Archive for the ‘Malayalam’ Category

Great news coming from the ongoing International Film Festival Rotterdam. Sanal Kumar Sasidharan’s film Sexy Durga has won the top award (Hivos Tiger Award) at the main competition section of the fest.

The Hivos Tiger Award is the festival’s flagship competition. This year, eight new films competed for the coveted Hivos Tiger Competition award, which is accompanied by a €40.000 cash prize. The jury admired the film Sexy Durga : “For its daring and resourceful approach in creating a mood of constant tension, providing an insight into multi-layered power dynamics of gender, class and authority.”

Trailer

Official Synopsis

Goddess or whore? Two extreme views of women intermingle in this largely improvised spine-chiller. During a nocturnal ride, a young woman and her lover encounter a cross-section of Indian male society. What starts out as an attempt to escape descends into a journey through hell – from which no escape is possible.

This ominous road movie about two lovers on the run is interspersed with footage of a Hindu festival in the southern Indian province of Kerala. Men dance ecstatically, walk across red-hot coals and push metal skewers through their faces. Some are hauled into the air on metal hooks stuck through the skin of their backs and thighs, dangling above the crowd like the mythical eagle Garuda. All in honour of Kali, embodiment of the rage of the mother goddess, Durga. Her likeness – four arms bearing her weapons and a severed head – is carried through the village in procession.

Durga is also the name of a young woman trying in the dead of night to take a train to a far-off destination with her lover, Kabeer. First they have to reach the station, for which they depend on the kindness of strangers. But the help offered to them quickly takes on dubious forms; the police are too involved in their own business and the isolation of the night completes the oppressive atmosphere.

Sanal Kumar Sasidharan made his previous feature film, An Off-Day Game, without a script; for Sexy Durga he even dispensed with a pre-set narrative. Here, he investigates how obsessiveness and worship can quickly degenerate in a patriarchal society into a mentality of oppression and abuse of power.

Director

After completing studies in Zoology and Law, Sanal Kumar Sasidharan (1977, India) started work as a lawyer. As a film fanatic, he used his network to found Kazhcha Film Forum, a crowdfunding platform for the production of independent films. This provided a financial basis to make his own films. Kumar Sasidharan’s short and feature films have received many awards in international film festivals.

Filmography

Wonder World (2001, short), Parole (2008, short), Frog (2012, short), Oraalppokkam/Six Feet Height (2014), Ozhivudivasathe Kali/An Off-Day Game (2015), Sexy Durga (2017)

 

STEVE-LOPEZ-1

“The crucial thing is to find a truth which is truth for me, to find the idea for which I am willing to live and die” Søren Kierkegaard

I begin with Kierkegaard because Rajeev Ravi begins with Camus. “Every act of rebellion expresses a nostalgia for innocence”, his title slate declares. But before that we get a hint about the road the film might take from the title, ‘Njan Steve Lopez.’ I am Steve Lopez.

Steve Lopez is your regular, middle-class, Malayali college-going youngster of Trivandrum, used to singing songs of innocence. Angst and truth do not bother him, he not escaping nor seeking either. His angst limits itself to communicating his love for his childhood crush Anjali (Ahaana Krishna) and displaying mild abrasiveness to his aged grandfather. Anjali returns his affections and the grandfather isn’t a much of a threat yet Steve finds life boring, a mark of a mind seeking something more, finding it in temporary erotic pleasure by peeping at neighbourhood women from his bathroom window and then, well, moving on. As Camus said in The Plague, “The truth is that everyone is bored, and devotes himself to cultivating habits.” Back to boredeom.

Minutes into the film we realise Steve is an onlooker, a spectator of life as it passes by. He doesn’t seem too keen on engaging with it but he does seem to be nursing a placid wish to understand it, even if it is from the fringes. Farhaan Faasil’s big clear eyes and soft looks reflect a certain innocence as did Fahaad Faasil in Rajeev’s debut, ‘Annayum Rasoolum’, help him incredibly in this task. Son of a DYSP who is also a protective father, Steve, by the looks of it seems to fall in that category of dreamy youth who, wasting away, remain lost in their own self-doubts. Hanging onto the fringes of life they keep drifting, out of touch within and without.

But Steve springs to life one day, when a random accident involving a daylight murder leaves a man bleeding to death in front of him. He rushes the man to the hospital only to be admonished by his father later. Clearly, there is a gangwar on and he doesn’t wish his son to be involved in it. Steve doesn’t see the logic but takes his father’s reprimands silently. As though he is trying to understand this part of life as well.

However, Steve decides to punctuate his silences with uncomfortable questions revolving around the culprit Hari. Questions his father and his subordinate do not wish to entertain. Questions that won’t let Steve be in peace. Gnawed by the need to know, he sets out on his own search for tenuous truth. He could just as well have been Sisyphus. Intuitively then, Ravi weaves the web of humanism across all the characters of the film, binding Steve and Hari together with one simple device, both their lady-loves are called Anjali. Hari is nothing like Steve but to Steve, Hari and he don’t seem much different. With this leit motif of the name, it’s almost like Ravi is nudging us to look closer at our own selves, and around; at others whose essence we share…

Njan Steve Lopez must probably be the simplest and least dramatic tale of existential angst ever told. Of course, it is sentimental using music, slow-motion, poetry at is evocative best. But in the sum of it, it is the internal world of Steve that it urges us to explore, a world that isn’t dramatised by form or style, simply reflected in his persona. A world built for us through a linear narrative, one that is as simple and straightforward as the milieu it belongs to, a mileu Ravi knows as well as he does his protagonist. Steve is quite a template character for the theme – sober, moody, innocent, aloof, reserved and prone to pathos. Yet, Rajeev Ravi paints him intuitively, almost seeming to know the next flick of his hair or twitch of an eye before it will happen. And because Ravi seems to know him so well Farhaan portrays him with more sincerity than sheer talent. And this sincerity is spread across the canvas, across the various actors fresh and experienced. Performances are given to a certain amateurishness and direction seems to be a little raw, something that one did not see a glimpse of in Ravi’s refreshing debut, ‘Annayum Rasoolum’, a Mani Rathnam-ish love story of common people busy loving each other the very common way, who find themselves caught in the web of ganglords and crime. However, Njan Steve Lopez is a more personal story, individuated by the search of this young man for truth and his inevitable coming-of-age. It’s a loaded theme, told subtly, even ponderously, something like Udaan what did, and that precisely draws us in, the deceptive simplicity. There is less deftness of skill but more depth of thought, there is less brilliance of craft but more heart and that is heartening for those whom linearity doesn’t appear as simple-minded. Unfortunately, the sensitivity of Steve’s search and the gentle, even motherly manner with which the film looks at him isn’t nurtured into a fully-formed film to give us something we may call satisfying cinema because of a certain hesitation in direction and performances that tags along throughout. There are times when the sincerity and good intentions alone aren’t enough.

Yet, the film appeals due to its personal nature and maybe that is due to the authenticity of the milieu Ravi creates. The middle class Malayalis of Trivandrum that the film is populated with, with their earthy ambitions and homely habits, cloistered morals and systemic conformation. People who have the ringtone of their phone set to the song in which their beloved’s name appears. People who admonish but take care of each other. People who seem very very real. (However, some of my Malayali friends from the region have bemoaned the fact of unripe accents of the actors mar the authenticity of the film.) Going by his two films, Rajeev Ravi, the film-maker, seems to be drawn to small, individual stories that is punctuated by an ethos and operate in a specific socio-politico-economic environment. Like in ‘Annayum Rasoolum’, he is happy speaking of and to a niche audience one that he knows very well. And maybe, because of this very choice Steve’s dilemmas are more palpable to us than they would have been in a universalised, sterile, lowest common denominator type of palette we are used to. Small town stories, regional stories, stories of India’s very common people, if we won’t tell them who will?

How one acts is, from the ethical perspective, more important than any matter of fact, truth is to be found in subjectivity rather than objectivity.” Kierkegaard’s subjective truth becomes Steve’s and in a metafictive universe seems like it is Rajeev’s own aim too.

Fatema Kagalwala

(To read more posts by Fatema, her blog is here)

The film has got a multi-city release with English subtitles.

STEVE-LOPEZ-1

Well known cinematographer Rajeev Ravi has been quietly directing Malyalam films. After Annayum Rasoolam, he is ready with another film – Njan Steve Lopez (I am Steve Lopez). And the good news is the film is releasing on 15th August in various cities (Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Bangalore, Chennai, Mysore, Pune, Ahmedabad, Kolkata and many more) with English subtitles.

Rajeev won the National award for the cinematography of Liar’s Dice which is directed by his wife Geetu Mohandas. He is known for his work in films like Dev D, Gangs Of Wasseypur 1 & 2 and has also shot the upcoming Bombay Velvet.

Njan Steve Lopez is a Collective Phase One presentation with a Jar Pictures production in association with M.R. Filmworks and Media Mill. E4 Entertainment, the national distributor of the film has Fox on board as the sub- distributor for certain regions outside Kerala.

Trailer 

Synopsis

The film is set in capital city of the south Indian state of Kerala. Steve Lopez, a typical teenager is the son of an influential police officer. He leads an unruffled life, dominated by a relationship with Anjali, daughter of another police officer.

Steve happens to witness a fight between two rival gangs. He is involved in taking a fatally injured man to the hospital. This events leads him gradually into the lives of the gangsters who have nothing extraordinary in their lives except their acts of crime. Hari, the gang leader is captured by his father with his help, but he disappears from the police custody with no news. Steve is obsessed with the fate of Hari. In his quest to find what happened to Hari, he gradually comes to realise that the gangsters and the police including his father, are two faces of the same coin. There is an intricate web of interrelationships, bargains, trust and breach of trust between them. Steve’s quick glimpse of this network is enough to unsettle him. His fate too is sealed once he touches this web.

Thanks to Bejoy Nambiar, we managed to catch Lijo Jose Pellissery’s Amen at a special screening in Mumbai. If you haven’t seen it yet, do watch it. ‘Great fun’ is the only way to describe this gem. Rarely is ‘fun’ attached with Godly stuff. But this one is a madcap ride, a strange collage of things which rarely come together so well.

Here’s a small recco post on the film by Amit Sharma – on the elements that made Amen such a great joyride.

643980_416614311763753_997719716_nWhy should you watch this Malayalam comedy, err, divine comedy?

To see the beautiful Kerala countryside, a village called Kumaramkary, the backwaters – colourful and idyllic in the day, and dark, lonely, mystical in the night. Eye-gasm in short.

Because it’s all around a Church and a toddy-shop, the former with its brooding, ominous, built-300-years-ago-and-may-fall-down-by-spring air, where the Reverend and sexton hatch their evil plots, and the latter with its regular haunt of drunk band-members asking for more pork and beef, and lamenting over their failures in music competitions. A strange mix.

For the totally over-the-top unapologetic humour, crafted as if the writers had no other concern in the world. Even the overlay text says things like ‘long ago in some random year xyz’. The wacky humour never leaves us, even zigzagging through the love story between the spunky Sosanna (Swathi Reddy) and the meek and unsure-of-himself Solomon (Fahadh Faasil). Girl bashing up goons with vessels, Solomon’s father’s spirit making sudden appearances in smoke-filled rooms complete with two winged angels, there’s no full stop in this crazy ride.

For the antics of the sexton Ousepp, and the menacing Reverend Father Ottapplakkan.

For Sosanna, who looks beautiful & enticing, and the scenes where Solomon serenades her with his clarinet below her window is stuff right out of Romeo & Juliet.

For Prashant Pillai’s fantastic music: the peppy title track, the mellifluous love song, the energetic clarinet duels, and the background score, all of it adding that much more to the film.

Because the film is also about a unique village band, which is on its way down after the tragic death of its star performer, and has lost all competitions ever since. You haven’t seen such a desi band story on screen.

Add to all this a music-loving young junior rockstar Reverend Vattolli, played by Indrajith, who decides to support all that is good, and oppose all that is bad in the village, and brings the band back to its glory by helping Solomon conquer his inner fears, and Bombay’s very own Makarand Deshpande, playing Chevalier Pothachan (don’t miss his hilarious entry) as the opponent in the final contest, and you’ve got an entertainer which is long, but doesn’t seem to be, and manages to make you laugh, and connects you with its emotions and music all the same.

In terms of the basic story idea and elements, there’s surely some similarity between Amen and Guca!, but the local flavours are so distinct that it completely stands out on its own.

Do watch.