Archive for the ‘Must Watch’ Category

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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

 

Nobody knew Nagraj Manjule when his debut feature, Fandry, released. It got rave reviews and made it to our “Must Watch” list. Our recco post on Fandry is here. But this time there was lot of expectations from him as Sairat is his second feature. He delivers and how! Here’s our recco post on the film by Dipti Kharude.

The film has released all over with English subs. Don’t miss.

sairat-hero copy

As I write this, I’m listening to the heady soundtrack of Sairat. The feeling of being in a music video with a bright Dupatta fluttering behind is hard to shake off. That is the naivety of love and that is our good, old desi way of spinning a yarn. We have perhaps forgotten that song and dance can make important contributions to the narrative of our films. They can accentuate agony and ecstasy, introduce characters, and allow them to express themselves in a way that would sound contrived as dialogue. In that vein, Ajay-Atul are to Sairat what Irshad Kamil has been to Imitiaz’s films, and more. (They have composed the music, written the lyrics and sung songs for the film).

In Sairat, the boy gets a song, the girl gets another and then there’s a duet. The last song, which is a prelude to the ugly turn of events is also a subtle nod to the Romeo-Juliet balcony scene where the protagonist, Archie, daughter of the powerful upper caste Patil is dancing in the veranda upstairs and Parshya, a fisherman’s son from the Pardhi community is dancing outside the house. This, like many other visuals establishes a hierarchy without screaming ‘caste’. Manjule uses this dreamy narrative to set us up. He pulls us in with promises of hackneyed romantic epics only to shows us the realities that were missing in films like QSQT and Saathiya.

Films are not about issues but about people living their lives. Good stories are the ones where the theme is subliminal. Sairat doesn’t go gently into the night, though. Manjule’s fiery outrage is muted in the first half only to smack us in the gut at the end. Its triumph lies in the fact that Manjule doesn’t depend on an art house aesthetic to create this impact. He relies on mainstream cinema to do the job.

In the most familiar tropes, he manages to question norms.

It is refreshing to see a girl in a rural set-up drive a tractor and be the knight in shining armour spouting quips like “Marathit samjat nai, tar English madhe sangu?” (If you don’t understand what I’m saying in Marathi, should I repeat it in English?) If the first half were a Bhai film, she would be Salman. Manjule subverts by making Sairat more about the heroine’s quest than that of the hero’s. This film makes you revise your image of small-town/rural girls. They want to take agency over their own lives. The female gaze in Sairat is not the terrible flip side of the usual hetero male gaze, which typically fetishizes women. It is like a celebration of female desire.

He creates joyous moments in the hinterlands of the Solapur district of Maharashtra. This milieu is almost conspicuous by the lack of it in Bollywood – a ladder to climb the makeshift pavilion during a match, the privileged son cutting his birthday cake with a sword, a lady barging unapologetically on the field during a cricket match and yanking her son away to keep watch over the livestock and the unfurling of a courtship against the backdrop of wells and sugarcane fields.

In Sairat, the issue of ‘casteism’ is not at the forefront but its consequences are. The privilege of being the daughter of an upper caste strongman empowers Archie to be badass. Despite the entitlement, Archie endears with her rebellion. She is unabashedly flirtatious and brandishes a raw frankness. She reprimands Parshya for referring to his physically inadequate friend as ‘langda’, in jest. Manjule is interested in dismantling many other structures where the contours of discrimination may change but the hierarchical outlook stays the same. It is this advantage that Archi struggles to relinquish in the second half. Once she frees herself of the power that comes with privilege and strives on an equal footing with Parshya, she evolves.

While doing all of this, Manjule does not strike a single false note. Archie may have valiantly used a gun while escaping but that doesn’t prepare her to drink unfiltered water. The scene where Archie and Parshya quench their thirst after disembarking the train is telling.

In the gritty second half, the main characters come undone with their frailties. Even the charming Parshya succumbs to his insecurities. Slow motion sequences are traded in for rapt stillness and silences. They begin to realize their happily-ever- after dream and are even economically empowered to buy a flat in a more egalitarian city.

Apparently, class inequality is surmountable but it is the caste inequalities that cast a long shadow.

SPOILER ALERT

Honour killing is a common narrative but Manjule draws you in and makes you drop your guard. You can sense the robust command over his craft when you laugh during an awkward scene just before the ghastly climax.

ALERT ENDS

The more diverse ways we have of telling mainstream stories, the more likely audiences will find something that speaks to them. What better way to spur a discourse?

Dipti Kharude

Three

 ‘Bring me a dish to satiate my mind and I am happy.’

No, no one great said that, I just made it up coz I wanted to begin with a bang. But that doesn’t mean it is untrue. Kaul, a feature length indie film has had me quite, quite excited since a few days now.

It’s rare a film excites me so much, makes me think so much. So exploring, enquiring, digging, labelling, un-defining…it goes.

Kaulin several cultures, means a call to the divine. It also means higher order or social class. It also means a man of high breed. It also means a purpose or profession. It also means a promise.

How simple is simple?

We live in a world where everything is codified perfectly into two neat brackets, cause and effect, black and white, this or that. Human existence today, is an argument of versus. But simple is a unifying agent, it is a unifying philosophy and has no place for duality. Then?

The task of our times then is to deconstruct. And integrate. To arrive at the core that is simple. Kaul is something like that.

A young man in a small town in Konkan murders a woman and moves to a smaller village. He takes up a job as a teacher, marries and is living a seemingly uneventful life when he undergoes an experience he cannot accept or reject. It is something he cannot define; it is surreal and drives him to the edge of sanity (as defined by common majoritarian understanding). He sets out seeking answers, peeling layers until he arrives at the core.

Mystical? Maybe, but this is not a saintly story of a man’s enlightenment and struggles with it. It is the story of Nietzsche’s ‘Ubermensch’, Camus’ ‘Outsider’, and the 21st century common man experiencing the dark night of his soul fraught with anxiety.

If he kills like Camus’ Stranger and goes off like a being in search of his super-hood, then like our 21st century man he veers towards the confines of psychiatric classifications, depending on the only rules he seems to be made of. ‘Shut me up if I become a threat to the society’, he pleads earnestly, believing himself to have gone bonkers; his classification of insane and normal as binary as the debate between the physical and the metaphysical. In this honesty lies the thread of his search, the honesty that compels him to ensure his road must not end in annihilation of others also leading him to explore the power that lies in that very thought of violence. Is that where ultimate freedom lies?

What if you could just snap your fingers and the world would come to an end?

And what if your redemption lay in it? Through it?

That kind of power is threatening. Life-threatening. Two moves and the torture would end. And it would be a good deed. Or would it be? We are back to polarising.

But it is touch and go, this playing with polarisation, because as is essential, one must quickly leap to integration, from linear to the cyclical, from separation to unification, if one has to arrive at the meaning of existence. In the womb of birth is the seed of death and in the heart of death the first call for creation. Something cannot be destroyed until completely built and cannot be created until it is not completely annihilated. The pendulum has to swing to both extremes to arrive at its true balance. Let me drop the ‘true’ and just say balance. It is simple.

To peel off the layers of our consciousness and definitions of art then, the film throws off layers after layers of myths and faux-labels, crystallising the knowledge, the visual and sound (literally and metaphorically!) in an attempt to integrate sensory experience with emotional resonance in the audience. As the protagonist starts his journey in search of answers we are taken into another world where the physical echoes the metaphysical. The play of day and night, darkness and light, sounds and silences create a universe that is tactile and immersive, daylight exposing the extreme dullness of the regular and darkness the mysteries of the obvious. With this, Kaul gently plays on our senses as it tantalises us to follow the protagonist to find out what is this bat-shit craziness that has descended upon him suddenly.

Two

Do we need the Master?

Needless to say, he finds a guru; the film evoking a Campbell-like mono-myth pattern of a hero’s journey, from afar a simplistic narrative principle, from close quarters simple. As he tries to seek the tutelage of one seemingly mysterious old man another layer of polarity opens up. Along with several other myths the old man also rejects the myth of the ‘guru’, hinting at the infiniteness of the self to find its own way out of this ultra-real world. The role of the seeker as a primary school teacher suddenly gains credence. ‘This whole Guru-Disciple thing is bogus’, roars the old man in defiance, decrying the tradition of looking outward, and by that pushing the protagonist to look within.

He urges him to listen to birds for messages decoding his path.

And what will I find?’ the seeker asks in anticipation.

‘Nothing. You will find nothing. But only after knowing that will you be able to accept it. There is nothing to find.’

A group of philosophers, writers and artists were once asked, ‘Why are we here?’ John Cage famously replied, ‘No why, just here’. Let’s pause here a bit.

Integration is not mathematics, but then maybe it is.

From a distance, there is a danger of viewing and interpreting Kaul as a fable, it is anything but that. Rather it could almost be interpreted as a pataphysical take on the business of spirituality. With a firm belief in the power of self, the film almost cocks-a-snook at the common dialectical understanding of experiential truth and the mysterious secret of man as super-being

Even though interpreting Kaul as a fable would be reductive, there is a certain temptation to do so, given the structure and form it chooses to take. It’s magic realism is Kafkaesque, dark, mysterious and anxious, very anxious. It is mystical and formless, evolving as we go, but it is in enquiry that our existence and the film lies, as embodied by the seeker and that which is being sought. That is the spirit of the film hence its fable-like veneer dismantles before it is fully built as the Kafkaesque intensity deepens, unshackling the viewer from the fluff of fantasy immersing him in the surreality of reality instead. Enquire don’t accept, seek don’t give up, trust your power do not let go of it; some of the ideas the film seems to be urging us to follow with little cushioning.

While merging the hero’s mono-mythical external journey with his internal one, the film adapts and adopts from several theisms and philosophies. Rooted in ancient Hindu philosophy is our mysterious old man, who suggests neti neti is the only path for the insane. In a caustic sweep he derides the modern-day formalist man steeped in illusory materialism and its limited definitions. Neti is a yogic path to enlightenment, propounded in Gnana Yoga and Advaita Vedanta, which emphasises on the rejection of all that is not the Soul and thus coming in touch with it. It is a path of deconstruction, one that nudges the shedding of layers of illusion and belief that we are mere mortals, to reach that germ of immortal within us.

Do what you feel like’ is the only answer the old man has for our angst-ridden protagonist. Hear the calling of honesty. From songs of experience the return to innocence.

It is believed that knowledge or ‘gnana’ was handed down through the alleys of memory, both physical (smriti) and divine (sruti). The Vedas, believed to be central canon of Hindu philosophy, are said to have been written through the assistance of divine memory. The oral tradition of India, (where sagely as well as worldly wisdom was disseminated through stories), and the guru-shishya codification of the same task, then seem to be derivatives of a deeper tradition born of the belief in sruti and smriti.

It is from these traditions that director Aadish Keluskar draws his narrative, borrowing a phrase T S Eliot used to describe the style of metaphysical poets, ‘yoking together’ the content with form in a meta-fictive universe. True to the oral tradition the old man hands down ancient knowledge to the protagonist. Is it from sruti or smriti? The film, like the old man, (its spokesperson almost), gives no ready answers. But there are answers embedded within, for which enquiry is required.

Kaul, bases its world-view, or rather other-world view on prominent philosophies and beliefs, collecting them together to make a base, a context. It then plays within this context of beliefs, pitting one against another to find a middle way. It’s almost like an examination, or experiment rather, of mating the best DNA of Nietzsche’s nihilism, Camus’ absurdism and Hindu spiritualism to free their core and it’s own. What emerges is the distilled idea of the Self. And the absoluteness of its power. From a dot we emerge and into the dot we dissolve, ending where we begin. Again and again, we just need to know it.

The atmosphere of darkness lies like a heavy pall on the film. It is full of bated breaths, the frames holding still in limbo, as anxious and paralysed as its protagonist who doesn’t know where to go from here. Just like neti neti, the structure of the film to arrive at its point is not this, not that. A constant negative reaffirmation. In an admirable example of metafiction, the physical form the film takes is to reflect the essence of its content. In many ways it subverts what we popularly know of the relationship between form and content and how it is practiced. In other ways it is the distilled approach of marrying both, the essence of simple. The old man refuses to provide easy answers to the protagonist pushing him on the path of neti neti and the film does the same to the audience. It is exciting to say the least, to catch clues and link up a path to the centre of the film.

When I reached there, the deepest I could, I found something interesting at the centre of the film. It pretends to be dystopian while it is very utopian and optimistic. Behind the obfuscating mystique, behind the nihilistic violence, behind the weariness of regular life, the film thrusts forth a strong belief in personal power, almost urging us to claim ours. Using violence, it liberates it from the baggage of destruction, leaving only the creative force behind.

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Perhaps, the richness of the form and content is what I find so exciting in Kaul. The boldness of night photography allowing darkness to rule, the image crystallising as though in response to the call of plot, the soundscape reverberating with enigma, hinting at larger mysteries while guiding through them. It is with a certain intensity that the soundscape plays on the subconscious, informing the world of the film through vibrations, through variations, through space and vacuum, through noise and silence and through the gross and fine. This intensity and vastness of variation melts in with the world of the film, creating a supra-natural, almost physical experience of the protagonist’s journey for the audience.

‘Truth is rarely pure and never simple’ proclaimed Oscar Wilde. Neither is Kaul. It isn’t pure, it isn’t perfect and it isn’t simple. But it wins in nudging us to ask, in our lives and in films, what is simple?

Fatema Kagalwala

(Kaul will be playing at this year’s edition of Mumbai Film Festival and will compete in India Gold section)

Five boys in their pre-teens, hailing from a small-town in Maharashtra, each knowing the loss of a dear one, jump into a lake from a height in the total abandon of childhood’s innocence. The protagonist is the last to jump; he hesitates and then takes the plunge. For me, that was the defining moment of Avinash Arun’s debut film Killa.

 Killa 5

Cinema world-over, is moving towards telling big stories of small people. While we continue to have (and be mesmerised) by our Interstellars and Mad Max’, we are also rejoicing in looking deeper into the souls of the commoner through the canvas of everyday life. Iranian cinema, arguably, showed the world the way, and in India, it is Marathi cinema, among other language films, which has moved the cinematic zeitgeist inwards. Little people, little moments and large stories. Not larger-than-life; very common, very grounded, very real and because of this, large. Especially gratifying is the fact that the child as the protagonist is finally here. Our lenses have finally found his story worth telling. His world is being looked into, explored, understood and loved, a practice that has always been at the periphery in our cinema. Vihir, Shwaas, Tingya, Shala, Fandry…the list keeps increasing. And now Killa.

In Killa, Avinash delves into small-town life and his own personal memories of childhood, and paints a moving and heart-warming picture of learning to fight one’s battles with life. It is the journey of a boy still grappling with the death of his father that happened two years back, and the constant change of environment that has followed. It is the story of his mother, a single woman, gritty and upright, determined to ensure she is now the father and mother to her only son. It is the story of courage to break away from the past and it is a story of love, loyalty and trust. But most importantly, and which is why it is more beautiful, it is the story of taking the plunge. And thus, finding the light at the end of the tunnel. In Killa’s case, the cave.

Killa 4

“I think we have forgotten the life, the buildings, and the streets we used to have not so long ago.” Miyazaki said this about Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi. Killa, in more ways then one way, pays homage to a kind of childhood fast disappearing and one many of us have never even known. Yet, its emotional tone resonates universally, drawing in even those unfamiliar with the social landscape of the film. An intensely personal film, it is life experienced through the eyes of a sensitive, lonely, fatherless, pre-teen boy. Moving from town to town due to his mother’s transferable job, he pines for putting down roots, for friends he can grow up with and for his dead father. His mother is trying her best to be both the parents for him, stretching to breaking point to ensure him his due upbringing.  It is with a humane eye that Avinash sees the single woman’s struggle, also reflected in the elderly neighbour. Both women develop a bond of mutual respect, an intuitive sign of recognition when one kind, strong soul meets another. The women are lonely too and they are fighting it. Loneliness is the vast canvas Avinash paints his story on because little Chinmay has to break free of this very loneliness and find hope.

Killa, the central motif of the film then becomes the symbol of Chinu’s inner one, the fort of loneliness and mistrust he is caught in. His search for the exit from the fort becomes a beautiful metaphor of his efforts to get rid of the loneliness. And when he emerges into the sunshine he finds hope and trust, literally and figuratively. On the face of it, it is a simple film with a linear narrative, a well-used form. Couched within is a multi-layered narrative of an inner struggle, the experience of which is evoked rather than told. A complete freedom from the need of dramatic tension yet letting the story find its own resolution is evident in the way it unfolds and in certain ways, it is a liberating experience; to co-opt a 3 Act structure and do away with dramatic turning points yet end with confidence, is in my eyes, quite an achievement.

Killa 3

The visual imagery of the film and its soundscape resonates with the simplicity of verdant, small-town life and a child’s inner tenderness. The spaces Avinash uses make up Chinnu’s external and internal world which we experience through the different locales, his home, school, bridge, fort, cave…The visuals are beautiful without being imposing or picture postcard perfect and the staging is natural, keeping the film moving with a steady rhythm of life instead of depending on the artifice of drama. Avinash also handles the small class-room dramas, especially the weaves of inter-personal relationships between children as peers with a certain tenderness and an understanding of the fragility of their world. The performances extracted out of the children are warmly naturalistic endearing each one of us with their quirks and innocence. We see them as children are, vulnerable and stubborn, inexperienced and wise. Perhaps, the biggest victory of the film is bringing to us the ‘cleanness’ of children…something that permeates into the entire experience of it.

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Ingmar Bergman said ‘No art passes our conscience in the way film does, and goes directly to our feelings, deep down into the dark rooms of our souls.’ Killa does that in its own unassuming way, going directly to our feelings and deep down into the dark room of our souls and lighting it up a bit.

Fatema H. Kagalwala

First published in the Lensight Feb 2015 issue.

Anup Singh’s Qissa is finally releasing in India. It’s a limited release in 5 cities with just a few shows. Scroll down to the bottom of the post to see the release details. But here’s the good news – even if you are not in any of the 5 cities or you are outside India, you can watch it on VoD. Click here to go to NFDC’s VoD link and enjoy the film. The film is in Punjabi with English subtitles.

We are re-posting an old recco post on the film. Don’t miss it- it’s a must-watch and has made it to our mFC Recco List.

Qissa

If the header of the post seems loaded, you will be surprised more when you watch the film. Yes, there’s gender-bending, it’s genre-bending, and a ghostly tale. Add partition, identity crisis, sexuality, female foeticide, sibling rivalry. It’s a baffling cocktail that you have never tasted before.

The ghostly part might be considered a spoiler, but since the film’s title already tells you that, am not sure if it should be counted as one. The film is titled “Qissa – The Tale Of A Lonely Ghost”. I think that’s a smart choice to let the audience know what they are getting into, and be prepared for it. On a similar tangent, it was a mistake which Talaash makers did by not getting the spoiler out.

Varun Grover saw the film at TIFF where it premiered, and reccoed it in a post here – “A film based on partition, in Punjabi, starring Irrfan and Tillotama Shome and Rasika Duggal and Tisca Chopra! I was already sold. And though it deals with partition in a more symbolic, metaphoric, allegorical way – I was moved immensely by it. Many friends had issues with the logic and amount of suspension of disbelief it demands (basic premise of a father who brings up his daughter as a son without letting anybody else know is a bit of a stretch, yes) – but it still managed to disturb and involve me probably because of the magic realism zone it enters in the 2nd half. And also because of Rasika and Tillotama’s terrific performances. Probably it’s only me but I think the film gives a solid theory on why Punjab has the maximum cases of female foeticide/infanticide. (Qissa won the NETPAC Award at TIFF)”

So i was already prepared for it. But i had no clue that it will be such a fascinating ride. The film starts with a voice-over that feels like a folktale. But it soon jumps into the reality of partition and ethnic cleansing which forms its backdrop. In the aftermath of partition, Umber Singh (Irrfan Khan) is forced to move to Punjab with his family. A loss of identity, roots and that place you call home. Do you ever get that back?

And from the politics of the land the film moves to gender politics. Having already three daughters, Irrfan forces the forth daughter to grow up like a son. The gender identity part is strange and you might question its believability factor. But i have always felt that never let the truth (or logic/reason/whatever you call it) come in the way of a great story telling. Let the filmmaker be your guiding torch in this new dark room that you have never entered. Just hold his hand tightly and enjoy the ride. Leave him only if he trips over something. In that dark room, the only thing that matters is the conviction with which the filmmaker guides you, and how much are you willing to trust him. I live to enjoy this cheap thrill, and trust me, most of the times the experience has been rewarding. It’s easy to spot the ones who know their craft and can direct. Qissa is one such dark room which you have never entered. It’s strange, it’s weird, it’s unique. You need that torch and that trust. So as you buy into the premise of its gender politics, you realise that this strange tale is becoming weird, and you keep wondering where it will end up.

Then comes the magic realism bit which wraps up the story and completes the circle. The sudden tonal shift feels slightly jerky but it’s a minor quibble in an otherwise brilliant film. Anup Singh captures the sights and sounds of the land beautifully. The arid landscape, the rustic rituals, the folksy sound, and the dialect of the region, there’s not a single false note in Qissa. Backed by strong acting talents – Irrfan Khan, Tilottama Shome, Rasika Dugal and Tisca Chopra, they manage to pull off this difficult film with much ease. Describing anything more of the film will spoil the fun for you.

Qissa is an audacious film, and all credit must go to Anup Singh for stepping into this rare territory which we hardly explore, and for delivering such a brilliant film. This is the reason why it might alienate some audience too. You are not sure how to tackle this film. So remember the dark room and hold that torch. You will be fine. Don’t miss this one. It’s rare to find such a gem. Because it’s rare to find a desi filmmaker who takes such an untrodden path.

@NotSoSnob

Qissa

The brief was the same this year. A mail was sent to the usual cinema comrades who write, contribute, and help in running this blog. Pick a film (released/unreleased/long/short/docu/anything) that stood out and has stayed with you, whatever is the reason. Since the idea was that we cover maximum films, so no two people were allowed to write on the same film. And nobody was told who was writing on which film. So here is the final list:

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shripriya mahesh on Love Is Strange

Love Is Strange is a quiet, contemplative, almost observational movie that follows two older gay men, Ben (John Lithgow) and George (Alfred Molina). After finally getting married, they are then forced to live apart when George loses his job. We follow their separate lives as they adjust to not being together and to imposing on those who host them. The awkwardness of small talk with family he doesn’t know well, the feeling of constantly being underfoot, the profound sadness at being separated from someone he’s spent his life with are all portrayed exquisitely by John Lithgow. The loneliness and dependency of old age are captured so perfectly that months after seeing the movie, I find myself thinking about Lithgow sitting alone in the kitchen or painting on the roof. The little moments stay with you and make this a special, intimate film.

shubhodeep pal on Drevo (The Tree)

I wrote about the Slovenian film Drevo (The Tree) almost three months ago when I watched it at the Mumbai Film Festival. A month later, by a curious turn of fate, I found myself in Slovenia. At the main train station in Ljubljana — where trains themselves look like art installations — I chanced upon exactly what I was looking for: a poster of Drevo, in its homeland. In Ljubljana, which has forever embedded itself as a colour in my memory — grey — I explored the scantily populated streets in the early hours of the morning and thought about Drevo, a film that has refused to leave me since I saw it first. Juxtaposed with the chilling backdrop of the movie — about a peculiar sort of honour killing in the Balkans — the Slovenia I saw felt harmless, almost inert. But this curious contradiction left me with two realisations: first, the power of imagination, which transcends reality despite all odds, lends colour to the most drab surroundings — as indeed it does to the child trapped inside his house, going endlessly around the courtyard on his bicycle, and imagining the world outside, out of his reach seemingly for ever. Second, the nature of reality itself is twisted: accidents become murders; a place of beauty houses ugliness; seemingly innocuous places house terrors. The films I watch inevitably take on a life of their own, outside the screen, moving me in inexplicable ways. For Drevo, this has never been truer.

shazia iqbal on Boyhood

After a dramatic scene where the mother (played by Patricia Arquette) walks out on her abusive alcoholic second husband, she tries to pacify her daughter’s tantrums and breaks down, we see a poster outside her son, Mason’s new classroom that says ‘You are responsible for your own actions’. Richard Linklater is the most remarkable filmmaker of our times who has cracked certain philosophical conundrums of life like most of the humanity hasn’t and makes stories to make sense of the same.

In a family where children are treated as adults, the boy (Ellar Coltrane) in Boyhood silently observes the intimate ‘in-betweens’ of life, post his parent’s separation, where the only constant is changing families, friends and houses. Linklater’s response is not anger, aggression and rebelling, typical of a quintessential coming-of-age story. He almost seems unaffected, unsure by wherever life puts him, and reasons it with confused curiosity only to conclude that growing old doesn’t mean having all the answers. Even during the most disturbing moments, the drama happens in a character’s head than outside of them. Which is why Boyhood, devoid of all sentimentality and melodrama is a path-breaking reflective piece of cinema, and to paraphrase the final line in the movie, it seizes you in its various moments. These moments stay with us accompanied by a daunting silence specially at the point where the mother breaks down saying ‘I just thought there would be more…’, which becomes the culmination of our collective expectations from life.

mihir fadnavis on Cheap Thrills

What if you found a guy in a bar who offers you ridiculous amounts of money to indulge in the most bizarre challenges? How far towards depravity would you go when the chips are down? Do you really care about right and wrong when defecating in your neighbors house gives you one thousand dollars? Debutant director EL Katz’s answers all your sickening queries in Cheap Thrills, a pitch black, hilarious, and audacious horror comedy that transcends the torture porn genre. As the crackpot version of Who Dares Wins unfolds on the screen Katz offers you a huge dose of guilty pleasure, and surprisingly, an even larger helping of social commentary, which sends over Cheap Thrills to this particular ‘best of 2014’ movie list. Katz also happened to direct the best segment of The ABCs of Death– couple that with Cheap Thrills and you’ve got a very interesting young filmmaker on your radar.

rahul desai on Mommy

Forget that director Xavier Dolan is 25 years old. Forget that this is his fifth full-length feature film. Forget that he is known as L’enfant Terrible in Quebec–where he has grown up, and perhaps the town that has made his films such throbbing, breathing, evocative chunks of heart.

Mommy is his finest; a wretched, energetic snapshot of time. It is about a single mother struggling to bring up her ADHD-afflicted 15-year old son, with the help of an enigmatic, stuttering woman next door. Somehow, somewhere, this is a rousing film; brutally honest escapism, grounded and battered into frames of all-consuming chaos.

Three souls combine to give us something more than just mere performances; they blend into their surroundings and suck us into their vortex of desperate love. None of them are quite in sync with society. They’re not ideal mothers, sons and neighbours. They’re misfits, but unapologetic and glorious. So uncomfortable, yet beautiful to watch. The cheesy pop collection chosen as an audacious score surprises with intent, and album-izes their lives in phases.The result of messing around with something as taken-for-granted as a screen aspect-ratio is not always pleasant, but Dolan gives us the cinematic moment of the year when it happens.

Mommy is best symbolized by this fervid Ludovico Einaudi piece, which incidentally amounts to the most exhilarating time-lapse imagery captured on film. Not because of how it looks or sounds, but because of where it appears, and because of where we hope it will take us.
Because it gives us light, and messes with our jittery minds, and because we don’t want to discover what happens next.

varun grover on The Wind Rises

Didn’t see many films this year and I can feel the emptiness in my heart. Among the ones I saw Dedh Ishqiya, Haider, Abhay Kumar’s docu Placebo (due in 2015), Avinash Arun’s Killa (due in 2015), and Nisha Pahuja’s The World Before Her were the most powerful and delightful. But the film that churned the cold corners of my existence and turned them into soft, frothy Malaiyyo was Boss Miyazaki’s The Wind Rises. An animated feature unlike any other I’ve seen (quite unlike earlier Miyazaki films too) – a period love story in the backdrop of early days of aviation industry in Japan. I can watch it again just for the stunning colors of sky in various frames, and once again just for the various sources of light shown and used. And then there is this flight of crazy fancy by Miyazaki in his last film. The film has the feel of a farewell letter – lots of meta references to Miyazaki’s own career and ambitions – and that makes it all the more poignant. Magical, and I mean it when I use the word, in every sense.

manish gaekwad on Under The Skin

The other night, watching Under The Skin, I was reminded of what Kiarostami had once said about the kinds of films he likes watching. “I prefer the films that put their audience to sleep in the theater. I think those films are kind enough to allow you a nice nap and not leave you disturbed when you leave the theater. Some films have made me doze off in the theater, but the same films have made me stay up at night, wake up thinking about them in the morning, and keep on thinking about them for weeks.” A little bit of that rubbed on us when i watched the film with a few friends.

Our senses were so dulled by what was happening in the film, that between switching it off, to leaning forward and peering at the screen, only sleep could have rescued us. But we kept staring, unblinking, intrigued by the mysterious nature of the film, discussing if this was any different than Veerana, where a pale white woman, lures men into her lair. IMDB pretty much sums it as, ‘A demonic woman uses her seductive charm to prey on unsuspecting men,’ and this could be said for Under The Skin.

While Veerana was obviously titillating giallo, Under The Skin is simply hypnotic; from the striking images to the creepy Ramsay upgrade background score. That divide between what is crass, and what is art comes here, when days after viewing, the images and sounds of UTS recur and crawl under my skin. What separates these two films is also what unites them in memory – if it is unforgettably etched, difficult to erase, then that’s what Kiarostami is getting at. Oh and he also made a film where all the action is inside a car with a woman driver talking to various people, quite like Scar Jo in Under The Skin. Ah, almost.

kushan nandy on Interstellar

Writing about a Nolan film is monumental. What can you write about a film directed by a man who is the greatest illusionist of all? The Alfred Borden of Cinema.

The standout moment of the film is when Cooper watches his teenage daughter suddenly turn as old as him. Stationed in the darkness of a spaceship, millions of miles away, he watches time slip out.

I felt like Cooper, sitting in the darkness of the theatre, watching time slip out. Remembering
the moments of life I skipped in an attempt to survive life itself. I wanted to savour and appreciate the remaining moments of life just like Cooper did.

It made me pause. It took me beyond Cinema.

Kubrick must be watching from up there. Proud.

sukanya verma on Aankhon Dekhi

When a 50-something family man of limited means and unfinished responsibilities decides to go the distance between method and madness, real and surreal, thought and practicality, there will be repercussions. To question the natural order of things, to argue, to protest is one thing but to make it a way of life is another.

Rarely does a Hindi film probe into its protagonist’s soul as nimbly as Rajat Kapoor’s brilliant Ankhon Dekhi. Told with tremendous thought and texture, Ankhon Dekhi’s parable-like profundity unfolds through Bauji’s unique metamorphosis (conveyed in Sanjay Mishra’s extraordinarily perceptive performance) following his resolve to believe only what he sees or experiences.

If one aspect of Ankhon Dekhi’s episodic narrative is concerned with the different stages of his idiosyncratic obsession and its impact on his big family, the other draws us into the authentic sights and sounds of his hectic, populated space in Old Delhi– rickety roofs, yellowed walls, poor plumbing, crumpled sheets as well as the multihued personalities of his claustrophobic neighbourhood among whom he eventually garners a spontaneous, unsought following.

Where many would solely focus on his quirk to generate ridicule and humour, Kapoor, even when proffering moments of ingenious wit (“Male menopause”) treats him with fascination and fragility. Bauji’s existential crisis may cause embarrassment to his supportive wife, darling daughter and reserved younger brother but he’s much too well meaning and mild-mannered to take offence. Even if they don’t understand his motivations, they never cease to care.

Absorbing, whimsical, intimate, awe-inspiring and evocative, Ankhon Dekhi doesn’t make claims of knowing better but faithfully documents a determined individual’s journey to seek answers unmindful of what the world dubs him– fool or fearless.

karan anshuman on Pride

Pride may not be the best film I’ve seen this year (that’d probably go to Tamhane’s Court) but it’s definitely the best formula (commercial? mainstream? sellout?) film I’ve seen all year. Having entered the Bollywood fray, these days I’ve newfound respect and appreciation for films that pull off the balancing act with grace.

Pride’s remarkable, still-relevant tale set in Thatcherian UK essays a comic love/hate standoff between exuberant London homosexuals and dour Welsh miners. This is a true, unlikely underdog story with heaps of emotion, humor, social and political insight, and a magnificent feel-good ending: the ultimate recipe for that sense of contentment when you walk out the theater. Pride would make Hirani proud (and is probably the ideal next subject for him) and other filmmakers scramble a search for similar real-life stories.

But for crying out loud, director Matthew Warchus, why didn’t you use U2’s Pride, my all-time favorite song, in the movie?

jahan bakshi on The Grand Budapest Hotel

As one sees more and more films, there’s this dreadful kind of inertia that sets in- and film experiences that arouse genuine joy and excitement rather than cold admiration become increasingly rare. Of late, the one thing I’ve longed for at the movies is for a film to really move and surprise me. With his last film, Wes Anderson managed to do both these things- and as the cliché goes- made me rediscover that elusive magic of the movies.

This one actually warrants that much-abused M-word: The Grand Budapest Hotel is a masterpiece. There is just so much happening in this movie on so many levels, it’s a minor miracle that it never goes off the rails- and major credit for this must go to Ralph Fiennes’ soulful and masterfully comic performance and Anderson’s astonishing control over his material and craft. Together, they make it all look like a piece of cake, quite literally.

An internet commenter put it perfectly: This is a beautiful pastry of a film- with chisels and sharp files baked into it. I expected to be delighted but was startled by the sadness and darkness at its core. Loaded with mirth, melancholy and a streak of the macabre, Grand Budapest Hotel is an ebullient comic caper that ultimately reveals itself as an elegy to an era long gone by (or perhaps one that only exists in the collective imagination of a few- such as Monsieur Gustave H himself). The film’s unexpectedly poignant, tragic ending stabbed me right in the heart- and in the sweetest way possible. Sorry Amazing Amy- this was the real cinematic twist of the year, darling.

PS: I recently realized that the two best films I saw this year: Grand Budapest Hotel and The Square (2013) couldn’t be more different- and yet, they’re both about essentially noble people fighting battles to defend the liberal ideals of human dignity and freedom from the looming dark clouds of fascism. This is Anderson’s most violent and overtly political film- not just as an indictment of modern barbarism, but because it puts forward the argument that maybe prettiness is political. If ‘a thing of beauty is a joy forever’- perhaps it’s also something worth fighting for.

fatema kagalwala on Clownwise

Very recently I was contemplating on the films that stay with me and I realised all of those films have been portraits of life seen through the prism of hope. Maybe that is why I jumped and clutched at Clownwise to write about. A story of a once-superstar trio of clowns now in the dusk of their lives trying to gather its strands, Clownwise made me happy, it had me literally smiling at its sheer joie-de-vivre of not only the world and its people, but of the writing and the making. It is this very vitality of thought and spirit of the world of the film and film itself that has had me charmed. The bittersweet tone of the film effortlessly carries through the dramas and dysfunctionality of the lives of the three men, now in their sixties, seeing them dealing with it all with a head held high and enough gumption to see it through till its logical end. Smart and sensitive at once, large-hearted and laughing at one’s owns pain, a little cheerful, a little sad, a little profound, a little reflective, and a lot of fun – now where do we get films like that often?

aniruddha chatterjee on Anubrata Bhalo Acho?

His wife, her husband, both terminally ill with cancer. All they do is come to the hospital, sit beside their respective spouses and give false hope. Life has become repetitive, mundane. They meet and fall in love. To have a film that deals with people in their 50s, married, yet daring to fall in love to heal themselves from the pain they are in, deserves to be applauded especially in a country obsessed with morality. While watching the film I was worried that the climax will be a cop out. That is where the film scores the most. Brownie points for taking the film where we as viewers will shudder to go. It has been more than two months I have seen the film. Yet, the shocking climax keeps on lingering in the mind.

kartik krishnan on Jigarthanda

A bunch of gangsters are seated somewhere in a banana ‘bhajji’ (pakoda) shop in Madurai, pulling one of the lieutenant’s legs. It’s Tea/Snack time with few goons sipping a quarter whisky in a plastic cup. It’s a setting straight out of Goodfellas with goons chilling out, joking.

The Gangster Boss – ‘Assault Sethu’ casually takes one last jibe at his lieutenant, spits out the tasteless bajji, orders the shop owner to put more masala and walks ahead. Does small talk with the dosa making chef and walks outside into the rain with a steel plate as cover on his head, behind the shady single screen theatre which, true to the nature of the film, has a Kamal-Rajni poster somewhere in the background.

Sethu walks ahead to the sarvajanik shauchalay where a cleaner does dua-slaam and ingratiatingly asks for some baksheesh, directing him to the 1st loo which he has cleaned just now, for his use of course. That is the power of a gangster. And that is all what a poor toilet cleaner can offer as obeisance to him.

Sethu replies cheekily – You should be the one paying me to crap in your loo instead.

Sethu walks ahead and is about to enter the designated loo when a Vomiting (presumably) drunkard, who under sober circumstances wouldn’t dare cross his path, dissuades him from entering his ‘territory’. The disgusted gangster moves ahead into another loo and the vomiting drunkard opens the door of the designated loo instead.

BAM ! BAM ! BAM ! BAM!

The door to the loo opens and the poor drunkard is shot to instant death by an Assassin from inside the loo who immediately calls up his Clients – “Hey. Sethu is dead. Hear this” – Bam ! Bam! Bam!.”

More bullets are fired into the dead body as Sethu who has just survived a hit by sheer luck, watches silently. The shirt pant wearing assassin continues on the phone -“Sethu seems to have lost a lot of weight”.

And then Sethu’s goons rush in to see – the cocky assassin boasting his kill – “Come on folks, take away your Boss’s dead body.”

Slowly, the assassin realises that he has killed the wrong man and Sethu is very much alive, standing behind him. He shoots at Sethu but his gun is empty. SHIT!

He is facing certain death and Sethu can kill him any second.

However, Sethu prefers to go and answer nature’s call instead of bludgeoning the assassin to death. Revenge can wait.

This long take sequence is laced with humor, violence, pop culture & unpredictability that is so omnipresent in Karthik Subbaraj’s Jigarthanda – a film which is much more than just a gangster flick. While some might have been disappointed by his debut film Pizza’s ‘cheat’, this one is a must watch. Yes it is long and a genre bending film again, but immensely rewarding.

neeraja sahasrabudhe on Court

न्याय (सामजिक, आर्थिक और राजनीतिक) पहला अधिकार है जिसे हम भारतीयों (“We, the people of India”) ने अपने संविधान के preamble में अपनी आवाम को दिया है। चैतन्य ताम्हणे की फिल्म ‘कोर्ट’ इस अधिकार, इससे जुड़े संस्थाओं व उन संस्थाओं और जनता के बीच के सम्बन्धों को समझने का एक प्रयास है।

कहानी की शुरुआत लोकशाहिर और दलित कार्यकर्ता नारायण कांबळे की गिरफ्तारी से होती है। इलज़ाम यह है की उन्होंने अपने किसी भड़काऊ गीत द्वारा सीवर साफ़ करने वाले कर्मचारियों को आत्महत्या के लिए उकसाया और इससे एक व्यक्ति की मौत को गयी। ये case तो एक बहाना है, हमें कोर्ट के अंदर ले जाने का। इस case के बहाने चैतन्य हमें उस कोर्टरूम के महत्वपूर्ण खिलाड़ियों के जीवन से परिचित करवाते हैं। मध्यम वर्ग की प्रॉसिक्यूशन वकील, नए पैसेवाले तबके के जज और व्यापारी वर्ग में जन्मे डिफेंस वकील। ऐसा करने से एक disconnect उभर कर आता है (जो चेखोव की इस कहानी की याद दिलाता है)। हालांकि डिफेन्स वकील कांबळे साहब के काम के प्रति संवेदनशील है, पर उनके जीवन के तमाम पहलु देख कर यह समझ बनती है कि बड़े सामाजिक बदलाव के लिए संवेदनशीलता या ज़रा सी मदद काफी नहीं है। ऊपर के तबके को जिस तरह के जीवन की आदत पड़ चुकी है उसे चुनौती देनी ही होगी और अगर उसमें ये संवेदनशील लोग साथ नहीं हैं, तो वे सब कुछ कर करा कर भी उसी शासक वर्ग को serve कर रहे हैं जो चाहता है कि आवाज़ें उठें पर उतनी ही जितनी दबाई जा सकें।

कोर्ट में चल रही कभी हास्यास्पद तो कभी झल्ला देने वाली जिरह के बीच एक दूसरी ज़रूरी बात उभर कर आती है। वह यह कि – ये सच है कि ये सरकारी दफ्तर, कचहरी वगैरह bureaucracy से लदे हैं और यहाँ काम करने वाले लोग न्याय की परिकल्पना या न्याय मांगने आई जनता के प्रति बिलकुल असंवेदनशील हैं, लेकिन न्याय न मिलने का असली कारण है कि नारायण कांबळे जैसे लोगों को, जिन्हे शासक वर्ग अपने रास्ते का काँटा समझता है, state न्याय देना ही नहीं चाहता। State चाहता है की वे या तो जेल में रहें या कचहरी के चक्कर काटते रहे। न्यायपालिका एक साधन है लोगों को डरा कर रखने का।

‘कोर्ट’ अभी हमारे समाज में हो रही घटनाओं के द्वारा एक अहम मुद्दा सामने लाता है। ये फिल्म हमें मजबूर करती है उन बातों पर सोचने के लिए जो छुपी हैं और सिर्फ कचहरी के न्याय-अन्याय तक सीमित नहीं हैं।

और अंत में नारायण कांबळे की तरफ से बोलते गोरख पाण्डेय:

हज़ार साल पुराना है उनका गुस्सा
हज़ार साल पुरानी है उनकी नफ़रत
मैं तो सिर्फ़
उनके बिखरे हुए शब्दों को
लय और तुक के साथ लौटा रहा हूँ
मगर तुम्हें डर है कि
आग भड़का रहा हूँ

mihir pandya on Killa

‘किल्ला’ देखना किसी रूठे हुए जिगरी दोस्त से सालों के अन्तराल के बाद मिलने की तरह है। इसमें उदासी भी है, उन बीते सालों की जब वक़्त हाथ से छूटता रहा अौर दोस्त की बेतरह याद अाती रही। इसमें बेचैनी भी है, उस पल को पकड़ लेने की चाहत जिसका सालों इन्तज़ार किया अौर अाज अचानक समयचक्र ने उसे सामने ला खड़ा किया है। इसमें ठहराव भी है, जब दौड़ती ज़िन्दगी में अचानक अासपास की दुनिया की तमाम गतिविधियाँ अापके लिए रुक जाती हैं अौर सब कुछ उसी पल में सिमट अाता है। अौर इन सबके ऊपर इसमें निस्संगता भी है, कि दोस्त के चले जाने से दोस्तियाँ नहीं जाया करतीं। कि वर्तमान से बड़ा कोई सच नहीं अौर वे तमाम स्मृतियाँ अतीत नहीं, दरअसल इसी गतिमान वर्तमान का हिस्सा हैं। हमारा हिस्सा हैं। कि ज़िन्दगी का नाम चलते रहने में है।

लड़कपन की दहलीज़ पर खड़ा चिन्मय (अर्चित देवधर) अपनी माँ के तबादले की वजह से ‘बड़े शहर’ पूना को छोड़ कोंकण के किसी छोटे से कस्बे में अाया है। ‘किल्ला’ की कथा हमें ग्यारह वर्षीय चिन्मय के जीवन संसार के भीतर ले जाती है। इसमें एक अोर है चिन्मय का अपनी कामकाजी माँ (अमृता सुभाष) से रिश्ता जहाँ पिता के असमय चले जाने की ख़ामोश उदासी घुली है, वहीं दूसरी अोर है कस्बे के स्कूल में चिन्मय के नए बने दोस्तों का संसार जहाँ बेपरवाह दिखती दोस्तियों में गहरे छिपी व्यक्तिगत प्रतिस्पर्धाअों अौर रूठने-मनाने के अबोले दायरों के मध्य वह ज़िन्दगी के कुछ सबसे महत्वपूर्ण सबक सीखता है। उमेश विनायक कुलकर्णी की लघु फ़िल्म ‘गिरणी’ अौर उनकी बेहतरीन फीचर फ़िल्म ‘विहीर’ की याद दिलाती अविनाश अरुण द्वारा निर्देशित ‘किल्ला’ मेरे लिए अात्मकथात्मक फ़िल्म है, लेकिन भिन्न क़िस्म से। यहाँ फ़िल्म सिनेमा बनानेवाले की अात्मकथा न होकर देखने वाले की ज़िन्दगी के किसी पीछे छूटे अध्याय का अात्मकथात्मक अंश हो जाती है। जिस कस्बे की यह कथा है, वह प्रतिनिधि है मेरी किशोरवय स्मृति में छूटे कस्बे का। इसे परदे पर देखने वाले हम सब इन्हीं बाहर से उनींदे दिखते लेकिन भीतर से खदबदाते कस्बों, देहातों को छोड़ अाज शहर के मेले में अा पहुँचे हैं। अौर ऐसे में ‘किल्ला’ का यह ‘पुनरागमन’ स्वयं हमारी स्मृतियों की कथा बन जाता है।

‘किल्ला’ जितनी उसकी कथा में है, उससे कहीं ज़्यादा उसकी गतिमान तस्वीरों में है, उसकी ख़ामोश ध्वनियों में है। पावस के महीने में मूसलाधार बरसते बादलों के बीच अविनाश अरुण कोंकण को उसकी अनछुई काया में टटोलते हैं। समन्दर किनारे बसा यह ठहरा हुअा कस्बा बारिशों के बाद जैसे एक नई हरी सघन पोशाक पहनता है। यह समन्दर की लहर के लौटने के बाद रेत के कोरे किनारे पर पहला पैर रखने की तरह है। उन्होंने किरदारों की भीतरी उदासी को परदे पर फ़िल्माने के लिए इंडोर दृश्यों को लट्टू की सघन पीली रौशनी में फ़िल्माया है अौर इस उदास पीले का विलोम वे बरसात, समन्दर अौर अाकाश के अासमानी नीले के साथ अपने अाउटडोर दृश्यों में रचते हैं। पानी स्वयं यहाँ सबसे बड़ा मैटाफर है। पानी ही यहाँ बाँधता है अौर पानी ही यहाँ किरदारों को बंधनों से अाज़ाद कर देता है। किरदारों के मन का बोझ जब पक जाता है तो वे भरी बरसात में छाता ‘भूलकर’ निकल जाते हैं, अौर मुझे चैप्लिन की कही वो बात याद अाती है जिसमें वे बरसात को अपना दोस्त बताते थे जो अाँखों से नमकीन पानी बनकर निकलते दुख को अपने अाँचल में छिपा लेती है। ‘किल्ला’ की कोमलता मुझे भाषा में कविता कहने वाले, सदा मुंह में छालों वाले किसी मितव्ययी स्वभाव पहाड़ी कवि की कविताअों की याद दिलाती है। यह उन फ़िल्मों की सूची में शामिल होगी जिसकी स्मृति को अाप फ़िल्म ख़त्म होने के बाद सिनेमाघर के अंधेरे में छोड़ने की बजाए किसी नवजात ख़रगोश के बच्चे की तरह नज़ाकत के साथ अपने सफ़री झोले में रख साथ घर ले जाना चाहेंगे।

sudhish kamath on The Interview

The stoner bromance that almost started World War III was smarter than most people gave it credit for and truly representative of our times. In fact, The Interview > Newsroom.

The world doesn’t give a shit about anything anymore.

One tweet, it’s mourning innocent kids being shot dead, the next it’s cheering a goal. Or a six. Aircraft lost. Sad face. Next moment. OMG! Eminem’s gay? Did you know McConaughey fucked a goat?

The guys behind Superbad, Pineapple Express or This is the End never intended The Interview to be seen as a symbol of patriotism. The film’s clever enough to take digs at not just American/global media priorities, it also portrays America as the country that is capable of making citizens shove a missile up their own ass (literally) to fuck with another country’s politics.

When the American “heroes” of the film believe they have the required statistics to corner Kim Jong-Un, he simply gives it back to them raising far more uncomfortable questions about the US and sanctions imposed that was driving them to the brink of despair.

Unable to deal with reasoning, the Americans go back to what they are best at.

Because trolling NOT reason, bullying NOT debate, is the only form of supremacy that the world recognizes today. Mediocrity connects with more people than intellectuals or custodians of high art do. No wonder then that the elitists, the critics and all the snooty uptight fuckers hate The Interview. As Skylark says: “They are motherfuckin peanut butter and jealous… They hate us ‘cause they ain’t us… You know what you do to haters? You just smile.” *pops Ecstasy*

sudhish kamath on Birdman

“You’re not important, ok? Get used to it.”

Only the greatest epiphany you would ever have.

That’s Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s Birdman in a line.

We lead dysfunctional – largely unsatisfying – lives and try hard for relevance and popularity that matches the self-importance in our heads. The film is full of precious little moments, a fucking brilliant drums score and cinematography so fluid and seamless that you can’t ever spot the cuts even if you try. A terrific ensemble that’s going to have a field day at the Oscars.

When Riggan (Michael Keaton) tries to reinvent himself as an artist, after having played a superhero earlier in his life (and continues to in his head), he has this superb conversation with his daughter who tells him about her days in rehab and an exercise they gave her. About drawing tally sticks.

She hands him a roll of toilet paper full of tally sticks. Each stick represents thousand years. And all of humanity has been around for what would fit in one slip of toilet paper, she tells him. The rest of the roll is how long the world has been around.

He hears out her perspective and wipes his hand with it accidentally. And he’s wiped out all of humanity, she jokes.

How good is Emma Stone! She’s even better in this scene here that pretty much seals her a Best Supporting Actress nomination: Click here.

There are just too many brilliant scenes to list – the one where’s locked out of his green groom in his underwear and has to make his way in public and get up on stage to not miss his cue or the one where Norton tells Keaton that popularity is the slutty little cousin of prestige when they go out to get coffee. But every single scene in the film is designed to tell us that in the larger scheme of things, nothing really matters. Nobody’s opinion really matters. Or as a sign in Riggan’s green room tells us: A thing is a thing, not what is said of that thing.

ranjib mazumder on Jatishwar

Jatishwar as a concept is brave and ambitious to say the least. As the film unfolds, it has the promise of a new classic. Traversing through different timelines and a story of reincarnation, it dares to bring back Anthony Firingee, a man of Portuguese origin and exceptional talent, who not only mastered Bengali but also composed songs in it to perform in public duels known as Kavigaan in the early part of the 19th century.

Kabir Suman’s music is so good that I can’t possibly to begin to imagine another music album in the last 20 years that can match the majesty of this work. Bringing back lyrical fights of nostalgic Bengal, Mukherji shoots it with beautiful tenderness. That’s the film’s biggest strength. Also the biggest weakness. Apart from Anthony’s story, you hardly care about modern day sappiness that the story brings along.

Mukherji is probably the most acclaimed filmmaker working in West Bengal today. And that speaks a lot about the current state of Bengali cinema. I find Mukherji brimming with new ideas in every film; flashes of brilliance in certain scenes but the sum of the parts never make an engaging whole. And that’s been my consistent problem with his filmography. I know I would be attacked by my fellow Bengalis for looking at Mukherji through a glass darkly, and I have tried hard to sum up my feeling for his brand of inconsistent narrative. And then I stumbled upon this paragraph by one of my literary heroes.

“From the moment I start a new novel, life’s just one endless torture. The first few chapters may go fairly well and I may feel there’s still a chance to prove my worth, but that feeling soon disappears and every day I feel less and less satisfied. I begin to say the book’s no good, far inferior to my earlier ones, until I’ve wrung torture out of every page, every sentence, every word, and the very commas begin to look excruciatingly ugly. Then, when it’s finished, what a relief! Not the blissful delight of the gentleman who goes into ecstasies over his own production, but the resentful relief of a porter dropping a burden that’s nearly broken his back . . . Then it starts all over again, and it’ll go on starting all over again till it grinds the life out of me, and I shall end my days furious with myself for lacking talent, for not leaving behind a more finished work, a bigger pile of books, and lie on my death-bed filled with awful doubts about the task I’ve done, wondering whether it was as it ought to have been, whether I ought not to have done this or that, expressing my last dying breath the wish that I might do it all over again!”

― Émile Zola, The Masterpiece

So that was our list. What’s your list? The films that stood out and stayed with you, and you won’t mind pushing the rewind button on it. Tell us in the comments below!

A Vishal Bhardwaj film is an event for us. He is our tent-pole movie. With his latest one, Haider, he has left his contemporaries far, far behind. A bold and uncompromised take on a complicated subject with a master craftsman weaving magic on screen – dark, depressing, violent, poetic, and gloomy. How else do you like your VB-film? Who else can do it better than him? Over to Nadi Palshikar who just watched the film and jotted down her thoughts.

An MBBS doctor by training, Nadi has also done the screenplay writing course at FTII. She is currently doing Gender Studies at Pune University. Sutak is her first novel which has recently got published. This is her first post on mFC.

haider

Innocence has betrayed him ; Haider’s hands are tied by the red scarf made by the innocent one.

He has been captured by the trickster, the two faced Janus – comic and now revealed to be cruel.

Two funny photographers with the same name are used to depict a two faced trickster.

The trickster working at the periphery of the state.

Periphery, the two photographers (the two Salmans) have not got ‘permanent’ posts yet, but serve.

They have once bestowed a favor – they came and took Haider away on a motorcycle, they took him away to safety.

Now, they are driving him in a vehicle owned by his enemy, they are taking him away to death.

He overpowers them, but after a scuffle, they escape.

Haider now picks up a stone and aims it at the (two) trickster(s). We see in the background that the landscape is full of stones. Hurled by those who had no other defence against the powerful state.

A stone for a bullet. And yet, the world took notice.

For the first time, India’s lack of capabilities to handle law and order situations in an appropriate manner came to light. Surely, firing is an out-of-proportion response for stone throwing, asked citizens.

For 20 years, the biggest threat to security forces was militancy, now it is these stones youngsters are hurling at the speed of 40 kms per hour said the Chief Minister. The age old form of dissent (probably inspired by the Palestinian Intifada) had worked.

To the world was presented a clear picture, literally a picture of who was the strong Goliath in this confrontation.

But back to Haider, and the landscape heaped with stones.

Then as if the stones have joined to become formidable, a big rock. And Haider uses this rock to destroy the cruel shape shifting monster.

We leave the scene with an image of stones, stones…

Beautiful, but strange..like the landscape of Kashmir, this tribute to the young men who risked the bullet to hurl a stone..

Just writing down my response to one scene in the film. The film is full of such scenes, making meaning – so many meanings. What an excellent screenplay by Basharat Peer (Curfewed Night) and Vishal Bhardwaj.

What it achieves – An unlikely adaptation of  Shakespeare’s Hamlet – Unlikely and effective. The setting so difficult, yet so believable.

Every little thing, every spoken word has a purpose, a meaning. Even simple lines of dialogue which may seem just ‘funny’ lines reveal insight. e.g- Haider is at a very low point. He is mentally breaking down. And his girlfriend asks him “kya haal banake rakha hain?” To which his quick and laughing retort is ask me “kuchch lete kyun nahin?” Those of you who were born then, do you remember the 80s Coldarin advertisement? This is 1995, and these two young people were are childhood friends.

They shared this dialogue, laughed about it, when they were children.

Also, those were happier times, easier times.

Now at a very difficult point in their life he calls that line from the past.

Also, for us, as audience – the writers are after all Vishal Bharadwaj who will not have anything purposeless, meaningless in his film, and Basharat Peer who has written Curfewed Night about his personal experiences as a child inKashmir.

He knows that History is not just what you find in textbooks. History is personal accounts. History can be what we experienced in popular culture at a particular time.

As audience we remember that ad – we see Haider remembering that ad.

We shared that experience.

This Kashmiri young man, and us.

The same ad is aired over a geographical location.

We shared it.

We are a part of the same history..

A political stand taken by the film- 

I will state it simply – Haider’s monologue about AFSPA is the politically bravest piece of writing that I have seen in film in a long time.

The ending – Even as he ‘hears’ his father’s voice calling for revenge, he also ‘hears’ another voice – his Grandfather’s saying that revenge only leads to more revenge. How can revenge make us free?

How can it give us Azaadi?

Speaking of the AFSPA, remember, when the present government had ruled out changes in the AFSPA?

There was a statement by the army chief which had hurt me then.

He called it an “enabling act” because he said “AFSPA gives Army additional powers to operate in an environment which is marked by very high degree of uncertainty and complexity and an asymmetric environment where you cannot differentiate between a friend and a foe as the terrorist merges with the backdrop and hides amongst the locals.”

A statement that I did not like and now a screenplay that has moved me. See how Kashmir was described?

“environment which is marked by very high degree of uncertainty and complexity and an asymmetric environment where you cannot differentiate between a friend and a foe”

The structure of the screenplay is Exactly that.

Uncertain,

Complex,

Asymmetric.

The screenplay Is Kashmir.

– Nadi Palshikar