Category Archives: Teasers

Tuesday Blog | Anurag Kashyap’s Exploration Of Urban Lives & Its Decadence!

Anurag Kashyap

PC: Jamuura.com

 

Kashyap has a special relationship with Mumbai and especially its underbelly. Some might say he is Mumbai’s Orpheus who constantly makes a journey to those hellholes and back so that he could tell us their stories. Be it UglyThe Girl in the Yellow BootsBombay Velvet and now Raman Raghav 2.0, the city has always been Kashyap’s muse. And it is not surprising. For it was under the tutelage of his mentor Ram Gopal Varma, Kashyap wrote that famous Bombay gangster movie of all time, Satya.” – Sayantan Mondal for Jamuura.com

Anurag Kashyap is among the most revered directors in the country today with cinegoers thronging the theatres every time one of his films release. And although he began in the indie/underground space (his first film Paanch remains unreleased but very widely viewed, thanks to torrents), he has very meticulously built himself into a brand that grants his movies very successful openings at the multiplexes. As a youth icon, he echoes their views – whether radical or pragmatist and progressive – and his anti-establishment statements via his movies have won him fans. He has been open with his stories of struggle while trying to find a foothold in the industry and his personal life, making him a rare director that people love to hear talk in front of an audience, as well as from behind the camera. His recent films may not exactly have set the box office to fire, but he remains a solid inspiration for aspiring filmmakers.

Read more about Kashyap’s commentary on urban life and decadence; strong statements that he makes through his movies.

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Tuesday Blog | Aligarh: a review

Aligarh 1

The frame opens and stays where it is in possibly one of the longest opening shots in Hindi cinema in recent times. Watching from where you are, you become a voyeur, peeking into the windows of a house in a colony barely lit by street lamps in the fog that is characteristic of north Indian winters. For a long time nothing happens on screen, but your mind is already abuzz and sensing what is to come. And then the movie begins.

Aligarh, directed by Hansal Mehta is  the true story of Prof. S. R. Siras (Manoj Bajpai), who was the Head of Department at the Department of Modern Indian Languages in Aligarh Muslim University. Not one to shy away from telling the truth, Mehta has not changed much about this man and his identity. Which is why the film has unofficially been banned in Aligarh, which is so telling of the times we live in – commit atrocities on those who do not conform, and disguise your inability to adapt as defense. When it is you who attacks someone not from your tribe because you cannot empathise, the excuse then is generally, “but his immoral ways are ruining our culture.” Suddenly, you gain the higher moral ground and become the victim as well – such a delicious combination for those seeking sympathy. This line of thought is exactly what Mehta is challenging: Who is the oppressor and  who is the oppressed?

aligarh2Siras is an outsider, no matter how you look at him. He is a Marathi man in a Hindi and Urdu-speaking city. He lives alone, surrounded by families in the quarters identical to his own. He plays Madan Mohan’s compositions and sings along with the nightingale-like Lata Mangeshkar in his own soulful, but broken and tuneless notes. He probably gets himself drunk every night so that he can sleep. He occasionally gets a consenting rickshaw wala home to quell his loneliness. But don’t call him ‘gay’, for he cannot understand how three letters can convey the vast range of emotions, urges, and baggage (in a society like ours) that make him the man he is. That word reduces his identity to make it uni-dimensional, and he dislikes that.

aligarh3Aligarh is also the story of the young reporter Deepu Sebastian (Rajkumar Rao), who befriends this man he set out to write stories about in his newspaper. He understands Siras, his loneliness and his pain. He finds Siras’ quirks endearing: the peg he needs to have every evening after he comes back home, the autograph he needs to sign with his own pen, his poems in Marathi that he translates into English while his case is being heard in the court (he doesn’t care to be an activist and doesn’t understand legalese), the way a blush creeps up his face when he is told he is good looking, his mild manner even when he is affronted, and many more such small things that make the man someone you’d love to know.

Their personal stories also move parallel to each others’. Both try to ward of intrusions into their privacy, and both are outsiders (Deepu is a Malayali living in Delhi). However, while Siras is the quiet timid man satisfied to be able to stand against the tide, Deepu is full of energy, fighting his daily battles with gusto. But while in a flashback, we see Siras gently kissing the face of his partner in a closed bedroom; we are told they has been doing this for eight months now. We also see Deepu kissing his coworker passionately on the roof of their workplace after office hours. As the movie progresses, you begin to take stock of whatever Deepu has said and done, and you wonder if he is in love with Siras. Is his  fling with his female coworker something he becomes part of to avoid being in the kind of situation his friend Siras is in?

aligarh4The backdrop against which the interactions of these two men is set is the painful realisation that despite the raging debate on the criminalisation of homosexuality in India, there is an utter lack of sensitivity. The judiciary can declare homosexuality legal, but the general public will continue to look at gay men and women with absolute disdain and refuse to accommodate them in whatever small manner possible. Even the champion of gay rights, the giant of a lawyer Anand Grover (Ashish Vidyarthi) gets offended when Siras thinks of him as gay too. He is possibly in this for the name, fame and a certain standing among his peers. The other lawyer (Balaji Gauri) is too steeped in age-old prejudices to be able to even want any kind of justice for Siras. She even wonders how a 64 year-old has the “strength” to have sex. She is most likely from that section of society that look at sex as something that a man and a woman have with each other after they are married. There is no more sex in such marriages after the desired number of children. Sex for such people is strictly procreational.

Here, the case around Siras’ dismissal from the University takes the shape of a man engaging in consensual sex with another adult of the same gender versus the breach of his privacy, when TV reporters break into his house, beat him up and film him in a compromising manner. They are followed by Siras’ colleagues who had set this up to settle old scores with the man who had worked with them for over 20 years, and grown to become an HoD despite being a Maharashtrian. There are so many injustices against this man who has only kept his head down and done his work well, only because he is an “outsider” in every respect.

I feel Mehta must have interviewed everyone on the crew various questions pertaining to gay rights and sensitivity and only then upon being satisfied with their answers, taken them on the film. Writer and Editor Apurva Asrani and Cinematographer Satya Rai Nagpaul have collaborated with the director and the actors to create a masterpiece that will possibly go down in the history of Indian cinema as he most sensitive and nuanced portrayal of gay people in India. While those in the metros walk the Pride, there has barely been any small city/town/rural representation of homosexuality in any media. Aligarh is named so because it is about the city more than it is about Siras. Aligarh is the lead character in this film. Aligarh, the city is so claustrophobic for Siras. In contrast, his small apartment makes him feel freer. He can be himself when he is there. When that shred of liberty is also snatched from him, he becomes lonelier than ever, trying to find a space to call his own. Aligarh and its people drive Siras towards his eventual end. Aligarh still continues to be in character and refuses to have anything to do with this beauty of a film. And Aligarh is just one of many places in our country that looks at men like Siras with absolute contempt.

If Siras humming along to Aap ki nazron ne samjha pyar ke kaabil mujhe doesn’t break your heart, I don’t know what will.

 

 

My Top Five at Mumbai Film Festival 2013

MFF 2013 LogoThe 15th Mumbai Film Festival (MFF) organised by Mumbai Academy of Moving Images (MAMI) was a result of some wonderful programming. Movies that I had been only reading about from links shared by film enthusiasts and critics worldwide came home to a big group of people with a huge appetite for the classics and the new. Obviously, there was always the question, “Did you like it?” as soon as one got out of the theatre after a screening, but it is always too soon to answer that question. I would rather live with the experience for a while, maybe read a little about the film and what inspired the director to make it, and then decide how it made me feel. Just like in relationships, a little background always helps understand a film better.

I missed a lot of films I hear were good. That is the hazard of living far from the festival venue as well as having other personal and professional items on the agenda. Among the ones that I hope to catch in the near future are Act of Killing, The Great Beauty, 3X3D, Closed Curtains, A Touch of Sin, among others. I also have the entire filmography of Costa Gavras added to my never-ending list of films to watch.

Roughly a month and a half after the close of the MFF, in no particular order of preference, here are my top five films from the fest. Individual posts on these films may follow after a second viewing. I may add another five to the list if I find time in the near future:

Ilo Ilo Movie Poster1. Ilo Ilo – This is a soft, sweet story about a Filipino maid coming to Singapore to work for a middle-class family, while it is trying to work its way around the Asian financial crisis of the late 1990s. The naughty-boy-protagonist’s slowly deepening friendship with the maid, while a very pregnant mother experiences pangs of jealousy, is what forms the plot. The residences remind you vaguely of how people live in Mumbai, where there is always a space crunch. The boy and his mischief is superbly entertaining and the flashes of everyday humour coming from the parents make you smile. It could be the story of anyone who grew up middle-class style in the 1980s/90s in India. I could see a lot of my family in the film. Maybe that’s why it became one of my instant favourites.

While the hype around this movie led a lot of expectations to be shattered, director Anthony Chen and the entire cast can still stake claim to wonderful storytelling and great performances. 

Inside Llewyn Davis Movie Poster2. Inside Llewyn Davis – Terribly distracted by the AC on full blast while watching this Coen Brothers film, I couldn’t enjoy the film in its full glory. Later, I sat thinking about it and how beautifully it portrays an artist’s will to stay true to his art despite wave after wave of hurt and failure marking his path. From what sounds like some lovely New York  country music of the 1960s, we see the man face rejections, one after the other – his friends, the woman he recently slept with, his now-incapacitated father and the entire music community. It is painful, but as is always with Coen Brothers’ films, the quirky characters and situations make the whole deal look oddly funny. Watch it for some fantastic performances, great songs and a little bit of heartbreak. (Plus, I was pointed out to a fellow in the end who looked and sounded oddly similar to the legendary Bob Dylan. I am not claiming it is a real footage, but if you love the master’s songs, you have got to listen to the ones in this movie).

Qissa Movie Poster3. Qissa – The Tale of a Lonely Ghost – This one is dark. Set in the time of the India-Pakistan partition, it tracks the story of Umber Singh, who, ailing from the pain of being uprooted from his village, is so desperate for a son to carry forward his lineage, decides to raise his fourth-born daughter as a son. It is part-sympathetic and part-horrific to watch him try to cling on to something he doesn’t have, and in the process, messing up several lives, including of the low-caste gypsy girl he gets his “son” married to. Dealing with questions of identity, honour and roots, Anup Singh‘s film leaves an impact on you. It helps that all the actors are more than convincing in their roles. Saying any more would mean giving out the story. Best to just watch it.

Blue is The Warmest Colour Movie POster4. Blue is the Warmest Colour – Undeniably the most anticipated film at MFF because of the rave reviews it received at Cannes, and the graphic lovemaking scenes between the two leading women, Blue, for me, fulfilled, if not surpassed, my expectations. Abdellatif Kechiche has adapted this heartbreaking love story from a graphic novel called Blue Angel, and changed the focus from how the French society views lesbians to just how “normally” their story too follows the love-curve. The attraction, the flirtation, the intensity of new found love and the excitement of sex, the settling into routine, the ennui, the straying, the bitter confrontation, the making amends. Worthy of mention are the actresses Adele Exarchopolous and Lea Seydoux, who are natural and make the characters seem so real and life-like – like people we know and meet almost everyday.

There has been lots of talk about the “male gaze” in the cinematography of the movie, if there is any story, or why the story is special at all and from whose point of view a women’s story of their relationship is being told – the male director, or one of the women themselves? Fundamentally, the story makes sense to me as it says that there is nothing special about a homosexual relationship. What it does is raise questions about fidelity and the forms of it – psychological, emotional, physical, and who can be said to be the first “drifter” – the one flirting with a third person at a party while still in a relationship, or the one who feels so lonely and unwanted that she seeks comfort in another person’s arms. It is this “seeking of love” that happens to each of us that makes the movie seem so normal. The pain of the protagonist, who is essentially a lonely being trying to find a natural connection with others, that lingers.

Matterhorn Movie Poster5. Matterhorn – This was a Dutch film by Diederik Ebbinge that anyone was hardly talking about, and I went to watch it, because the other show that I wanted to catch in the same time slot was running full-house. I am so glad for this serendipity. Matterhorn is a lovely discovery. It is about a lonely man, living his life by the second hand of the clock and religiously attending Church with his neighbourhood full of the elderly and the staunch. Till another man, an accident survivor with very limited social abilities  makes an appearance in his life. A seemingly frozen heart gives way to regretfully supressed emotion through the plot, after the men bond, form a friendship, and find it in them to defy religious convention to discover big joys in life.

Again, the acting, the cinematography and the direction are splendid beyond words. The transition in the protagonist still feels fresh as the ends of the movie draws near. There is a welcome quality of unpredictability in the story because of the way it is told – linear, but with individuals threads joining into the weave of the plot to create a lovely tapestry in the end. Matterhorn is the story of victory over one’s own demons to move on and achieve all that we have been denying ourselves for the fear of being looked down by the guardians of society – subtly, but clearly told.

Ridley Scott’s back with The Counsellor

After the heavy-handed, philosophical-spiritual prequel to Alien, that was Prometheus, Ridley Scott has decided to treat us with a thriller this time – The Counselor. And what’s better? He has got together good-looking people who can act (at least most of them can!) to make this a ride to look forward to – Javier Bardem, Michael Fassbender, Brad Pitt, Cameron Diaz and Penelope Cruz play characters etched out by Cormac McCarthy (No Country for Old Men).

There is not much to say for the trailer, except that it looks good and exciting. Diaz plays an evil woman (I tried to equate her with Darryl Hannah in Kill Bill, but I just couldn’t). All I can say is, she isn’t bad. Fassbender has worked with Scott previously in Prometheus and his role there had been applauded. He is a powerful actor who is now deservedly going places. (Watch Steve McQueen‘s Shame to know what I am talking about). There is nothing one can say about Bardem to do him enough justice. After exciting roles in No Country for Old Men, Biutiful, Vicki Cristina Barcelona, Skyfall and a whole lot of Spanish films, his crazy get up and his lines in the trailer of The Counsellor sparks enough interest.

The film is scheduled to release October 25.

Her (Trailer) – Man <3 Technology

It is always such a great pleasure to watch someone like Joaquin Phoenix in a frame. And consider this; this time it is Spike Jonze (of “Being John Malkovich” fame) who has crafted this interesting-looking story of  a man, with what looks like high and complex EQ, and female-voiced piece of technology falling in love. Jonze knows how to read and show complex minds, and the actors, Phoenix, Amy Adams and Scarlett Johansson do give ample evidence of magic in this trailer.

I must admit that the first time I watched it, I was immediately reminded of the The Big Bang Theory episode where Raj buys an iPhone 4S and falls in love with Siri. That was hilarious, and the premise of this one is too. Except that here,  the treatment looks very endearing, sensitive and tender. One, that is expected to arouse lesser guffaws and more smiles and a great deal of thought.

Notice that the aspect of technology displaying  emotional responses has been quite a favourite with filmmakers and authors who have given us some brilliant sci-fi work — Blade Runner, AI: Artificial Intelligence, Bicentennial Man. This will again, like always, spark off another round of debate on how much technology we are allowing into our lives, how difficult it has become to dismiss it  and if we are really doing the smart thing by allowing their presence to loom so large over our everyday life? I am looking forward to Her for the ethical arguments that will follow and to see the cast and crew work their charm, not necessarily in that order.