Archive for the ‘film review’ Category

Jafar Panahi’s 3 Faces

In Northwest Iran, the rural valleys have their own laws, much like the rest of the country. On a narrow mountain road, two cars cannot pass at the same time, and a honking duel decides who gets to go first. Such is Panahi’s work, with his sharp observation, resulting into socio-politically ripe metaphors and some delicate humour. Unlike his previous metafictional works in This is not a film, Closed Curtains, and Taxi; 3 Faces is more distant and tries to cover a larger canvas. However, Panahi’s work continues to remain pensive and his defiance seems to be getting stronger with every new film.

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A suicide video of Marziyeh (an aspiring young actress), leads Behnaaz (a popular actress, playing herself) and Panahi into the Iranian valleys, in search of the truth. The three women, Behnaaz, Marziyeh (playing herself), and, Shahrazade dominate and steer the narrative in a world dominated by men. The fact that we never see Shahrazade, acts like a fitting metaphorical tribute to all the women, especially the female actors in Iran, who are not valued in Iran – they are ’empty headed’ or ‘entertainers’.

The Kiarostami styled shots are probably the best shots in a Panahi film till date, almost as if Panahi has set Amin and his camera free in rebellion. The carefully crafted screenplay, with the dialogues, either dipped in humour, or in political subtext create an absolute winner. Although this is no match to Taxi, 3 Faces is still a powerful statement from Panahi, kindness and compassion even when his expression is beaten down to the ground. It would be apt to end my fanboy thoights on Panahi’s 3 Faces with a verse from Maya Angelou, which fits in so apt for Panahi and his work;

“The caged bird sings with a fearful trill
of things unknown but longed for still
and his tune is heard on the distant hill
for the caged bird sings of freedom.”
Zhang Yimou’s Shadow

Zhang Yimou’s previous work was trashed away as a mere shadow of his three decade long filmography. However, Shadow is Zhang’s roaring return to form with only monochromic visuals.

The film description says that the film is set during the period of the Three Kingdoms (220-280 A.D.), and features an exiled king and his people, who develop a plot to regain control of their land. The events are told from the points of view of the king, his sister, his commander, the women trapped in the royal palace and a common citizen. However, Zhang approaches this Chinese legend with sensuousness, silence, and style, to deliver us with a visually epic film. While achieving this, Zhang also pays a tribute to the beautiful Chinese art of Ink painting.

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Some of the elements, scene blocking, and visuals in the film are oddly satisfying and stunning, even making up for the not-so-satisfying character arcs -the Chinese zither reverberating in the palace hall, the palace hall painted in ink with peace sermons becoming the centre stage for violent fights, a splash of blood painting the monochrome red, and of course, the umbrellas. I have always been fascinated with the way filmmakers have used umbrellas as a device in action sequences, for case in point, Kamal Hassan using one in Anbe Sivam and Rajinikanth using one in Kaala. However, never has anyone used the umbrella better than Zhang, all the sequences involving the umbrella need to be seen to be believed, the visuals are purely stunning. A special mention to action designer Dee Dee who makes some of the most violent duels in the film look like a visual treat to watch. If you’re at the festival to watch something you have never seen before, Shadows needs to be on your list.

Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Shoplifters

A family tied by blood always shares a strong bond. Kore-eda however, observes and shows us otherwise. When it comes to relationship dramas, Kore-eda is a master craftsman and we see his craft in top form here. This bittersweet slice of life drama unfolds like magic, you can never anticipate what the next scene holds.

After one of their shoplifting exercises, Osamu and his son come across a little girl in the freezing cold. At first reluctant to shelter the girl, Osamu’s wife agrees to take care of her after learning of the hardships she faces. Every scene involving Osamu’s wife or the little girl are beyond magic. Osamu’s wife played by Sakura Ando (From Love Exposure) gives a great performance, her eyes revealing all her emotions effortlessly, making us reflect and ponder upon her questions including the strongest one, “Isn’t the bond stronger when you choose your own family?”

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This film offers an immersive portrait of a dysfunctional family of shoplifters where everyday banter seem like dialogues out of a beautiful novel. These lines and relationships slowly start growing into puzzle pieces waiting to blow you over in the final act. Kore-eda’s brilliance lies in his deep understanding and empathy towards the characters and the various shades and secrets which they carry, and these shades unfold in such effortless manner that you will never realise when the stakes for the final act were doubled.

Jean-Luc Godard’s The Image Book

How does one write about a film from late peirod Godard? Is this film even accessible for people who haven’t studied Godard? Maybe not. Although, his intentions in the film are very clear; to use old footage and visuals and layer it with his political commentary, sprinkling it with an absurd musical treatment. The result is another idiosyncratic Godard film, meant only for his devotees. Although, I enjoyed a segment which was about train travel and had some wonderful images of random flowers which bloom on railroads, which of course was a larger statement. Watch it only if you want to read Godard’s mind.

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Harsh Desai

(WARNING: Watch the movie first. May spoil it for you if you don’t.)

It feels a little strange to call a film titled ‘Andhadhun’ pointedly self-aware. But then if a Sriram Raghavan film won’t kill and resurrect irony a thousand times, then what will?

Just when the Nanas, Bahls and Kavanaughs of the world had you ready to throw yourself in the nearest gutter and die, there comes something so innocuous – a thriller film that ends up giving you hope about life. There is still some goodness left in the world and it’s all stuffed inside Sriram Raghavan’s film.

Wait, hope did you say? In a film full of darkness, little innocence and no redemption? What hope did I find in this universe of dystopia that is so dystopic it doesn’t even take its own dangers seriously? Enough so that I don’t get pimples due to all the invisible tension, you know!

Andhadhun is good for health
It is like anaar juice. You know, rich and full of texture and body wala juice that is actually just clear liquid. You drink and feel you are in heaven but the minute its over it is over. But you still relish it for a long time, that richness and the memory of the texture of the richness. It’s local but exotic at the same time, sweet and sour at the same time and dry and wet at the same time. Anaar juice is also very good for the liver, no?

And apparently, so are rabbits, full of vitamins and minerals. The vitamins and minerals of this film go far beyond the sharply written plot spiralling out of control every five minutes. Or so it seems because it never goes out of hand. The film merely teeters on the edge; as mercurial as Tabu’s performance, as lucid as Radhika’s and as fluid as Ayushmann’s.

What keeps it from teetering off the edge is the phenomenal love for the medium on display, the self-assured craft and the Raghavan moral universe that plays hand in glove with immorality as smoothly as the images, sound, music, words, places, people and performances play with each other; all the worlds he seems to understand equally well.

Such ingenuity cannot come without a distinct love and understanding of the medium and it cannot come without the accompanying genius of your team. Without K.U. Mohanan’s intriguing camera work, Madhu Apsara’s equally trippy and cheeky sound design and Pooja Ladha Surti’s shrewd editing, the film would not have been half of what it is eventually, a sheer treat of music and magic.

Such ingenuity also cannot come without a stronghold on the moral core of the story. Raghavan’s films may all be stories steeped in an immoral universe with equally susceptible heroes, where goodness doesn’t necessarily always get rewarded and evil isn’t always punished. Yet, they operate within a very clear and basic framework of right and wrong that never loses its focus, even when gutted and laughing at its own self.

A completely plot-driven narrative from start to finish, one then almost imagines Raghavan playing similarly with his film. Turning his hero from blind to not blind to blind to we-don’t-even-know-anymore, with a tongue firmly tucked in the cheek. Chuckling away at the absolutely delicious conundrum a murder-gone-wrong can become. Shoot the piano player! Shoot! No, not yet! Shoot! Missed! Run! Hit! Fall! Gotcha! No? Wait…What?! I want a time plus brain machine that can go inside SR’s head and tell me how it was working when he was writing this whacko piece of sheer art.

When the hat tipped and tipped
The film saves its tribute card for Chhayageet and Chitrahaar, very aptly personified as fondly remembered, dearly loved people now no more, with dates et al. (Oh yes, sir, yes!) All the love for Bollywood then flows freely as the thriller merrily turns itself into a musical tribute to Hindi films and films in general; noir in particular – SR’s pet territory. And here comes in Truffaut’s delectable, ‘Shoot The Piano Player’, a film whose language SR borrows from so gracefully and meticulously that he outdoes Truffaut at his own game in creating a unique piece of cinema at once tragic and comic, classical and unconventional, silly and smart but with the distinct impression of a directorial sleight of hand that is playing with his material as consciously as the film seems un-self-conscious while having a lot of fun himself. This is the real tribute, and it is delectable.

The film almost starts similarly, taking the noir trope of a gun chase set-up happening in some other universe and immediately cutting to the universe of the film. The chased in Truffaut’s film is the protagonist’s brother, a semi-central character that turns the film on its head, the chased in Raghavan’s film is a rabbit, a non-character that turns the film on its head. That’s how whimsical is his craft. And delicious!

Kent Jones in his piece on Truffaut’s film says it is a film, “in which all of his assorted gifts and preoccupations are in play and meshed into a uniquely idiosyncratic whole. The film offers powerful evidence of his love of American cinema and literature… There is that wonderful speed, a pleasure in and of itself, that amounts to a kind of worldview—actions, objects, places, and sensations glimpsed and seized on, almost spontaneously forming a vivid afterimage in the mind’s eye. And his high-velocity storytelling is intimately tied to the feeling of impending mortality, the sense of every given moment in time coming and going, never to return. As for surprise, Shoot the Piano Player is about as unpredictable from one moment to the next as any film I know.” Was he speaking of Andhadhun and Sriram Raghavan?!

Perhaps, it is the play of contrasts in the film that lends it its unpredictability and richness. Yoking seriousness with hilarity at every turn, the tonal quality of the film becomes a universally mocking one and freely so. This delicious mockery is directed at everyone, everyone is in on the joke, except the characters. That’s why as Simi’s character unfolds we revel in the knowledge she can never be Nurse Radha – part 2. I am assuming it is a play on Waheeda Rehman’s character in ‘Khamoshi’ (1970), that genteel, heartbroken woman yearning to love again. Lady Macbeth, Lady Macbeth, we say (not only coz it’s the perfect Tabu, the original Lady Maqbool) but until Dr Swamy calls her so we realise she is far away from that too; Simi is absolutely guilt-free, completely soul-less. But then, with the exception of Sophie and Akash, this entire universe is completely soulless. Even Bandu, that see-it-all brat, who quickly enough becomes the audience’s ally in getting to the bottom of this mystery-within-mystery. Until the film takes another crazy spin at interval.

Whose lens is it anyway?
The blind hero who was not blind has now officially turned blind. What is this seeing and unseeing business? It’s a smooth trick of genius-giri. We, as audience begin the film watching Akash’s story first through the innocent, naïve eyes of Sophie, then as we are wisening up to the antics of the film-maker he shifts our POV to a smarter lens, that of a precocious, oversmart Bandu. Just when we think we have caught up with him here too, the proverbial rug is off from under our feet and we are in the deep, dank, dark. Just like our hero. From then on and just like him, we are fumbling in the dark too, with all the secrets hanging around for us to grasp and unravel. Till we are back to being the gullible Sophie again left to put the pieces together. And we do, until a crushed coke can hits a rabbit handled stick and knocks that part of our brain that tells us when we have been played. Check-mated sir, and glad to lose! And that is why I disagree with every review that says the second half is weaker and loses steam. The second half in fact, is as perfect as the first, maybe even better, puncturing perfectly, all the balls of contrast constantly in air.

These contrasts play out on all levels, much like all the cinematic elements in the film, sometimes simultaneously, sometimes one after the other in rapid succession, moulding and remoulding the film as it goes. The permanent warm tone sets up an idyllic, small-town Pune only to open up into the brutality at its borders. Dramatic, operatic music punctuates dramatic scenes as well as turns them comic, and in the scene where Simi and Manu clean the traces of their crime as Akash plays away – tragi-comic (and brilliant!). The sound cuts, diegetic yet full of imminent danger, keep the excitement tingling as the film keeps playing with our senses and feelings. After a point, the musical bit in this ‘musical-thriller’ transcends from the world of Akash’s piano and starts creeping under our skin as it starts underlining the unfolding darkness, tragedy and comedy. I don’t think Beethoven himself could have thought of a better cinematic use for his 5th symphony. Very cheeky, but the classic ‘Teri galiyon mein‘ is now redefined for generations to come. And since we are talking about music, welcome back Amit Trivedi and Jaideep Sahni, it had been a while.

As the film draws to an end, you suddenly become aware of the smile on your face, pasted there with Fevicol for the past 2.20 hrs. You realise you are feeling happy and hopeful. You also realise you wanted the film to go on and on. Especially, since the ending is still open, still incomplete. But then as Sophie says, ‘Kuchh cheezein adhoori honese hi toh poori hoti hain.’

You get up, humming aapse milkar accha laga, bahut accha laga. And walk out giving out a silent, invisible bow. Ekdum liver se.

Fatema Kagalwala


While we gawk over the intense trailer of Tumbbad that was dropped yesterday, there are rave reviews for the film from the largest genre specific film festival in the US, Fantastic Fest.


‘Tumbbad’ Review: A Striking Artistic Display of the Catastrophic Temptations of Fate
– Matt Donato on SlashFilm

Tumbbad bridges gaps between different worlds – India and any viewer’s homeland – through a common language: storytelling. Costumes and cityscapes may be unfamiliar, but Hastar’s terrifying chase sequences require no translation when it comes to horror appreciation. Mad creature-feature designs, Academy-worthy blends of color and pristine optical packaging, despicable character work meant to provoke heartlessness traded for materialistic grandiosity – Tumbbad is a full genre package seasoned with a pungent foreign kick. A welcoming breed of horror that transcends barrier, creeds, and beliefs.

Fantastic Fest 2018: TUMBBAD Review – Fantasy Folk Horror That Drips With Atmosphere – Jonathan Barkan on Dread Central

Never really a scary film, Tumbbad is more focused on the horror of human behavior than it is on creaking doors and the terror of what lurks in the dark.

Fantastic Fest Interview: Tumbbad Brings Horror to India – Adesh Prasad’s interview in The Austin Chronicle

Fantastic Fest 2018: Adesh Prasad and Jesper Kyd talk “Tumbbad” – co-writer and co-director, Adesh Prasad, and the film’s composer, Jesper Kyd, in an interview with Jackie Ruth in ShuffleOnline

Fantastic Fest 2018: ‘Tumbbad’ is a Feast of Mythology, Greed and Effective Horror – Trey Hilburn III on iHorror.com

It’s rare that something comes together as well as the trifecta of score, direction and scope does, but Tumbbad manages to create something really special, while making sure to keep things nice and horrifying along the way.

Apart from producer and actor Sohum Shah, the film also stars Jyoti Malshe, Dhundhiraj Prabhakar Jogalekar, Anita Date and Deepak Damle, and is releasing in India on October 12th.

Aanand L. Rai, Sohum Shah, and Anand Gandhi’s much awaited mythological thriller about a goddess who created the entire universe, Tumbbad opened the Venice Film Festival’s Critics’ Week and is generating a lot of buzz at Venice Film Festival.

So here’s all the buzz around the film at the fest.

– Baradwaj Rangan’s review on Film Companion here

– Hollywood Reporter’s review here

– Screen Daily’s review here

– Sohum Shah’s interview in Variety here

– Sohum Shah on the film in Quint here

– Jared Mobarak’s review on The Film Stage here

– Deloret Imnidia’s review on High on Films here

– Tommaso Tocci’s review on Ion Cinema here

– Bénédicte Prot’s review on on Cineuropa here

<It’s better that you go see it first and then come back and read it.>

Hospitals are usually extremely humbling places. I have been to some, quite a few times and every single time I have felt the fragility of life from up close. Hotels, on the other hand, are the exact opposite. Specially 5 star ones. October expertly navigates these two spaces. One filled with arrogance, opulence, mirth and joy and the other full of weirdly calming sounds of ventilators, ECGs and the constant humming of the ceiling tube-lights.

During the 1st year of our Engineering college annual fest, two of the hostel-mates went drunk-biking and drove into a divider. The luckier one survived with a fractured arm, while the other, who was riding pillion, a good looking 6 feet+ Delhi boy ended up with a cracked skull in a hospital. All of us went to see him. He lay on the bed unconscious, his head wrapped in white, blood splotched cotton bandages and his face bruised tender on one side. He was critical. He had to drop out because he wasn’t the same guy after surgery. He was hospitalized for a long time, lost most of his memory and went home to recover. We all forgot about it and went about our lives as usual. I remember it vividly because it was my first visit to the ICU and it was a surreal experience for an 18 year old me.

I saw the guy 2 years after that. He came back to re-enroll in 1st year. His father was holding his hand while walking him around the administrative buildings. He was limping with the help of a cane. His speech was slurred. Some of the guys went to say Hi, but he didn’t recognize them.

I remember seeing him like that and feeling strangely emotional. My eyes welled up a little. I had played cricket/volleyball with the guy. He was a proper hunk and to see him as a hollow shell of his former self made me sad.

I hadn’t thought of him since that day, until yesterday. October made me think of him. I was one of the side characters in his life like one of the many friends of Shiuli who visited her a few times in the hospital and then slowly moved on.

One of her friends, Dan, didn’t. He stuck around. Why? October doesn’t have a straightforward answer for you. As a film, it’s more interested in observing the glacial pace of life and healing and human bonds that form by accident but last a lifetime.

October 1

You hang on to something, only God knows for what reason. You find a purpose in it? Sukoon? It makes you feel good about yourself? Or you’re just delusional and making up shit that isn’t there. Maybe you are overcompensating for the lack of anything else meaningful in your life? ‘Dhun’, ‘Lagan’, ‘Deewanagi’, ‘Obsession’, call it whatever. You grab on to it tightly and hold it close to your chest, and you don’t pay attention to anything that tells you to do otherwise.

Job hai, family hai. Sab kuch chhod chaad ke thodi baith sakte hai. Practical hona padta hai yaar.

But Dan’s practical is different. His practical tells him to let go of sanity and embrace this cause because her last sentence was a question about him. “Ae, Where is Dan?”, said absolutely casually, with no hidden meaning or feelings. A totally casual inquiry that just happened to be the last thing she said before she met a life altering tragedy. But he somehow makes it his crucible to carry.

That kind of inexplicable madness is of course what drives artists, explorers, scientists, and people who really really give a fuck about what they do. But sometimes ordinary people like Danish Waliya fall prey to it. There is nothing to be achieved here, in materialistic terms. It’s not even spiritual per se. It just is. It took the controls from him when he wasn’t looking and now he can’t go back. He loses appetite, sleep, friends, routine and even a career. For a person he barely knew. But this cause has become his life’s mission. It’s a beautiful mess.

He isn’t her boyfriend. Not even one of the close friends. They were Hotel Management trainees at Radisson, Dwarka and sometimes worked the same room or hung out at the roof where Dan brought everyone stolen booze coz he’s an irritable class clown but also a sweetheart. He’s annoying & temperamental but also capable of befuddling kindness. He don’t suffer fools or snobs. So you know, life’s difficult for him.

Thankfully, October surrounds him with nice people whose own kindness allows them to see through his annoyance. Friends are so important.

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“She can’t survive. It’s highly unlikely. We should pull the plug. It’s too costly to keep her alive.”

He hears everything and he doesn’t get angry. There is no melodrama, emotional outburst, or an impassioned speech against euthanasia. The dexterity with which this film tiptoes around cliches is mesmerizing.

“She is just 21. I think she would have wanted to live.”

This is enough. Enough for her mother to clutch on and keep fighting for her barely conscious girl. He becomes a part of their life so effortlessly. The doctors, nurses, staff, Shiuli’s family, they all accept this stranger, with obvious initial reluctance. He finds a sort of relevance that we all crave for, in a place where hope springs eternal.

A friend of mine once told me that “Helping someone is inherently a very selfish act.” and I have found myself agreeing with it most of the times. The sleight of October is that it is skillfully oblivious of this selfishness, and so is Dan which is what makes him such an endearing character. Someone you would want to hug every time you see him. Varun Dhawan brings his A game here, not as a star, but as an actor.

Dan’s mother, in a beautiful scene between her and Shiuli’s mother Vidya, talks about the fear of losing ones kids once they grow up, hinting at Dan who hasn’t visited her even once in 10 months.

“Dan has been a pillar.”, Vidya (a perfectly cast Gitanjali Rao, an award winning animator and storyteller herself) informs her.

Dan was busy being the son of a single mother whose daughter may or may not have cared about him.

Vidya abruptly leaves the room and the camera linger a second too long on Dan’s mother and Shiuli as the scene changes.

This restrain in the writing and thoughtfulness in frames is magical and so unconventional for a Bollywood film (only ‘Court’ comes to mind), all thanks to the sensibilities of its writer Juhi Chaturvedi, who has matured into such a confident screenwriter over this trilogy of sorts of ‘Delhi Films’ (Vicky Donor, Piku). It also reminded me of this brilliant animated short Death of a Father, perhaps because a major chunk of it is set inside a hospital and it also refuses its audience a catharsis.

Delhi winter, with all its fog and smog and pollution, makes for a beautiful backdrop to this film that finds warmth in abundance in everyday moments. Be it a conversation between Dan and the Nurse (“Gift leke aana aap”), or between Dan and her friend who gives him 2500 rs for petrol (“Kitne chahiye? ” “Bas tank full ho jaaye.”) or when Shiuli’s siblings make fun of him or when he is the only one who remembers to get a wood-plank installed at the doorsteps because Shiuli will be on wheelchair when she comes back home (“Iske neeche baad me na cement lagwa denge“). It’s choke-full of such tender moments and just when you think that you can hold the water in your eyes, the exceptionally contained background score kicks in. This just might be Shantanu Moitra’s life’s best work, at par with this beautiful Leftovers theme that never fails to move me.

There is so much filth around us for the past week that I had kinda started giving up on humanity. Cynicism and bitterness are a constant when you are scrolling through your twitter/FB feed and seeing people spew hatred and garbage towards each other. In such a time, October was like a soul cleanse I so badly needed. You do too. Go for it, you will come out a better person, I promise you.

Avinash Verma

(Avinash‘ full time job is to watch films and in his free time he pretends to be a Digital Marketeer. He occasionally writes on Medium as well.)

LOVELESS

We as an urban global world have slowly found arrogant comfort and convenience in being lonely and loveless. I am certain that when the world will be dying, we will be busy waiting for a youtube video to buffer.

These were my first thoughts after coming out of the cold, edge of the seat, apocalyptic, eerie, and devastating piece called Loveless by Andrei Zvyagintsev (Leaviathan and The Return). This is a burning symphony on the spiritual disaster of a failed marriage as Andrei uses lifeless streetlights, streets, cold Tarkosky forests, and empty abandoned buildings to document the remains of a ruined marriage. Unlike most of the movies I have seen, the first time we see a couple arguing over who does not want to keep the child over the usual debate of who would love to take the custody. The couple going through the failed marriage along with modern Russia seem busy in loveless intimate acts, selfies, luxurious apartments, status, money, freedom and, sleep while their child goes missing from their house. As Nietzsche quotes, “They do not want to know the truth because the truth would break their illusions” The couple are forced to run around abandoned buildings, hospital beds, make phone-calls, reach out to neighbors, and deal with bureaucratic cops – and they do so with the zeal and enthusiasm of a dead octopus.

In one of the most heart-wrenching sequences of the film, the police, search party, and the father of the lost child are seen searching an eerily- in-ruin abandoned building in the middle of the forest which used to be the missing kid’s spot. The shots of this building by Andrei’s regular cinematographer Mikhail Krichman are metaphorical of the loveless state a disastrous marriage can take. Cannes Jury Prize winner Loveless is an essential film to watch. The film will has morose impacts on your mood – as Marcel Proust would put it “Happiness is beneficial for the body, but it is the grief that develops the powers of the mind.”

ASHWATTHAMA

We all have grown up listening to the stories about the warrior Ashwatthama still being alive, though, not as a result of being immortal but rather as curse given to him by Krishna. According to legend, Krishna was angry with Ashwatthama for killing Pandava’s sons. He decided to curse Ashwatthama to avenge the destruction of Pandava’s lineage – hence cursing him with an unending life of pain and suffering. Krishna cursed Ashwatthama with terrible leprosy that would haunt him for 3,000 years. Krishna further stated that Ashwatthama would not be helped by anyone or provided food or shelter.

Now imagine a young 9 year old Ishwaku, who is growing up on this story, and suddenly is burdened with equal pain as Aswatthama is in the legend. Francois Truffaut meets Satyajit Ray in Pushpendra Singh’s Ashwatthama – a surprise gem in the India Gold section of Mumbai Film Festival this year. Pushpendra Singh inter-cuts between the painful reality of the kid’s existence after the loss of his mother with folk songs, cultural narrative of Rajasthan and Madya Pradesh, Ishwaku’s dreams, imaginations, and search for Ashwatthama who is supposed to be living in abandoned ruins of the village. The myths, religion, and customs of the village shape devastating childhoods for the kids living here. The plight is shown with rich impact through an almost black and white lifeless atmosphere. Pushpendra Singh looks completely in control of this film as every shot of the film is rich and haunting aided by cinematographer Ravi Kiran Ayyagiri. A few rare moments of imagination of the kid explode with color on screen, bursting into the suppressed desires flowing with the mind of Ishwaku.

Although, the influence of the likes of Truffaut, Kiarostami, and Ray are evident; the film still is one of the most authentic, pure, rustic, and, genuine coming of age movies I have ever seen. The film is filled with melancholic nostalgia – especially if you have spent your childhood days loitering around in vast landscapes and nights spent imagining the stories from your family storytellers.

ZOO

“Death is not the greatest loss. Loss is what dies when you’re still alive”, said Tupac. Tupac and Notorious B.I.G.’s sour turned friendship is a severely heartbreaking tale for upcoming rappers. This tale has its fair share of influence on the underbelly of Mumbai slums.

Aspiring rappers from these slums, Prince Daniel and Yogesh Kurme are dreaming to become an epic rap duo like Tupac and Notorious B.I.G. However, Prince is also certain to not let their friendship turn sour like it happens in the former story. Little did they know that the landscape they are trying to survive in is filled with drugs. Messi played by Rahul Kumar (Millimeter from 3 Idiots) aspires to take over his elder brother’s drug empire inspite of having a potential career in football. Messi’s brother played by Shashank Arora is a drug seller who supplies ‘sugar’ to a city running deep on these white lines. This also includes Shweta Tripathi’s character who has not stepped out of house since months owing to a past incident. Her life is filled with PS4, online food deliveries, coffee, and delivery of sugar. The lives of all these characters somewhere or the other end up with drugs taking away the best of them.

However, in the process of showing this degradation due to drugs, Shlok Sharma gives us some really fresh scenes like Shashank’s character playing a dumb waiter at a coffee shop, Prince and Yogesh singing probably the most hilariously obscene rap lyrics ever witnessed in an Indian film, or Messi doing a Robert De Niro like mirror scene. The rotting drug filled contemporary Mumbai underbelly has been captured with complete accuracy by Shlok Sharma in this film completely shot on an Iphone. The narrative of Zoo fills much more complete than it did in Vasan Bala’s Peddlers. Having disliked Haramkhor, Shlok Sharma’s Zoo was a pleasant surprise for me.

MACHINES

Rahul Jain’s Machines aims to empathise us with the sub humane working conditions in textile factories of Gujarat, India. It raises the same old questions of wages, standard of living and, the work life balance which is absolutely missing in the lives of the workers documented. However, Machines is shot in a meditative fashion, allowing some of the shots of the Machines to make you really wonder who the slaves are – Machines or Men themselves?

The cinematography of the film is breathing with sweat, chemicals, dirt, and life in these factories. These breathing shots allow you to experience life in these windowless rooms. Men bathe, eat, work, and live around chemicals as if they are living out of a suitcase in Tokyo. In one of the most subtle yet painful shots, a man is seen entertaining himself by resting his feet on a machine which is in full throttle action, the vibrations of the machine are music to his tired musceles which are being massaged in the process.

Rahul Jain succeeds in creating an immersion point for the viewers through sight, sound, and smell through shots of the nightmarishly sludgy company rolled around in profits while their workers survive on peanuts. The 70 minute film is a visual treat which raises no new questions but still immerses is in the textile toil of carried by the workers. The final scene of this movie is a stunning blow where a group of workers surround the camera and start asking the intentions of the film being made. The sound design on the film is commendable as a musical treatment comes together through the various noises of the factory creating an invigorating track of sorts which leaves you thinking.

NOTHINGWOOD

“ No Hollywood, No Bollywood, We are Nothingwood; we have no money and no resources. Qayamat is here (end of the world) but my Ishq-e-cinema (love for cinema) is forever. “

Father of 14 kids in the worn torn Afghanistan; Salim Shaheen is the prince of Afghanistan’s film industry where cinema itself has been banned by the Taliban. Sonia Kronlund documents the extravagant and tour de force director Salim Shaheen while he is shooting his 111th movie which is an autobiographical affair on his own transition from being and Army General to being the Badshah of Afghan Cinema. Salim Shaheen and his crew’s energy is as infectious as a film crew finishing their student project. The passion of Salim Shaheen for films over bullets reeks out of all the statements, songs, visuals, which are beautiful woven together in this documentary.

In one of the most job dropping yet hilarious scenes, a chicken is sacrificed on the sets of the film to showcase spilled blood in his new film. This scene is a testimony to the love and passion for cinema which is harboured by Salim and his team. With almost no resources and funds, Salim has been making films since decades. A huge fan of Bollywood actors Dharmendra and Manoj Kumar, Salim started by making lip sync videos by singing to the famous Indian songs. Today, his movies are seen by people across the sides of Taliban and Police.

This film is an ode to film makers, a love letter for people who are so wildly passionate for cinema that they can do nothing else with their lives. A retired army general turned filmmaker Salim shows us that passion is all you need for making a movie, rest is and always will be upto the destiny. This film will leave you cheering in the end for Salim’s relentlessl and infectious energy.

– Harsh Desai
(Tweets: @iamharshdesai
Senior Partner, Lowfundwala Productions http://www.lowfundwala.com)


S. Durga

Sexy Durga or S. Durga as it is now known to be in censor obsessed India. This is a psychedelic thriller, a documentary, a dark trippy film, a social commentary on state of women and goddesses in India. It tries to be so much that it ends up being nothing but a claustrophobic watch. The start of the film itself throws us on to a terrorising ritual practised in Kerala to offer respect to Goddess Durga. This gruesome ceremony is unsettling, discomforting, and very difficult to sit through. However, I am sure there are viewers for this real life gore too. Because these scenes however horrifying they maybe are shot with class, dedication and, with a passion to tell a story which is already said but still needs to be told again and again.

However, there is some very clever use of camera and street lights which makes the film watchable in parts. The best scenes in the film are scenes where the goons are trying to misbehave with a couple trying to elope in a omni van turned into a death metal psychedelic lounge with make shift lights and indie grunge music. This trippy Maruti Omni would put to shame the mystery machine in scooby dooby doo. The film has a story worth exploring regarding Kerala’s patriarchal society. Although, Kerala also happens to be the most literate state in India.

Besides the trippy van, horrifying opening scene, fantastic score; the film is also a hallmark of the hopeless nihilistic world we are trying to live in. It is a testimony to the fact that we are all perpetrators of cruelty towards woman. We are all stuck in lope just like the couple in the film who keep going back to the van inspite of trying to run away from the same.

Relang Road

“Weed is a plant and not a drug, I am Garden and not a criminal”

I have no idea why I have started with this quote. However, this is one of the quotes which is scribbled on a bus stop in a scene from Ralang Road. The quote, although interesting sets up a dark undertone which is waiting to explode in this atmospheric cross between Lynch’s style and Edgar Allan Poe’s cold poetry.
The thicker the blanket, the colder the surprises underneath it. The dense, thick fog reverberating in the opening shots of Takapa’s Sikkim is like an ice cold blanket which seems tranquil to look at
but hides the darkest of the secrets. The opening shots are hazy -almost confused me between the streetlight and the moon. The blanket in this film is full of how poetry, beer, weed, and candy crush
have pervasively influenced the landscape of an otherwise small town -nature resists consumerism in all forms. Beneath the blanket lies, a new in town math teacher who seems look a total misfit in the film (which actually works well in the favour of the character), kids wanting to even scores with the math teacher, a man wanting to commit a murder for a bag, and a vengeful woman. This sets multiple layers to the movie which strips itself scene by scene creating a ticking time bomb which is waiting to explode as the paths of the central characters cross each other.
The director succeeds in creating an original atmosphere with clever selection of visuals and composition in the film. A scene where people are packed into a jeep like cattle could have been shot in many interesting ways, however Takapa focusses on the eerie silence in the nature through the front view mirror of the car when the car is attempting its best to trash the forest peace. The scene also has one of the best claustrophobic conversations of the film whereby a person keeps convincing the central math teacher’s character to arrange his daughter’s admission in the school in exchange of pure Sikkim cow’s milk. In another scene, the math teacher gets into a fight with the barber while a small kid is busy enjoying his facial in the background. These scenes although very general and mundane, explode with eccentrically tense results for the audience. Sikkim definitely is no longer a touristy space for me after watching Ralang Road.
The clever use in the film of masked kidnappers, folklore grandma, trippy streetlights, drunk men, lottery addicted men, and even a cat are never your first thoughts about a small town film.
However, Takapa decides to take our judgements, turn them upside down, and fry them over a pan. In return, Takapa presents us with an unknown force or feeling from nature in this small Sikkim town which seems to resisting or getting far too comfortable with the new changes in the demographics and culture of the milieu- I am a nature’s baby and I felt somewhere so responsible to see how and what we have done to nature and the ecosystem of Sikkim. I am not sure whether this is what the film intended to address but I was moved to chills by experiencing the change in the ecosystem represented so casually in this film which absolutely works in favour of the film.

Ralang Road is one of the better films to have come out of independent circuit in India handling a fine balance between humour and acute coldness of a atmospheric thriller intact.

– Harsh Desai

(Tweets @iamharshdesai, Senior Partner, Lowfundwala Productions www.lowfundwala.com)