]

Akira Kurosawa's 1990 magic realism journey does not have a central plot but is a portmanteau with the script evolving from, as the title suggests, actual dreams the film-maker had. To  get the most from it one needs to understand a little of Kurosawa as a person.

Kurosawa came from Samurai lineage and his childhood was steeped in old-world Japanese tradition that respected nature and the change of seasons. In Something Like An Autobiography, he recounts how when a child, his father used to send him out in the morning with a fishing net, cooking pot and bare essentials, with instructions to not return before sundown; he had to fish in the stream if he wanted lunch. The opening segments of Dreams reflect on our relationship with nature. In Sunshine Through the Rain a little boy (from a family called Kurosawa), slips out against his mother's advice into the woods and espies a wedding procession of "foxes", only to be told he can return home after he has begged forgiveness for his transgression from the angry foxes. The Peach Orchard's child protagonist is berated by a gallery of living dolls, representing the spirits of peach trees, for the culling of the titular orchard by his family.

The Blizzard takes inspiration from the same folk legend that inspired the Yuki Onna segment in Masaki Kobayashi's Kwaidan - a group trudging through snowy mountainous terrain is caught in a heavy storm, and one by one succumb to the elements and even the leader finds himself growing powerless and sleepy in the arms of the Snow Queen. Nature takes a different role, as the muse and inspiration for art in Crows, the episode devoted to Van Gogh. Played by Martin Scorsese, the painter is depicted as one obsessed with and compelled by nature to make his art.

In The Tunnel, a lament on war, a military commander goes through a tunnel and is faced by the walking corpses of his erstwhile unit. He apologises for having led them into a conflict both futile and fatal. In a final tearful command, he orders them to march back into the tunnel whence they came. Both Mount Fuji in Red and The Weeping Demon express Kurosawa's strident anti-nuclear stance, something he had dealt with earlier in the drama I Live in Fear. One talks about the state of panic induced by a nuclear catastrophe and the other is a grim fairy tale set in the aftermath of radioactive fallout.

Kurosawa who was a master of innovative film-making was apparently a technophobe in other aspects of life (''Modern technology and and I do not get along. My son tells me I look like a chimpanzee when I try to dial the telephone, and it would be hopeless for me to try to drive a car.''). Dreams' last segment - Village of the Watermills - speaks of a utopian return to an older way of living, of forgoing technological advancement and its accompanying effects in favor of settling to a slower rhythm, in greater harmony with nature.

Anyone who has seen Kurosawa's films will recognize in Dreams, the auteur's philosphies. Kurosawa's approach to his story-telling was always simple and direct, rarely dabbling in artistic ambiguities or playing with the perception of the audience. In consequence, the messages conveyed through the various segments of Dreams (respect nature, simple living is good, nuclear proliferation is BAD!) can come across as heavy-handed. But the visual expression of his ideas is powerful - the rhythmic procession of the "foxes", the dance of the peach orchard "dolls", the march of the dead soldiers, the Van Gogh landscapes through which the protagonist walks before meeting the man himself, raging Mt Fuji, the watermills village - His sensibilities as a painter get full reign here and, in conjunction with Shinichiro Ikebe's moving score, make Dreams a memorable and highly rewatchable experience from his fimography.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

The Giant's Dream [dir. Anthony Giacchino]

What if a gun had a soul and didn’t want to be a gun?

It's rare that making of's or special features content for movies feature anything truly insightful, but The Giant's Dream, an approximately hour-long documentary included on Warner's blu-ray of Brad Bird's underappreciated animation classic The Iron Giant is wonderful in its own right. It starts off with charting Brad's life right from when he was a prodigy kid keenly interested in animation who got invited to visit Disney's animation studio after they saw a rough demo reel of his version of The Tortoise and the Hare and was enrolled into arts school on an animation scholarship. It covers his discontented early stint at Disney where he was constantly at loggerheads with the play-safe management to the point of quitting his childhood dream workplace (Later he was invited by Pixar's John Lassetter and went on to do The Incredibles).

Biding his time with TV's The Simpsons and other projects Brad got his next shot at feature animation, ironically after the success of 90's Disney animated ventures, which goaded other studios like Warner to get into the game. Eschewing the trend of child-oriented musicals, Brad concocted (apparently without consulting his team) the tale of the bond between a kid and a hulking robot with massive capacity for destruction. Somewhere behind his take on Ted Hughes' source story was the death of his sister killed in a gun violence incident by her husband.

The Iron Giant had only a fraction of the budget and prep time awarded to the typical Disney feature and the team included a lot of novices or retired animators, since the cream of the crop headed to Disney. The docu looks frankly at the often troubled production, with tight resource crunch and disinterest from the studio (they wanted to get out of the animation business after the failure of their previous venture Quest for Camelot) leading to protracted conflict between Brad and his producer Allison Abbate (who says diffidently in the docu that she would not want to work with him again). While the project was allowed to be completed (in one way the disinterest was a boon as there was no interference as well), Warner had neglected laying out any significant advance publicity for the film, none of the tie-ups and merchandising that garner the public's attention. So while the film did well with critics, it was a commercial bomb, which only later gained second wind as an undermined classic.

The documentary charts all this history superbly with tons of archival video and the use of still and semi-animated illustrations in Brad Bird's style depicting the significant events related to his life and the making of the film. What could have been just a series of talking head interviews is put forth in a terrific visual language that pays tribute to its subject's creativity.

The Iron Giant is a true American classic of animation and The Giant's Dream is an incisive and emotional journey into its creation.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

The Voices [dir. Marjane Satrapi]

Deadpool may have garnered the hype and box office, but in my opinion this little black comedy from 2014 is more entertaining and a better showcase for Ryan Reynolds' abilities.
Unless you go into the film absolutely blind, and not likely for long even then, it becomes evident that Reynolds' character is a "special person". Like the munchkin lead of The Lego Movie, Reynolds believes "Everything is Awesome!", as he goes about his job at the bath fixtures company (with its dazzling bright pink aesthetic on everything, including workers' overalls, forklifts and cartons). He enthusiastically participates in setting up the company party and tries (too) hard to attract the attention of the office hottie (Gemma Atherton). He also regularly visits a state psychiatrist who constantly badgers him about taking his medication (uh-oh). And he has a dog and cat, Bosco and Mr. Whiskers respectively...who he talks to...and who talk back to him.

It's the curse of the under-confident person, I get discomfited by films / TV series where the humor is at the expense of someone's embarrassment, which is why I did not see more than the stray episode of Wilfred (in which the dysfunctional lead character sees his neighbor's dog as an anthropomorphic talking entity), but I can see how it could have been the inspiration for Reynold's interaction with his chatty friends - Bosco represents the angel archetype telling Reynolds he's "a good boy", while Mr. Whiskers is, like many cats, an unapologetic A-Hole. The film gets more drama when Reynolds ends up accidentally(?) murdering the hottie, and tries to (ahem) bury the issue by taking home the body, chopping it into little bits and keeping her head in the refrigerator; as it turns out, that's only the start of a chain of events.

What differentiates The Voices from other bizarre comedies is that it's not content with drawing easy giggles. Reynold's character may be a Norman Bates stereotype (there is even a deliberate wink to that inspiration), but he is developed with sensitivity and dimension, and the script succeeds in making you feel for this murderous bumbler. There is also intelligent use of visual cues to differentiate between Reynolds' fantasy world and reality.

There are some stumbles, like when a literal conga line of Reynolds' colleagues come snooping around his home instead of alerting the police even after they have uncovered enough indications to raise the flag of suspicion, but the film does not overreach its grasp and I found sufficient charm and that magic blend of humor and pathos to overlook these deficiencies.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

My Indian movie trips of 2016

GREAT

Kaul (The Calling) - Aadish Keluskar's debut feature in Marathi is a brilliant existential horror film with some of the best use of sound to create mood I've heard in a film since a long time. I saw it twice at the cinema, the second time in immersive Dolby Atmos. I pray it comes out on BD/DVD so whoever that is interested in such films can get to watch it.
Aligarh - After the brilliant and underrated Dil Pe Mat Le Yaar, Hansal Mehta and Manoj Bajpai join forces again to give a powerful drama of a man unfairly persecuted by society for the sin of being different. There are flaws yes, but damn it, this is a sincere and moving effort and deserves to be on your watchlist.
Budhia Singh - Born to Run - Manoj Bajpai is on a roll with this year's releases. In BS-BtR he is not the titular character but plays the equally important role of the coach determined to make a marathon champion of the child Budhia, even if he must resort to highly unorthodox and questionable methods of training him. Effectively portrays the other side of the rah-rah sports film.

GOOD

Ghayal Once Again - Not great, but surprisingly entertaining, with a script that makes The Matrix look like kitchen sink drama, retro-badass action and hilarious ineptness. I especially enjoyed the audacious extended chase sequence in the first half of the film, genuinely well done. Recommended for fans of 80's style action dramas.
Mohalla Assi - Not officially released, but you can find it on the interwebs. A cynical satire on Benaras by Chandraprakash Dwivedi that takes on too many "issues" and meanders more than needed, but has some good moments and is notable for the most uncharacteristic Sunny Deol performance ever.
Fan - This one turned out better than expected, especially in the first half. Post-interval it bloats up with increasingly preposterous bait-n-chase sequences and very dodgy script machinations. But like with Chennai Express, SRK seems to take a special delight in making digs at his own legacy. No songs is an added plus.
Ventilator - Rajesh Mhapuskar's Marathi film starring Ashutosh Gowariker struck a strong chord with its identifiable dramedy of the family commotion that occurs when a relative is admitted in hospital. Runs too long with an exhausting series of emo-moments towards the end but worth watching once if you like the Hrishikesh Mukherjee kind of cinema.
Akira - I can see the eyes rolling among some of you, but I waspleasantly shocked  to see a Murgadoss movie that doesn't have an extended flashback sequence so cloying and rancid it makes you want to stab your eyes out. Also, I have a soft corner for Sonakshi Sinha who I think is one of the promising actors of today, so catching her in a 'hero' role was a thrill, even if the action sequences were shot quite haphazardly. Anurag Kashyap as actor was fun too, a lot more than as the director of Raman Raghav Thoo.

MEH
 
Pink - Pink is actually good...until Amitabh Bachchan walks in and completely upends the story, taking attention away from the credible and sympathetic female cast. The wang-wagging courtroom drama was abysmally preachy and screechy and poor Piyush Mishra got the most thankless part.
Airlift - It arrived on the marquee in the same weekend as a bunch of interchangeable randy Tusshaaar Kapoor movies, and was a comparatively decent experience, but when I reflect on it, very generic in construction and quite forgettable.
Kahaani 2 - Better than the previous one IMO, but again dragged down by an ass-breaker running time (130 min), excruciatingly detailed flashbacks, caricature bad people and let-me-tell-you-what-to-feel background music...and of course the up-its-own-butt twist ending.

YUCK

Raman Raghav 2.0 - A terrible experience, a hodge-podge of contrived scenes and faux-edginess (Anurag Kashyap-ness?) with almost no good element that wasn't lifted from elsewhere.
MSG: The Lion Heart - yeah yeah, I know a bunch of you are going to say "What did you expect?" But I loved the first MSG film for its incredulity and complete absence of sense of proportion. This one began in a promisingly hilarious fashion but got bogged down with a sluggish and annoying flashback that lasted the entire length, with a message to wait for Part 2, grr


STUFF I NEED TO SEE
Visaranai (Tamil), Kapoor & Sons, Dangal...let me know what else I missed out on.