Archive for the ‘movie reviews’ Category

The World of Shutu

It’s always difficult to write about a film when it comes back home with you as a very palpable emotion. The conflict is between whether to talk about the film (like a semi-review, talking about the great crew and cast, plot, motifs etc.) or the memories & insights it triggered. Since it’s a quick & short piece written in the middle of a very tight schedule, mainly to excite the reader enough to go and watch the film, I will stay somewhere in between – a bit clumsy but functional.

We all have been Shutu at some point of time in our lives. I know I have been, for many years. Bullied, ridiculed, misunderstood, misfit and still trying to smile lest I should be seen as ‘sissy’. Fitting into this world of men is a constant struggle for men even. It’s a game whose rules we laid on our own and still laid them so tough that now we are having a hard time catching up. Why did we do this to ourselves? Why we continue to do this – trying to check items off a laundry list to pretend that we have grown up (from a male perspective only)? Why do we want to grow up? Due to social pressure or survival mechanism – like preys turning into predator?

Konkona Sen Sharma’s directorial debut A Death In The Gunj takes one to such places – beautiful and uncomfortable – places where innocent nostalgia meets the darkest memories. Set in 1979, it’s about a Bengali family with a severe Raj-era hangover on a quaint holiday in Bihar’s (now Jharkhand’s) McCluskieganj – a place with an equally severe Raj-era hangover. The family has many people and egos, a bunch of well-adjusted, seemingly non-threatening abnormals. And the family has Shutu (Vikrant Massey in a role of a lifetime) – the younger brother broadly seen as a silent-introvert type. The constant clash between the two worlds – one inhabited by the family with its bikes & muttons & drinks & pranks & love-games, and another in which Shutu sits by the window sketching frogs in an old diary – scrapes the paints off both of them. The delicate locking mechanism that had kept them together starts wearing off and the moment of truth, or whatever the grown-up version of that is, comes closer and closer.

The only bridge between the two worlds is Shutu’s teenaged niece Tani – already bored of the games adults play & constantly fascinated by Shutu’s scientific-poetic lonely view of the world. It’s not a coincidence that the bridge is a female ‘cos this is a film deeply aware of its gender politics (and at a couple of places, class politics too). Men behave like boys-behaving-like-men, women behave like women-seen-through-men’s-eyes, as two conflicted souls (Shutu and Tani) clutch at straws while drowning in the waters of such rigid definitions.

As a fat teenaged kid in the 90s, I loved watching cricket and I wasn’t bad at playing it too but nobody would select me in the team. My fatness and my academic bent (the tag of “padhaaku”) were a liability nobody was willing to carry. Even if selected in the team (the last to be picked), I’d not get a chance to bat or bowl. So I’d put all my efforts into fielding well. I’d kill myself to get that throw from the boundary right.

But still, just to show I am cool with this treatment, I would offer to play the umpire. That way, I’d get to be on the field at least, get to hold the ball at the end of every over (just for a few seconds before I toss it to the next bowler), and be treated with respect by both the teams. I’d apply myself to the task & be the most unbiased, observant umpire. Sometimes, I’d get to play a few balls or bowl an over – and I believe that became possible only because of the bridges I made as an umpire. But in the process, I lost something precious too. I lost my courage to openly cry in public. I lost my feminine side, or at least suppressed it for the longest time, to fit into this world of men.

And that’s why, when in one scene Shutu is the last to be picked for a game of kabaddi, his state of mind was so relatable that I felt like crying. I did not, yet again.

Varun Grover

*********************

For those looking for a quick list of reasons to watch (and watch you MUST):

  1. Konkona Sen Sharma’s assured, sensitive debut as a Director. Ace!
  2. Konkona Sen Sharma’s screenplay co-written with Disha Rindani (based on a short story by Mukul Sharma) is full of delightful dialogue & an eerie sense of impending doom.
  3. Rich texture and detailing. Made on a small budget but NEVER looks like it. Sirsha Ray (DOP) and Sidhharth Sirohi (Production Design) bring their A-game to the table.
  4. McCluskieganj’s wild charm has been captured so ethereally that you can smell the air, touch the greenery.
  5. The film has four languages (English, Hindi, Bangla, and Chhota Nagpuri) and all spoken with a natural effortlessness rare to find in Indian cinema.
  6. The brilliant original score and music by Sagar Desai (disclosure: I worked with him in ‘Ankhon Dekhi’) elevates and layers the film with great precision.
  7. One of the best ensemble casts in recent memory – Ranvir Shorey, Kalki  Koechlin, Tilottama Shome, Gulshan Devaiah, Jim Sarbh, Arya Sharma, Tanuja, and Om Puri (one of his last roles and what a delight he is!).
  8. Such well-etched and distinct characters – right from Ranvir Shorey’s Vikram to Kalki’s Mimi to Tilottama’s Bonnie to Gulshan Devaiah’s Nandu – constantly chattering, surprising and layering the film with their brilliant mannerisms.
  9. Vikrant Massey got the kind of role actors crave for and he hits it out of the park. Shutu is beautiful and heartbreaking.
  10. Every department has delivered and the best thing is – the sum is way greater than the parts. Do not miss this film.

Amit Masurkar’s new film Newton had its world premiere at the ongoing Berlin International Film Festival. Here’s all the buzz about the film from the fest.

(click on any of the pic to start the slide show)

Finding humour in the tenuous nature of democracy might be a hard task on the global stage at present; however, in Newton’s darkly comic exploration of one official’s attempt to uphold the election process in India, it’s simpler than it sounds. The second film from writer/director Amit V Masurkar bows in Berlinale’s Forum section with a sense of chaos and absurdity, while remaining aware of the drama of reality. When the feature emphasises either extreme, it proves engaging viewing.

–  From Screen Daily’s review. Click here to read the full review.

– Rajeev Masand’s video-blog on the film –

 

Newton is a very important film, despite its satirical tones, laced with a lot of humour and irony. It is a film that should make viewers think about how important their right to cast a vote is.

– from Aseem Chhabra’s report on the film. Click here to read the full report

Newton is a brave attempt. Because it uses the feature film format to tell a story about on-going violence and exploitation and cynical political aggrandisement : anytime you hear the words Naxal, or Maoist in a film, it falls into the tried and tested formula. Newton breaks that mould, refreshes hardened tropes, and makes us smile and think. Really hard. Because what effects India Interior today will one day ripple over and claw its way into our complacent urban, mall-infested enclaves.

– from Indian Express. Click here to read the full report.

– Some tweets on the film:

(pics taken from Twitter)

We are bit late on this, but here it is – our recco post on Damien Chazelle’s new film, La La Land. It’s written by Percy H Bharucha.

la-la-land

La La Land is a movie devoted to a single word – ache.

The ache of Nostalgia.
The ache of a city like L.A.
The ache of dreams unfulfilled.
The ache of lost musicals and movies.
The ache of love lost.
The ache of what could have been.
And the ache of time spent apart.

As a child I used to watch musicals with my grandfather. My introduction to Hollywood was An American In Paris, Singing In The Rain, Easter Parade, Hello Dolly. Those were my first movies and I loved them dearly. As I grew up, so did Hollywood. Things got complicated for all of us and I yearned for a movie so simple, so removed from reality, that it wouldn’t want me to return from it.

La La Land brings back that ache for all of us. It brings with it a refusal to detach from its world. It is astonishing to watch a movie where the failures of the characters seem yours. The viewer takes that emotional burden upon himself just as I did. I rooted for them to fail, yes I did. Just to embrace the feeling it would bring. To feel through them.

There have been movies of recent that have relied on catering to a sense of wonder whether through visual aesthetics or intellectual curiosity, but La La Land is different. It holds itself to a different pedestal, though shot beautifully, it holds itself to the standards of emotion. Few movies have had such an impact on me. It has brought my pen out of hibernation This article is driven by personal catharsis, as much as it is, about this movie being an influence. I write this, as words tear themselves eager to be set on paper.

La La Land reflects a choice every one of us has had to make at least once in life. The choice between love, between relationships we share with ourselves and our dreams. I am glad, for once, there is a movie that prioritises dreams over love, the self over the other. Too many movies are tied to the illusion of the characters walking away with it all. La La Land is fierce enough to show its wounds, our wounds, the costs we pay to be at peace with ourselves.

Which brings me to the last part of the movie, the ache of what could have been, that’s reflected in the alternate flashback between the couple when she walks into his bar. It brings with it the realisation, of the characters being fully aware of their own losses, the pain they’ve endured and so is the viewer too, aware of what he has given up. No one is spared the pain of knowing the ideal, the best case scenario and yet the brilliance of this movie lies in how willingly I, the viewer, could embrace that pain, the burden and the ache the characters bring with them, as my own.

Like a wounded bird we nurse that emotion only because it’s been a long time since any of us felt this strongly about anything at all and even the emotion of absolute loss is better than feeling nothing at all.

La La Land offers an escape from the dark abyss of emotional numbness, it makes us ache in places we didn’t know were capable of expressing emotion. And the final proof of its own success is that a film that reminds us of these aches, becomes an ache by itself. La La Land makes us ache, and departure from the movie is no less painful than the character’s departure from each other.

I wish there was more heartbreak to be felt.

Percy Bharucha

(The author is a Young India Fellow, and has been writing since he discovered he couldn’t draw. He has a full time job in advertising and hopes to keep it that way. He has been previously published in eFiction and eFiction India, Asia Lit, Reading Hour, Gratis and The Madras Mag. He infrequently tweets @Sab_Bakwaas_Hai)

ae-dil-hai-mushkil-lyrics-title-song

SPOILER ALERT

First let me make it clear, Ae Dil Hai Mushkil (ADHM) is about love not unrequited love. But I don’t want to talk about ADHM the film, as much as I want to talk about love. Not relationships, just love.

Just like Karan Johar (and many of us), defining love has been a pet preoccupation most of my life too. Having seen around me disastrous outcomes of the passionate / possessive kind of love and its long-term damage, I grew up wanting to avoid those kind of experiences. Passionate romantic relationships would leave you wrecked and changed for life – was the message etched in my head. Until I turned 21 and dutifully took charge, to define love once and for all.

Just like our man Karan Johar, I quipped in an epiphany, ‘Love is friendship!’

You see, I had just met the love of my life, the man I wanted to have children with and grow old with but neither our bond nor relationship fitted into the YRF model (any other model was either too outdated or too modern) and it was important to me that I define. Imtiaz Ali had not debuted then, otherwise he may have helped. Left to my own wits, I decided that the best and most enduring expression of love is friendship. And that is the best form for your romantic relationship to take, keeps the politics of love from infecting its beauty. Because the butterflies-in-the-stomach, sleepless nights, restless ardour and passionate sex kind of romance is mere gender role-play, political, skin-deep and temporary while long-lasting relationships are made of soul connect, on the basis of an equal companionship. My understanding of the emotional complexity of relationships and love then was limited to these polarities. The many faces of love were mere ‘types’ for me.

There was a gap of a good 15 years between me naming my chapter of love and watching Ae Dil Hain Mushkil. My Mughl-e-Azam level romance was behind me for good and whereas it did leave me wrecked and changed for life while I was at it, it wasn’t the passion or possession of love that did it. Rather, as I came to see, to some extent, it was a lack of it. Love as friendship was the culprit. That left me flummoxed. But not surprised.

There was something very familiar in the story I was not telling myself. The story behind the story of why I had forced love into the mould of friendship when I wanted more and different. I had faced it but with Alizeh I faced it again. I was Alizeh, without the experience, but with the knowledge of how deeply love can scar, hence friendship was the safest and best form of love. I was Alizeh who has fully filmy dreams but didn’t really believe they would ever come true while she really wanted them to. I was Alizeh who has felt so vulnerable in love that putting on a don’t-care-a-damn attitude is the best defense, the best way to protect herself from it again. I was Alizeh who believes only friendship lasts because she has seen love crumble in front of her eyes. Her helplessness at the altar of love, at once scared and wise was mine. So in fear, I scrambled to firmly place love in the safe universe of friendship. The only difference was, she did it after her first heartbreak, I did it before, to avoid one. She found her home and I was lost. But the fear of pain that spawned it was the same.

And it this very fear of pain Alizeh overcomes when she lets her last dream be fulfilled. She allows love back into her life but with the wisdom of experience. ‘I friend you’ she says to Ayan’s helpless ‘I love you’, telling him she accepts his love and wants to love him back just that her favourite form of expression is different. And Ayan accepts, not because she is dying and he is desperate, but out of a largesse that naturally comes out of deep passion. Suddenly, love becomes formless even though both remain adamant on its form. Because it is within Alizeh’s choice to return and Ayan’s acceptance of her as is, that lies the real expression of love, formless and boundless. It no longer matters what they say, their actions have spoken.

That is why, even though she is dying in the film, for me, she wins. And so does Ayan, even though he doesn’t seem to get what he wanted. Because love wins. They may not have had their love fulfilled in the way they wanted but they had their love returned. To be requited, love just needs love, itself, not form. It’s when we get lost in the form we miss seeing the love that is happy being outside. To me, the film’s end signified a fresh start to Ayan and Alizeh’s quest for exploring a different form of love, this time together and with more wisdom. Time would tell if they would find a meeting ground or conclusions, but in their acceptance of each other’s love was the acknowledgment of its formlessness. To my mind, her “I friend you’ didn’t seem like a stubborn quibble but simply a reiteration of not having to define love at all. Let’s keep it as undefined as a friendship is, and let it blossom. And take it from there, she seems to be saying.

But what had turned Alizeh off in the first place? It was the neediness of love, the soul-scorching neediness of love and not its heady passion that she had experienced. She had seen its destructive face, not its procreative desire. Maybe she mistook both but love wasn’t a happy place for her to be in anymore. And so for Saba. But for Ayan, this very attachment is the Holy Grail he was seeking. His heart has passed the flower pot test. And so has Tahir Khan’s. But Ayan is still struggling under the weight while Tahir wears it with pride, not as a badge of honour, but as something life-affirming because it keeps him connected to the one he loves even without her presence in his life. I have my love, if not her…he says, and we are back to the formlessness of love, one that doesn’t seek possession, one that doesn’t need validation by the others’, it is valid in itself by its own presence.

Among the four, we are left feeling that it is only Saba who remains unfulfilled. Is it because that she unknowingly craved again for the same form of love she had left behind? The small interaction with her ex-husband shows she has not forgiven or forgotten yet. That is why she is steering clear of love, it can only be no strings attached especially emotional ones coz the earlier form did not quite work. Just like Alizeh, she too is still yearning and it is this that draws her to Ayan but she doesn’t know that until later. And when she does, she sees she has been seduced by love in the same form again. She wants to give in but cannot see the same light in his eyes. Letting Ayan go seems the rightest thing to do to her. If Ayan has already given away his love to someone else does she have a right to ask for it? She moves away with dignity. Despite clinging to a particular form of love she unfetters her love from its demands without knowing. No longer possessive, her love protects them both as much as it hurts. She goes back to her home, poetry. A more sublime form of the expression of love? Does she really remain unfulfilled? Is love letting go?

I wish Saba’s character had been given more attention and screen-time for very selfish reasons. If the girl in me related to the awkward young girl in Alizeh, the woman in me empathised with the poised middle-aged woman in Saba. I was Saba, too fearful to give love a chance again. I was Saba, fooling herself she is strong when it was just a façade. I was Saba, with wounds still raw, inviting more wounds pretending she is trying to heal them, almost as a punishment. I was Saba whose pain had a certain stillness about it, it did not roar and burn. I was Saba who has now found letting go is as easy as getting attached used to be.

Her meeting with Alizeh in Ayan’s presence was one of the sequences in the film that seemed to be dealt with quite an intuitive hand, in writing, performance, and direction. There is a hierarchy, ever-so-subtle, where age and looks play a significant part but no politics. The girl in Saba (which Ayan’s attentions has stirred, him being younger) recognises the girl in Alizeh and the older and wiser woman inside her responds, she is not only graceful she is gracious too. Alizeh’s awe and awkwardness in front of Saba’s self-assured poise is not only a reflection of her own discomfort with her femininity (and hence love too, to an extent) but also the girl yet to acquire the wisdom of womanhood, looking at what she would like to grow up to be after a couple of years. Or something so unattainable she never hoped to attain it anyways. The scene lays bare everyone’s insecurities and strengths without needing to politicise them.

If the girl inside Saba hurts to see Ayan loving someone else the way she wants him to love her, the woman in her knows letting go is the wisest thing to do. Love will find a way, KJo said in one of his earlier (and lesser) films.

As is inherent in the human condition, there is a constant tussle between the possessive and transcendental aspects of love, aspects most films aspire to portray but fail at evoking. ADHM does not pretend to, caught as it is, despite its best efforts, in the limitations of its emotional language and landscape. But it does pit these aspects against each other fairly well. If love as passion (junoon) is transcendental for Tahir, for Saba it is possessive. If love as friendship is transcendental for Alizeh, for Ayan it is immaterial. He craves transcendence through possession.

Yet, in the end, it is Ayan who takes the biggest leap of faith in the film, out of sheer love; he simply cannot help it. In doing so, he opens a window within to a love that does not seek to possess, love that liberates. It is not difficult to imagine him, few years down the line, wearing it with pride, this new-found joy in the junoon of love, like Tahir does. It’s like he amalgamates everyone’s journeys, even though it is they who spur him on to his. His emotional journey is Alizeh, Saba and Tahir’s catharsis, bringing together four people happy to fly solo in love. I loved him for being helplessly passionate showing me its ok to believe in the junoon of love, that’s a form of expression too. But I loved him more for being the very vulnerable boy he was, almost saying is there any other way to love really?

What seems so brave in the film is the atypicality of the portrayal of love. It does not pretend to be grandiose, or lofty (like KANK) it’s rather earnest, the unabashed love for Bollywood adding an almost unconscious subtext of Bollywood romantic models to the film. It’s like we know what these kids have grown up on, setting the context of their influences, behaviour and beliefs, in a certain sense too. And in a wider sense encompassing all those film lovers and filmy lovers who brought up on Bollywood too, make films and love what it is – friendship, passion, commitment, relationship or plain confusion.

And probably that is why, inspite of myself, I was Alizeh, Saba, Ayan and Tahir, separately and all at once. I didn’t understand them, I just recognised them in me, struggling between having love and being it. And like all of them beginning to realise love is not a goal to be met, it is a state of mind and if Rumi were asked, ‘state of the soul’. And isn’t there something about non-separation there?

Love is coming home, whichever route you choose to take.

Fatema Kagalwala

And we have come to the second last day of the Mumbai Film Festival. Here’s quick wrap of all the films that we managed to catch.

If you are looking for our previous posts on reccos and reviews from Mumbai Film Festival, our Day 1 wrap is here, Day 2 is here, Day 3 is here, for Day 4 click here, and Day 5 is here.

For our notes on Movie Mela, click here. And click here to read about Cary Fukunaga session.

Nakom

The reason why I love attending film festivals is I get to see and learn about other cultures and countries. Kelly Daniela Norris and T. W. Pittman’s “Nakom” took me to a hidden rural town in Ghana and made me a part of their daily struggles. A simple story, on the lines of “Swades”, this is a very personal and sincere film. Story about going back to ones’ roots has been explored time and again but here, the filmmakers treat it in a very unassuming and simple manner. Truly an indie film with grainy night footage, non-actors performing to the best of their abilities, these flaws only add to the narrative to tell a very personal story about being torn between two worlds. Just wish the protagonist wasn’t so righteous and had some flaws in him. Nevertheless a gorgeous to look at with some great music. Here’s hoping this film gets a wide release so people can explore this side of Ghana. “Nakom” is probably a film that Ghana desperately needs.

Trapped

After the underwhelming “Lootera”, Vikramaditya Motwane has made one hell of a survival thriller in “Trapped”. What I loved the most was that it’s set in a metro like Mumbai where anything you can think of is available. Be it food, friends, enemies, dirty, crowd, empty nights and yet Shaurya (Rajkumar Rao) has nothing! Juxtaposing this mad city with the emptiness of a brand new flat was just a masterstroke. You can see the busy city, hear the noise but a call for help is useless! “Trapped” is also technically the strongest Hindi film this year. Motwane smartly uses aspect ratio to draw you into trapped environment and goes 2.35:1 during some really epic dream sequences. Everything here is just right, not more, not less and that’s the power of editing! Without a strong edit, a thriller is nothing. Too add to the awesomeness is the mind blowing score by Alokananda Dasgupta. Terrific stuff!

Mihir @mihirbdesai

My Life as a Courgette

Icares is sent to an orphanage after he accidentally kills his mother in an unfortunate yet hilarious accident. He meets a bunch of other orphans there and after some initial hospitality, he develops a bond with them, especially with Simon, the resident bully. Camille enters the scene after a few days and Courgette falls for her.
This gorgeously rendered stop motion Mary & Max-ish feel wali French language film is Swiss official entry for the 89th Academy awards. I’m so glad I ended my day with this after starting it with the eerie Hounds of Love. Had a huge grin on my face throughout the 65 minutes of this absolute cuteness overload.

– Avinash @filmworm85

Multiple Maniacs

On the surface, Multiple Maniacs is about Lady Divine and her motley crew, luring unsuspecting suburban folks to her show ‘The Cavalcade of Perversion’, the catch being the audience will have never seen something so ‘nasty’, so ‘filthy’. The show consists of acts such as ‘puke eater’, ‘faggots’ kissing and alike. At the end of the show, the unsuspecting audience is looted off their money and belongings on gunpoint.

Scratch a layer deeper, the film is about John Waters luring sweet suburban folks (yes, even us Mumbaikars) in to his own version of ‘Cavalcade of Perversion’. The film is like looking in to a mirror but only seeing a more grotesque version of your staring back. The film is truly twisted at its core. All institutions of our current day society such as education, family etc. are torn in to thither, but none as much as ‘Religion’. If you are even remotely religious, stay away from this, you have been warned. But if in case you have a thick skin, you are in for a bizarre treat which hasn’t aged a single day in the 46 years since it first released. Mr. John Waters, you have attention as well as our curiosity! P.S. Multiple Maniacs will be screened on Day 7 of at La Reve, Bandra. Do catch if possible.

– Aditya @TheRadiowala

Death In Sarajevo 

Danis Tanovic’s new film is an Altmanesque satire, a drama of ideas until it isn’t. Cash strapped and desperate, a hotel prepares to host a function commemorating the hundredth anniversary of the first World War while its meagre staff readies for a strike, while at the same time tensions flare between a Serb and a Bosnian woman interviewing him on the rooftop. The hotel becomes a fascinating backdrop for exploring worker rights and capitalism while Tanovic brilliantly uses the rooftop sequence to depict the dissonance between humanity and politics as the two warring parties display a subtle sexual chemistry. A prerequisite knowledge of European history, specifically of the Slavic countries, is recommended.

The Untamed

I didn’t watch Mexican filmmaker Amat Escalante’s Heli at last year’s MAMI but I heard people berating it while riding the elevator up to the screens, an old bearded man ranted about how it had gone too far. I never got around to watching it but a viewing of Untamed has all but ensured that I’ll seek it out.

It’s a bizarre lo-fi sci-fi domestic drama about a mother of two and her husband who is in an abusive affair with her gay brother. The science fiction elements mostly take a backseat to the human drama but when it’s there, it’s deliciously done, calling to mind Andrzej Zuwalski’s Possession, with its creature design and erotica. There’s some allusions to the misogyny and homophobia in Mexican society but I’ve little context for it. On some level, I’m in love with the film, but I’m not entirely sure why. It’s definitely not a film for everyone.

– Anubhav @psemophile

 

Trapped

This MAMI has been a bit of a disappointment in terms of the new works by revered and trusted directors. A lot of great filmmakers produced average to even abysmal works. Somehow, despite that, I hadn’t lost even an iota of excitement for Trapped, because Motwane has my unshakable faith.

Trapped is a very simple survival drama, simple as survival dramas go. I’ll divulge as few details as I can, since even a trailer has not come out and I do not know what can be a potential spoiler to you. The film boils down to this – a man gets trapped in his own apartment, due to his own carelessness and actions performed in desperation. He has to survive, and find a way out. This isn’t any apartment, it’s an apartment in an unoccupied building. The whys aren’t something I’ll get into, suffice it to say that nothing seemed contrived. The writing felt utterly grounded, the protagonist utterly relatable.

The greatest thing that the movie does is that by virtue of it being set in Bombay, it taps into a contradictory claustrophobia that all of us who’ve lived here have felt at some point of time. You’re just one person in a sea of people, and despite the sheer population and closeness with which we live, it can be the most daunting task to be heard, to be seen, to be found. Along with that, the film deals with a lot other fears that you or I may have while living in this city. The shut out balconies. Animals. The blind trust that everything will work as planned. In the end, and this is the truth which we all need to know, when the shit hits the fan, we have only ourselves to rely on to clean it all up.

The film is not at all lengthy, the pacing is solid, the editing practically flawless. Few moments feel ripe with tension, not just in terms of “what the fuck is going to go wrong next?” but also in terms of “oh my God what is this guy going to do next?”. If you’ve seen enough movies, you’ll start trying to predict all sorts of scenarios, and Trapped sometimes lands where the predictions land, sometimes it does not, but regardless of either case, it does not feel stupid or watered down one bit. You truly feel the basic survival instinct kick in, and the battle between surviving and already set fears. Forgive me for speaking in such abstract terms, any more specifics could ruin the film for you. I enjoyed it as much as I did because I knew NOTHING about it. The thing about survival dramas is that it’s set in such a confined space and it’s got such little space, it’s easy to lose track or momentum. Tedious flashbacks, slacking of pace, repetitive tropes, all of those are pitfalls which Motwane and team effortlessly and continuously avoid. There are parts where the humour isn’t obvious, but you laugh inside. And even more effortlessly, the story eases us back into the scenario of tension. There were quite a few instances where my balls were in my mouth, pardon me for the lack of a better euphemism. Anything said about this film CANNOT be complete without mentioning the hero of the hour and a half, Rajkumar Rao. The man has proven himself time and again, but I firmly believe that he has outdone himself. Have you ever screamed yourself hoarse? You know what your voice sounds like after that. This man has actually acted that out. You see a rabid survival instinct in his eyes develop gradually as the film progresses. In the sequences preceding the entrapment, you see the awkwardness, introversion, infatuation and pure love. And then you see the most basic human nature take over. It takes an immensely skilled actor to bring all of that into one character, and this film would’ve fallen like an unstable jenga tower had it not been for Rajkumar Rao’s acting.

I believe this film would not have been the way it is had it been set in any other city. This is a story of a man surviving in Bombay. In a hunger and thirst induced stupor, he hallucinates about how joyful it would feel to travel in a sweaty, crowded local train compartment again, how joyful it would feel to argue with a BEST bus conductor again, to jump into the sea at Chowpatti beach. The barricaded balconies, the “jugaad” that we are used to seeing and doing, everything forms an integral part of the story, or character, or both. Motwane made a coming of age film that was a masterpiece. Then he adapted an O Henry story and made it into a period drama. Now, he’s made a survival story that’s stripped bare, and yet, its not devoid of magic. That’s Motwane for you, and that’s Trapped for you. Trapped is right up there with Red Turtle for me as the best that MAMI has to offer this year.

Light Music

An experimental “Experience” of sorts, involving two 16mm projectors, to showcase the way sound is used in celluloid. This one was a half an hour long experience for the curious, for the die hard cinema lover. Seeing a 16mm projector in the flesh is beautiful, to say the least, but the best part about the whole thing was that the two projectors were kept opposing each other, one in each end of the cinema hall, and with the fog effects, the rays of the projectors felt like they were having some sort of a magical duel. Or maybe I’m just indulging myself here. The images projected were that of the soundtrack part of the celluloid. We were supposed to hear, as well as see, what the sound aspect of a film is, or was. However, after maybe 10 minutes, I got bored so I stepped out.

When Two Worlds Collide

A documentary about the battle between an indigenous community and the government for the Amazon, the atrocities that can and are committed in the name of “progress”, and the price some people are willing to pay for the greater good. It is a harrowing tale, no doubt. And it is ever relevant, as whatever be the struggle, the core of it is the same everywhere – standing up for what’s right. However, this documentary had some strong pacing issues in the start. By the time it picked up the pace, I’d lost interest (in the film, not the subject), so it wouldn’t be fair if I said anything more.

Achyuth Sankar

 (Pics – Varun Grover/Jio MAMI)

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It’s down to last 2 days of the festival. If you are looking for our previous posts on reccos and reviews from Mumbai Film Festival, our Day 1 wrap is here, Day 2 is here, Day 3 is here, and for Day 4 click here.

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Endless Poetry

This was my first theatrical Alejandro Jodorowsky experience and I was blown away! Easily the best film I saw on Day 5 and one of the best of the fest. Jodorowsky makes an autobiographical film which is a lot more than just striking visuals. A satire of sorts, he narrates his story about growing up and comments on the political, cultural pressures of Chile. Jodorowsky does it his way, through OTT performances, set pieces, make up and twisted humour. This is not just for hardcore Jodorowsky fans but for everyone! His most accessible and relatable film to date. Think Udaan meets Boyhood directed by the master Jodorowsky. Operatic and poetic in its execution, the visual design is unlike anything I have seen in recent times. In-camera set changes, high contrast images, musical quirks. A delight to watch! Now please make “DUNE” soon, Alejandrito! 

Mihir @mihirbdesai

Kaagaz Ki Kashti

Have you seen Pancham. Yes? Okay, then take RD Burman out and put Jagjit Singh in the same template and you have Kaagaz Ki Kashti and that’s perhaps the only fault of it, if you wanna nitpick. If you haven’t seen Pancham, even better. Director Brahmanand Singh weaves this legend’s biography from interviews, excerpts, old clips & sepia tinted pictures, nostalgia inducing trivia and feel your throat choking and eyes moistening.

Pancham worked big time for me. I loved the man and I loved the way Mr B told his story. Just like RD, I’ve grown up listening to Jagjit Saab, I mean all of us have. Even if you’re not a fan, you couldn’t have missed his songs playing in Hostel Daaru parties. Just listening to his silken sensous voice in a Dolby digital surround sound system (for the first time in my life) is worth it.

On top of that, this one gives you a window into this man’s jovial personality even though he made a career out of singing sad Ghazals. How he rejuvenated the ghazal scene, how he gave it a new language, how he took Ghazals to an average Indian household. How the loss of his son broke him and how he bounced back. It shows you the human Jagjit hidden behind the Maestro Jagjit.

It perhaps may not be an extraordinaryly path-breaking film, but the subject matter itself is so fascinating and exuberant that you can’t not be floored by it. It took me to a place I hadn’t visited since a long time. Just like the man’s singing, this one touched me in ways very personal.

It’s gonna get a PVR release soon, as told by the director in the post Q&A session. Don’t miss it.

– Avinash @filmworm85

 Sand Storm

Director Elite Zexer’s mother, a stills photographer asked Zexer to join her when she began photographing Bedouin women from various villages in the Israeli Negev desert. This adventure led to encounters with incredible women and spurred years of writing, which culminated in Sand Storm. Set in Southern Israel, it gives us an authentic picture of  life in a Bedouin village replete with its contact with modernity. It opens with the 18-year-old Layla driving the family’s truck under the supervision of her father, far from the remote village. As they near the hamlet, they switch seats. Zexer accurately captures the cultural specifics of the place  like the sex-segregated wedding function, Jalila baking bread on top of an oven and the collision of tradition with modernity. It is these details that tell the story and effectively ‘show more than tell’ . You would still wish that the story was also more revelatory. You would wish that it plumbed the depths allowing us to invest more in the mother-daughter dynamic.

Jalila is hosting the marriage of her husband to a second, much younger wife. As she tries to conceal her inner turmoil, she discovers her daughter Layla’s forbidden affair with a boy.

The revolt of the women in the film is quiet yet resolute. Lammis Amar conveys this self-assured feistiness with her doe eyes. At the heart of it, Sand Storm tells the story of a mother and a daughter, how they adopt each other’s perspectives and despite the fire within, lose their personal battles. Though Zexer is a new cinematic voice to watch out for with the emotionally rife scene design, the subtlety of the film leaves you wanting more from what could have been a story of turbulent interpersonal relationships.

Dipti @kuhukuro

The Untamed

I didn’t watch Mexican filmmaker Amat Escalante’s Heli at last year’s MAMI but I heard people berating it while riding the elevator up to the screens, an old bearded man ranted about how it had gone too far. I never got around to watching it but a viewing of Untamed has all but ensured that I’ll seek it out.
It’s a bizarre lo-fi sci-fi domestic drama about a mother of two and her husband who is in an abusive affair with her gay brother. The science fiction elements mostly take a backseat to the human drama but when it’s there, it’s deliciously done, calling to mind Andrzej Zuwalski’s Possession, with its creature design and erotica. There’s some allusions to the misogyny and homophobia in Mexican society but I’ve little context for it. On some level, I’m in love with the film, but I’m not entirely sure why. It’s definitely not a film for everyone.

Endless Poetry

Filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky’s latest film is probably his least impressive. All his films are indulgent and do not adhere to any set rules of cinema. Rather, they are drawn from his years and varied career as a poet, mime, magician, mystic, actor, writer and graphic novelist. Jodorowsky is such a unique artist that to see his flagrant indulgence in any form is always a pleasure. I do not exaggerate when I say that every frame in his films are crammed to the gills with metaphor and symbolism. While all this can be overwhelming, Jodorowsky always manages to eke out a common beauty, a transcendent whole that makes it all work. Endless Poetry picks up right after Dance of Reality, continuing the proposed five movie long autobiography of the director. While Dance was about Jodorowsky’s early years and his father’s hate for Pinochet, this one concerns itself with his later teenage years which yields middling results. It just doesn’t work here. Christopher Doyle’s cinematography exists as a sharp contrast to what usually is the beautiful tackiness of Jodorowsky’s art design and is quite an ill fit. Jodorowsky’s son Adan plays him in the film but he pales in comparison to Jeremiah Herkowitz in the first film, and pales, especially, in comparison to his father, Alejandro, in the few scenes he shares with him. What is particularly off putting is the total lack of humility Jodorowsky exhibits, with the film constantly proclaiming how great a poet the filmmaker is.

This might make an interesting watch for the Jodorowsky virgin and fans will watch nonetheless. The next film in the series will follow Jodorowsky to France, in a more interesting time in his life, and perhaps to a better film.

– Anubhav @psemophile

Apprentice

Apprentice could very well have been a Gulzar or a Manto short story (resisting the pun here involving director’s name — Boo). It is about the emotionally conflicting choices one has to make in dire situations. But it is more personal than political. It is an after-crime story. What happens with their family after someone has committed a crime and has even been punished for it. Does the punishment stop with the perpetrator? It is an after-effects tale where the tale has turned but the cycle goes on. A former soldier has newly joined as a guard in a state prison. He is hiding something about his lost father and then he finds a father-figure in the prison’s executioner. The plot is so predictable that you know right from the beginning what the last shot of the film will be. But it doesn’t matter. You wait to see that. It’s about “how” more than “what”. Engrossing dramatic build-ups, searing emotional tension… everything photographed effectively by Benoit Soler who also shot Singapore’s Oscar entry of 2013,  Anthony Chen’s brilliant Ilo Ilo. Chen and now Junfeng are the two young filmmakers from Singapore to watch out for.

Anup @thePuccaCritic

Ahamaq

What separates Mani Kaul’s films from other Indian parallel cinema exponents is the visual eye. Kaul’s flair for rhythm, mood and images, and the meandering nature of his drama made him a very significant filmmaker at par with the world cinema auteurs.

I knew what to expect of Ahamaq, adapted from Dostoevsky’s ‘The Idiot’, and also the context of films by FTII passouts of the time. In a way, this film is a cinematography achievement. But Kaul’s disregard for performances and drama hurts Ahamaq, mostly because of the length of this feature. There’s only so much unwanted, dated poetic surrealism you can take. I’ll still recommend you to go this and figure this out for yourself. Anup Singh (‘Qissa’) co-wrote and was also the 1st AD on the film. I feel, Kaul would have made a great 21st century filmmaker.

(PS – Before SRK laughed that laugh in Darr, he did it in Ahamaq. In abundance. Mani Kaul was a visionary, in more ways than one)

Bhaskar @bolnabey

Staying Vertical (Dir: Alain Guiraudie)

Crazy doesn’t even begin to describe this film. Haven’t seen many other head-fuck films at MAMI this year (Wailing, Wild, Untamed though did see the brilliant Endless Poetry and The Lure) but STAYING VERTICAL was one of the most rewarding festival experiences yet for me. It’s a film that makes you work – to try and decode the allegories at play. Though the initial hour feels like a template art-house deep but frustrating experience but as soon as you get the key to the metaphors, it turns into a darkly humorous take on *won’t spoil what*.

Fun fact: The film has a lot of dick-shots and with every such shot, at least 3 people walked out of the screening. I figured that different people have different tolerance levels on the number of dicks they can see in a film. Some were like – “2 dekh liye, ab teesra nahin dekh sakte.” Respect

वरुण @varungrover 

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4 days down, 3 more to go. So this post is about all the films that we saw on Day 4 of the Mumbai Film Festival. If you are looking for reccos and reviews, our Day 1 wrap is here, Day 2 is here, and Day 3 is here.

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Hounds Of Love

Ben Young’s debut feature HOUNDS OF LOVE, about a couple that kidnaps and kills wayward teenagers together meet their match when one victim recognizes the fracture between them, is one of the greatest genre films I’ve seen this year. The film plays out like a relentlessly thrilling version of Fede Alvarez’s Don’t Breathe, with the setpieces substituted for drama, depicting a very textbook situation of domestic abuse and gaslighting. The framing is gorgeous throughout coupled with some truly inspired music choices and there’s some magnificent acting by Emma Booth and Stephen Curry as the serial killer couple.
I think the meagre similarities it has with Don’t Breathe is the reason the producers haven’t been marketing it much, but it is an absolutely stellar thriller and Ben Young has announced himself as a talent for us genre fans to keep tabs on. Must watch.

The Similars

I went into this Mexican film by Izaac Ezban completely blind, knowing nothing about it except for it being science fiction. A loving Twilight Zone, 70’s B Horror homage, the film plays it straight for the first forty or so minutes before a completely bonkers twist changes everything. This film has basically a single visual gag, probably conceived by the director while he was high, and milks it to death. But it mostly works every time they play it simply because of how absolutely bonkers it is. The script is absolutely wacko, but oh so clever. It has a beautiful internal logic that always makes sure you’re involved and always keeps you guessing. Highly recommended for scifi and horror geeks.

– Anubhav @psemophile

The Untamed

Twisted, trippy, hypnotic and an absolutely insane experience. “Heli” director, Amat Escalante backs a strong, suspenseful family drama with an alien invasion twist. A very smartly written story about a dysfunctional family and how they get further destroyed after a comet attack. Unlike his previous film, which was an extremely graphic representation of the Mexican drug war, here Escalante keeps his style very simple. The writing here is very strong and at no point do the visuals over power the story. With a basic approach like, lock-off frames, subtle and almost desaturated colours, minimal yet very ambient score Escalante manages to keep us on the edge throughout. A twist at every stage, constant change of dynamics between characters prepares you for the big reveal. A new kind of horror!

Barakah Meets Barakah

A rom-com from Saudi Arabia that may not be a new story for us but if one looks at it contextually, the filmmakers have pushed the envelope to make a statement about censorship and freedom of choice. For example, there are pixelation jokes which turns real when you realise a lot of it was not done for the film but that’s how advertising is over there and that’s a big part of the narrative. Director Mahmoud Sabbagh keeps the tone consistent which makes this film easy to watch. Right from the first slate, he is constantly making a statement but in a comedic way. “Barakah Meets Barakah” is a breezy, satirical rom-com that should be the last film you watch at MAMI to gear you up for “Ae Dil Hai Mushkil”.

Mihir @mihirbdesai

I Called Him Morgan (Kasper Collin, 92 mins)

If you read more about Lee Morgan – a famous Jazz trumpeter who was shot dead by his wife when he was only 33 – you might get a completely different picture from what this documentary paints. Somewhat shaken by the film – which is a bit too long by at least 20 minutes – I delved a bit deeper into his life. One of the most popular long reads about the case is subtitled: “Lee Morgan’s young life was stopped short by a toxic romance with a woman who saved him, then shot him dead.” If, however, you watch this movie, you’ll come away with a conflicted, yet sympathetic view of Helen Morgan, Lee’s wife who shot him in a moment of madness on a harsh winter night in New York. (It was snowing so badly that the ambulance could get to him only after an hour.) If you love jazz, this film not only paints a fine picture of the life of young Lee Morgan — famous so quickly, and then gone so soon — but also of “Black classical music”. But most of all, this documentary works because it serves to re-steer the narrative in a kinder, more complex direction than that of the “bitch” who killed the most famous trumpeter of the century.

The Salesman (Asghar Farhadi, 125 mins)

Let me begin by saying that The Salesman has the most misleading IMDb summary ever. Second, the presence of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman in the background is a mere contrivance that finds reflections in the lives of the protagonists. Ultimately, I found the movie to be about troubling and complex moral questions that have no clear answers: the ‘duty’ of a husband in ‘being a man’ and avenging an assault on his wife vs the wife’s agency in wishing to forget it or forgive the assaulter; the uncomfortable undertones that suggest the woman has fared worse than is being admitted; how to deal with an unlikely assaulter who seems to have little agency of his own. As in Farhadi movies, the woman is not a pawns or bystander, but a plot-mover. The movie somewhat falls prey to its director’s reputation — as well as to the presence of actors who have worked with Farhadi in the past. Unlike what you might hear from many fest-goers, it isn’t actually a bad film — or even a weak one. In fact, if you haven’t watched a Farhadi film before, or have watched only a couple of his best-known ones (I am one of those), this film manages to lend many moments of quiet musing.

Shubhodeep @diaporesis

Elle

Paul Verhoeven’s Elle is a fucked up fantasy thriller of a raped women looking for revenge. Michèle is the CEO of a leading video game company, who is raped in her house by an unknown assailant, whom she tracks down and they are both drawn into a curious and thrilling game.  It is a courageous character study of a woman who refuses to be a victim. In our extremely misogynist society, a sexually assaulted woman is alienated; emotionally, mentally and physically. Verhoeven takes all such retrogressive ideas, puts them in a bag and throws them out of the viewer’s reach. He subverts stereotypical behaviour of a raped person and instead puts the women in command to avenge the attack against all manipulative forces. This is that rare progressive film where the character treats rape as an accident. No izzat, aabroo bullshit. Where have we seen a woman pleasuring herself a few days after being assaulted. Silently and with a lot of inner strength, Elle made me feel powerful.

– Shazia @shazarch

Rape revenge comedy – the phrase may sound incongruous but in the hands of an able director, all things discordant find a  coherence. This is the case with Paul Verhoeven’s new film, Elle. Bold and bizzare, the humour only elevates the film. Verhoeven delights in unsettling the audience. You will find yourself laughing throughout and then uncomfortably questioning your beliefs/assumptions about assault/rape victims amongst many others.  Something as serious as the act of rape that we see at the onset slips into the background but we see its implications like that elephant in the room. The indestructible Michelle makes for a terrific character study – psychotherapists would have a field day deconstructing her. Isabelle Humpert delivers an electrifying performance. Not an easy watch, it is difficult to embrace its ironies. You might take a while to truly process if Elle is an empowering film. One line will stay with you for long, ‘Shame isn’t a strong enough emotion to stop us doing anything at all’.

Dipti @kuhukuro

The Unknown Girl

One word to sum this film up is “disappointing”. The Dardenne brothers are known for their dialogue heavy, slow moving character dramas that work so well because of the emotional tension flowing right from the start. The premise of this film is extremely intriguing and ripe with potential – a doctor goes around looking for the identity of a Jane Doe who died so that she can give her a burial and notify her family. Why was it disappointing? The extremely slow pace, the lack of tension. The intrigue was there, but the urgency, the sheer need that propels a character to do what she does, that barely came across. I found myself struggling to stay awake.

Hounds of Love

An Australian film about a serial killer couple whose MO was to pick up one girl at a time, a girl who’s walking alone in the streets, and then kidnap her, torture her and dump her body. The film does have predictable tropes, that of emotional abuse, that of a dominating man and a submissive woman. The plot is straightforward, and if you’ve seen enough films, you’ll see the ending coming. What you won’t see coming is the way the story is told, from its excellent framing to its brilliant use of slow motion, and most of all, its even more brilliant use of music in pivotal and spine chilling moments. Bolstered by brilliant performances all round, this film is an example of fine horror filmmaking.

Elle

Paul Verhoeven’s return to prime form, the less said about this film, the better. It is as mindfuck as mindfuck gets, with the main character herself voicing our thoughts, “This is twisted, isn’t it?”. Twisted doesn’t even begin to cover it. If I mention anything about the plot, it’ll just take the surprise away, because there are so many of those sprinkled throughout the film. Isabelle Huppert shines through and through as the titular character, and while this film deals with the topic of rape, I doubt whether any film has dealt with the topic the way this film has. This film spins a whole new definition of “twisted”, and it does so effortlessly. Fine filmmaking indeed.

Achyuth Sankar

Lost in Paris

A cute little slapstick, the kind that are rarely seen at festivals. Fiona travels from Canada to meet her aunt Martha in Paris but loses her luggage in a freak photography accident. How she finds (or doesn’t find) Martha, is the rest of the simplistic film about. Charlie Chaplinesque and vaudevillian, some of the gags are excellent and the overall good-natured love story is a heart candy.

The Salesman

Farhadi saab is back with another domestic thriller but this time the results are mostly middling. Or are we too used to his style by now and expect more surprises now? In any case, the depth of his last 4-5 films was missing from this one, in spite of his lead performers giving God-level output yet again.

Neruda

Pablo Larrain is in the middle of a fucking wide purple-tinted patch of his artistic vision and NERUDA has the gene-code of all the daring such patches bring. Shot on digital (the only grouse), about a state cop chasing the ‘commie’ poet in Chile, the film evolves into a strange beast of its own – a mix of poetry, novel, memoir, and alternate history. The poet and his ideals stand in stark grey zone, while the half moron, half idiot cop becomes the idealistic centre of the story as it proceeds. Imagine Narcos minus drugs plus poetry, and written by Marquez. Absolute, emphatic win.

वरुण @varungrover 

I Called Him Morgan

About the life and times of the Martin Luther King of hard bop- Lee Morgan, his relationship with his wife Helen and eventual death, this docu should’ve been a 20 min film, instead of the 90 min affair it was. There’s just not enough material. I’d rather this had been a doc about the Jazz music, or as they like to call it “Black classical music”, of the era.

The Similars

This campy, laugh out loud funny, ajeeb sin city-esque horror sci fi is a great film, and you don’t need to know anything else about it. There’s one more show of the film on 5 day. Watch!

Hounds of Love

Nobody makes genre films and then puts a spin to it, like the Koreans and the Autralians. Ben Young’s Hounds of Love one such distressing drama that is brilliantly made. Subverting the usual nihilist tale, by focussing on domestic abuse in relationships and treating its characters, good or bad, with uncanny empathy is what makes Young’s film stand out. Brilliant cinematography and soundtrack, stunning film.

Bhaskar @bolnabey

417 Miles

Mumblecore about two friends meeting each other after college — one went on to make films, other pursued his US dream. Plot points come in expository manner; they talk about things just for the sake of talking in a mumblecore film — not asking for profoundness but there’s nothing much to hold on. Few scenes are thought well (on paper) and the road trip takes you to quite serene locations but it is shot like a film school project. Low-budget issues, I know, but should that be the reason to give a leeway? Only if the film had scored in the content department…  And, oh, there’s also a tribute to the legendary PFC blog.

Autohead

Mockumentary involving a film crew following an aggressive and sadist Mumbai rickshawala. The politics of the film is quite debatable but the film is so self-aware. The filmmaker – subject interaction/intervention makes it walk the fact-fiction thread line, and the actors play along that line brilliantly. Solid, confident direction.

Barakah Meets Barakah

The opening slate of the film about the pixellation done in the film is the most hilarious joke in the film. Saudi Arabia’s Oscar entry is a satirical take on the religious censorship in the country. The scenes where the protagonist compare the liberalism of the state over the years feel little forced in and borderline preachy. Also, looks like the film goes for an easy resolution with a slight contrivance. Still, likeable fun.

Anup @thePuccaCritic