Tuesday, May 31, 2022

KGF: Chapter 2 [dir. Prashanth Neel]

For my views on the first chapter of KGF, please click HERE.

KGF-2 is a continuation of the old-school swagger from the first installment, but taken a few notches higher. Rocky (Yash) is still the uber-badass, dealing out sneering one-liners and sledgehammer fists in equal measure. He now controls the titular gold fields, but in his "More gold! MORE GOLD!" attitude seems to opt for a far less smart plan than the original owners had - I would imagine that part of the perceived value of gold is the fact that it's hard to mine and is made available to the market in limited quantities. Rocky's business sense resembles the guy that slit the belly of the goose laying the (ha!) golden eggs.

But this is not a movie one criticizes for its lack of business sense, or for that matter any other sense. This is a movie where our gangsta hero can:

  • Barge in unannounced into the Prime Minister's working chambers and swag at her, while she hisses ineffectively like Lalita Pawar in Ek Din Bahu Ka.
  • Have a blooming helicopter hovering above his lawn for a spot of breeze on a warm day.
  • Single-handedly assault a police station - no wait, that's a branch office of the CBI - with a tripod-mounted belt-fed large caliber machine gun to recover a single gold biscuit because dammit, that's HIS property.

The large supporting cast is (dur!) cast in that same mold of exaggerated sentiment. Someone actually says with a straight face that the character Sanjay Dutt plays was inspired by Viking culture, and he turns up in the soul-sapping heat draped in chain-mail and leather, and a braid that must take some serious grooming. And beards, beards still rule. Raveena Tandon's PM character would have probably posed a bigger challenge if she sported one. Everyone speaks their lines like theater actors anxious to ensure that their voices carried to the last row.

This is again not a criticism, it is inherent to the film's design. The canvas feels genuinely big, and while the brush strokes are broad, they are also unabashedly virile, with some epic visual moments. You can see that writer-director Prashant Neel wants to pay a Tarantino-like homage to the glory days of Macho Indian Cinema, and when it works, it works really well. On the whole I liked this a good deal more than the sum total of Bahubali.

What I would criticize is the déjà vu occurring over the course of this two-part narrative (with the imminent warning of a third installment). The danger of painting in broad strokes is always that there's not sufficient layer or detailing for the characters. While individual scenes are calculated to raise whoops and whistles (I'm sure this would have been a riot in the cinema hall), there is choppy flow and a lack of connective tissue between scenes - A lengthy symphony cannot be composed solely of overtures, you need to also think of the quieter moments.

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Mundane History [dir. Anocha Suwichakornpong]

The work of Apichatpong Weerasethakul casts a long shadow on Thai arthouse cinema, and Anocha Suwichakornpong's 2009 debut feature Mundane History certainly owes some debt of inspiration to him.
The film is centered around Ake (Phakpoom Surapongsanuruk), a youth paralyzed from waist down, and Pun (Arkaney Cherkam), the male nurse employed to take care of him at home. The other significant characters are Ake's father, who is considerate yet distant from his son, and the family members / domestic staff.
Ake has the simmering frustration of a youth whose entire way of life has been snatched away, reducing him to someone that needs help with his most basic needs. He also feels emasculated by his inability to sense any sexual pleasure, as demonstrated in the scene where he masturbates in the bath to no effect (a scene which was probably instrumental in earning the film the Thai censor board's strictest age rating 20+). This makes him taciturn and indifferent / rude to the people around.
Pun at the beginning of his employment feels lost. He is a friendly, open-hearted person and the hushed sombre atmosphere of the house wears him down - he confides to an acquaintance on the phone that he finds it "soulless". But as he diligently works with Ake and shares his own thoughts with his patient, a bond develops between the two young men - they are of the same generation and find common ground in their interests. Pun provides Ake a companionship and affection his own father seems afraid to show.
Mundane History is presented in subtle non-linear fashion where at different points back and forth in time we see the outlook of Ake and Pun, and their interaction with each other. This non-linearity is not an essential device for telling the story, but does prevent it from following a cliched path, and more importantly, allows for time lapses where more can be left to the viewers' imagination.
It is not clarified what mishap led to Ake's paralysis, or at what point the estrangement between father and son occurred - was it caused by Ake's accident and subsequent disability, or whether it predated that? Beyond a point, the film is less interested in the emotional drama (the tone is tamped down throughout, neither anger nor joy are given showcases), and becomes more of an overarching poetic reflection on the rhythm of life (even incorporating the depiction of a caesarean section birth). I didn't find this meshing as organic and magical as in my favorite Apichatpong film Uncle Boonmee Recalls His Past Lives, but it is done well enough and does not overstay its welcome.

A few words on the Second Run DVD:

The DVD came out in 2012 and gives a decent though not particularly stunning presentation. Most of the film is shot in a naturalistic manner with lots of static camera settings, that are not necessarily the most picturesque. There is noise, especially in darker scenes, but I would assume that to be endemic to the source material. Audio comes in Dolby 2.0 and 5.1 options, the latter slightly expanding the ambient sound field for the world around Ake, and giving more body to the occasional music score. Extras include a conversation with the director discussing the film's genesis, making and its reception, and a previous short film by her called Graceland, which is visually more striking but with a sketchier narrative. As customary with Second Run, the release includes a booklet with an essay.

Sunday, May 1, 2022

Kaun Pravin Tambe? [dir. Jayprad Desai]

So I saw Iqbal Part 2. Oh wait, it's called something else, but Shreyas Talpade is playing another underdog trying to make it in cricket. This is the story of a real life guy called Pravin Tambe, a club cricketer in Mumbai who persevered in honing his game in all his spare time even though he was not selected for any national level tournament up to his 40's, which in most sports is when people start to talk about retirement. He finally got to play in the Indian Players' League, where he made enough of a splash to garner notice and have a movie made about his life.

Kaun Pravin Tambe? (KPT?) does not have the production value of an '83 (reviewed HERE) or the M.S. Dhoni biopic, and the scope is a lot smaller. There are some nice Sai Paranjpe style touches in depicting the Tambe family's lower middle class life in a chawl type society - when Pravin and his brother get married together, they have to draw lots to see who gets the 'bridal suite'. The film also looks at Pravin's struggle to keep up various jobs while he still tries to sneak in some play time - In one instance he is strung along with promises of making a company cricket team to work for cheap by an employer who has no actual intention of actually doing so.

The film also highlights how the sport outside of the more glamorous tournaments often offers meager incentive for the players. Talpade has some fine scenes in which he expresses his character's despondence, and the talented Anjali Patil (Newton) does the best she can as the spouse who loves her husband but is also frustrated with what she feels is his lack of prioritization towards his family.

But even when KPT? eschews the usual patriotic jingo of Indian sports movies (likely because Tambe never played for the country as a whole), the script is still formulaic and most of the characters are etched in very broad strokes. Parambrata Chatterjee as the sneering sports journalist Sanyal is handed a one-note part that does not do the actor sufficient justice - I know that Sanyal's scorn towards Tambe is driven by his envy, but there should have been a more nuanced portrayal instead of making him a stock villain till short of the end. Also, the background score (credited to a Sai-Piyush) is near-constant and unsubtle.

But if you like cricket in general or the idea of a Readers' Digest type slightly saccharine inspiring story, I thought KPT? was better than those bigger-budget cricket movies.