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.