Monthly Archives: November, 2012

Life of Pi is full of life.

God does not test those who do not believe in Him. He only tests the extent of faith of those who do. While this lesson was easily understood to me even when I had read Yann Martel‘s Booker Prize-winning book during a train journey in 2006, the messages conveyed in Ang Lee‘s latest, Life of Pi, are still as simple and as profound.

Life of Pi is about an Indian boy growing up with his liberal parents (brilliantly portrayed by Adil Hussain and Tabu) and an older brother in a very well-depicted Pondicherry of the 70s. The family owns a zoo, but is forced to come to a decision to move to Canada when the political emergency is imposed. Carrying their animals aboard a Japanese vessel, the family is prepared to take the arduous journey across the Pacific Ocean. But a storm near the Marianna Trench wrecks the ship and only Pi (Suraj Sharma, quite good, but not just quite there yet) survives on a lifeboat, with a royal Bengal tiger, an orangutan, a hyena and a zebra. They rest of the tale weans through the 227 days that he is literally at sea – trying to get the better of his mates on the boat, seeking answers to his questions, understanding human nature and animal psychology as his survival instincts take over, and surrendering to the forces of nature and God.

Like all book-to-film adaptations, this movie too suffers from being able to bring the depth or the restlessness from inaction that one finds in Martel’s writing. But David Magee‘s script still captures the essence of Pi’s story very well. It’s just that while the book did make Pi’s mid-Pacific ordeal look 227 days long, the movie, restricted by the time-factor, has somehow not been able to do that as well. Pi’s  physical transformation into an undernourished, unkempt shadow of his former self is the only proof of the time having gone by.

But be prepared to see the best visual effects ever as you rub your eyes to find anything that makes Richard Parker (the tiger) look anything but real. The emotions that Richard Parker’s eyes give away look so lifelike that I still have to keep telling myself that it was all CGI. Flying fish, whales, dolphins – all take your breath away. The fluroscence of marine life and the reflection of the night sky in the calm ocean waters is so breathtaking. The sun, the storms, the sunsets are all so marvellously done that it is impossible to believe that the sea is actually just a tank in an airport in Taiwan. The sky looks limitless, the horizon far, far away and Pi and his boat just a tiny speck in the vastness of the Pacific’s splendour. And even though you know that these aren’t real, you have to keep reminding yourself that they are just computer-generated. Overall, the 3D is spectacular. Ang Lee, with his immaculate mastery of the medium, proves once again why he is so deeply respected by his fraternity and by film lovers worldwide.

(My friend Arjun Tomar, who has match-moved Richard Parker’s scenes in the film, tells me that Lee is a stickler for detail and a task master. He also was nice enough to tell me about how certain scenes were done. His explanation involved geometry and computer lingo so I switched off almost immediately, but tried to look as interested as I could. But you’d be amazed to know that the colour of the water and even the sand on the coast of Mexico are fake!)

The background score by Mychael Danna is just as good especially in his use of Bombay Jayashri’s lovely vocals rendered in Tamil. The locations in Pondicherry are authentic and it is a relief to see a filmmaker who has done his research well enough to not make a mockery out of a story set in Pondicherry by mixing more popular Indian (read: Punjabi) cultural elements as portrayed by most films. But then again, one doesn’t become Ang Lee by discounting the important finer details.

Grown up Pi, played perfectly by Irrfan Khan, has a worldly-wise air about himself as he narrates his unbelievable tale. His story and the alternate, that he provides on being forced to, are essentially the same, but he challenges us, making us wonder how unwilling we are as human beings, to be able to believe in anything that is out of the ordinary. To be able to understand a symbiotic relationship between a boy and a tiger — both hungry, both fighting for survival against a third common adversary — is confounding to say the least. We forget that fact is often stranger than fiction. And unless we see, we do not believe; but we are more than ready to believe in God, whom we have never seen.

Piscine chose to call himself Pi. Was it fate or mere coincidence that his life began to reflect the same infiniteness? His faith in God was boundless (he followed Hindusim, Christianity and Islam, and later taught about Jewish culture and religion at the University), his entrapment in a limitless space for time that felt never ending — there are many such examples that come to mind as I sit and recall the story. Talking about them here would be giving out spoilers.

Watch the film. It is a visual and a spiritual treat that should not be missed.

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Jab Tak Hai Jaan

I had promised I’d watch Jab Tak Hai Jaan as a mark of respect towards Yash Chopra. I did. I am not overwhelmed. But I am not sorry either.

All the recent films that Yash Chopra has directed require a great deal of suspension of disbelief on the audience’s part. Yes, it is my blind prejudice towards the man and his body of work (Daag, Trishul, Deewar, Mashaal) that makes me so stubborn, but in his defence, he also created this genre of fairy-tale romance and defined its elements. All of us know what his films have lately been about. Don’t like them, don’t watch them. But don’t complain if you do. It is silly of you to expect a neo-realist fare from the house that now sells romance, dreams and happily ever afters.

It is for this very reason I am not going to complain about the multiple basic inconsistencies in the film, like – How is an Indian Army officer allowed to sport a stubble? What are Olympic decorations doing in London stations in 2002? Why was a bikini-clad Akira (Anushka Sharma) surprised when she dived into a lake in Ladakh and found it freezing enough to kill her?

The plot is out there for everyone to know. Poor boy meets princess, they become friends and fall in love, until one vaada leads them to separate. Boy joins the Indian army, meets boisterous and aspiring documentary filmmaker, politely spurns her advances, but stays her friend. One thing leads to another and ultimately, the happy “the end”.

With hardcore SRK fans calling it his best performance ever and others hating him (because it has become a full-time hobby now), people with non-committal feelings about him are finding it difficult to take a moderate stand without feeling jostled. I’d say, he is among the better things in the movie – because Katrina, playing Meera, is still somewhere on the learning curve in terms of her acting and Anushka is annoying. It’s time she played someone that isn’t like her in Band Baaja Baarat, Badmaash Company or the Reliance Mobile advertisements. No one in recent times has managed a chirpy, happy-go-lucky character as well as Kareena’s Geet in Jab We Met. Everyone else just plays it over the top.

His chemistry with Katrina seems forced. And he is so elder-brotherly towards Akira, that any more intimacy and it’d have felt morally unpalatable. So it’s like saying a veteran beat two amateurs at the task. Big deal.

Having seen SRK in Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa, DDLJ, Swades and Chak De India, I long for another such performance from him. Here he seems unsupported and stifled by lesser competent co-stars, old-style Bollywood dialogue delivery and a long, loopy plot. His Samar Anand is made to flit between a threesome among boyish and love-struck Sunil (KHKN), confident and cocky loverboy Raj (DDLJ) and brooding man on a mission Kabir Khan(Chak De). But the magic of none of the character s blossoms fully enough to create a long-lasting impression.

The frames are beautiful. You really can never go wrong with framing shots in London and Ladakh, even with a Kodak KB-10. But that is not to take away from Anil Mehta’s good work. The music is absolutely non-Rahman, not in a complimentary way. Even Gulzar Saab’s work feels uninspired. And I must have said this a few hundred times by now. Katrina looks like a Yashraj princess, but she has a long way to go before she can carry off a instrumental-dance solo/duet like Sridevi (Lamhe, Chandni) or Madhuri and Karisma (Dil To Paagal Hai) did. Vaibhavi Merchant is definitely no Saroj Khan or Shiamak Davar. She shouldn’t have been hired by YRF for the job in any case.

The dialogue by Aditya Chopra is sore. But in a smart way, the father and son duo have used it to subtly poke fun at what we as an audience loved earlier, but now cannot stand. The younger Akira keeps talking about the older generation, their choices, preferences and idea of love. We are caught wondering whether we want to be there or here. Also, for some good reason, Samar voices for logic and practicality over a deal with “Sir Jesus”. That should have just happened earlier to save us at least an hour out the three that this film runs for.

Jab Tak Hai Jaan is the kind of story that all of us grow up wanting to be part of (at least most of the women do), and continue to want to believe in. How much of it we like or dislike depends upon our view of romance and relationships that is shaped in our minds as we grow older and live through our own experiences with love. In my opinion, I am more on the cynical side to be able to appreciate the film the way it is meant to be. But it will work for the incurable romantics.

Yash Chopra was a shrewd filmmaker. After Veer Zaara, he probably knew that his audience had shrunk. It was beginning to delve into films with darker subjects and “real” plots. Which is why he probably took this long to come back to the job to make a last statement. And also maybe that is why he had announced that Jab Tak Hai Jaan would be his last film. He had made the right call. For while better than Veer Zaara, Jab Tak Hai Jaan is no where close to his masterpieces. But no regrets as we will always have his best work, to remember him by.

Skyfall: Perfect time to reacquaint with Bond

It has been exactly a week since I came back all excited and goose-bumpy from the theatre after having watched Skyfall. Even now, every time the film is mentioned, I get all trippy. That’s how brilliantly Sam Mendes has made the 23rd Bond film.

Presumed dead after Boss M (Judi Dench) makes a risky professional choice and co-worker Eve (Naomie Harris) takes a miscalculated shot during a nail-biting chase sequence, Commander James Bond aka 007 (Daniel Craig) uses the time and anonymity to chill, introspect, meet women and get drunk – not necessarily in that order. A hard drive containing sensitive information about MI6 agents in the field has been stolen and as the nation’s security comes under threat, so does M’s job, as informed to her and us by Gareth Mallory (Ralph Fiennes), Intelligence and Security Committee Chairman. It takes the criminal party to blow up the headquarters of MI6 to get Bond back into action. What ensues is unpredictably thrilling twists, the trademark witticisms and unlike ever before, a half-peep into Bond’s past – his childhood.

While this installment in the series goes light on booze, women and gadgets (the Aston Martin makes an appearance and there are enough stunts, though… fret not!), Javier Bardem as the superbad Raoul Silva doesn’t let you lament that at all. Icy cool, calculating, perfectly composed and menacingly maniacal at the same time, the man amazes you with his talent. His Oedipal interactions with M, vague references to the time he was an MI6 agent, an apparent familiarity with Skyfall and his blonde hair led my friend to theorise possible familial connections between Bond, M and Silva. Watching the film with that angle in mind and observing the finer details in the dialogue and editing made it even more interesting for me.

Dame Judi Dench – she leaves me speechless. Her mere presence on the screen leaves you spellbound. She portrays dignity with such panache and beauty. Ben Whishaw as Q does good. Fiennes didn’t have enough screen time here to be able to create the impact he usually does, but he doesn’t let you complain anyway.

I shall now come to Daniel Craig. I was never really impressed with him as Bond. And then I watched Skyfall. Even though my immediate reaction was to try and dismiss him, he has grown on me in the last one week. There is something about women and powerful but vulnerable men. Exactly that gets to you slowly and sinks in deep. Craig’s Bond is emotionally multidimensional along with all the other things Bond always was – suave, charming, cocky, strong, lithe, agile, witty and a woman lover. That addition to his personality makes him stand off very nicely against Silva, who too has an emotional motive for his actions. This play-off of personalities, M included, keeps you rooted to your seats.

The cinematography by Roger Deakins is breathtaking. He uses a combination of wide-angle and low-angle shots to make the landscapes and the cityscapes awe-inspiring, and generally follows Bond as he stealthily and as agile as a cat pits his brain and brawn against Silva. A sequence where a hitman is setting up a shot behind a glass wall and the opening credits are psychedelic. There is a lot of use of glass and mirrors – probably to show that Bond is now looking at himself and a past that is pulling him but is not a pleasant place for him to visit.

Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and John Logan have written a very cohesive script, while Mendes has once again proved why his films are so amazing to watch. To blend thrill and emotion isn’t easy. Watch the introduction of Silva. You see him and you hear him. And as he takes forever to walk towards Bond while narrating an anecdote about rats from his childhood, you take stock of his madness little by little, letting yourself absorb his character, preparing for the insanity that this seemingly cool man is about to unleash. That character introduction is just too good.

To the uninitiated, this is the perfect time to jump into the series. We are back to a male M and a black Moneypenny, completing a cycle. And there couldn’t have been a more fitting tribute to Ian Flemming’s super spy in the 50th year of James Bond.