Archive for the ‘reviews’ Category

Even if you ignore the hyperbole in the header, you shouldn’t miss the show. BBC’s Planet Earth II has come at the end of the year, and it straight goes to the top of my list. You probably have already seen this video of snakes chasing baby iguana, it went viral few weeks back. This is Mad Max on steroids! If this isn’t the best of the year, I am not sure what else can top this one.

And if you are addicted to gifs, you must have seen the funny gif of the bear scratching its back on the tree, too. That’s also from the same show.

I love reading year end lists. To see who has discovered what that i might have missed. And these days it’s more difficult to keep track as we are bombarded by content in different forms across various platforms. Strangely, i didn’t see too many people putting the show on their list. I quickly did a search on my twitter feed, too. Hardly any mention. And that’s why this post.

This show comes ten years after the original one was aired. A decade is a long time. Shooting technology has advanced, more natural habitats have been destroyed,  and David Attenborough is 90 now.  But what the show has achieved this time is unparalleled. Shot in 40 different countries, with crews making 117 filming trips, this is the result of four years of hard work.

The series is divided into six episodes – Islands, Mountains, Jungles, Deserts, Grasslands, Cities, and a compilation titled, A World Of Wonder. As you sit down to watch the first episode, you wonder two things simultaneously – what an ambitious show this is, and how the hell have they managed to shoot all that. Remember the docu, March Of The Penguins? This one is like a march in every sequence.

It’s breathtakingly immersive as the narrative glides from one sequence to other. Set to Hans Zimmer’s music, it’s the story of survival in extreme conditions. The story is the same in ever sequence – either struggling to find food to survive or a mating partner to produce babies. But shooting in the extreme conditions, and looking for elusive animals, interesting patterns, funny behaviour, rare breeds, and heart-stopping footage is what makes this show great. Add to that Attenborough’s voice-over. That’s not all, the shooting Diaries at the end of every episode tells you how they achieved those amazing shots.

The show has received some criticism for the way it has shot/put together some of the sequences by using archival footage in few places. But you will find genuine emotion when you watch it. I was on the edge of the seat cheering for the baby iguana to survive.  A sequence where baby tortoise struggle to survive or the one involving penguins on Zavodovski island is heartbreaking. It also makes you realise that as humans our life is such a luxury compared to these animals who struggle everyday just to survive. As predators turn prey in few seconds, it’s frightening to navigate through the wild.

Episode 4 and 5 seems bit weak compared to the first three. Maybe because of the terrain it explored. But the show gets its groove back in the last episode, Cities. Remember the picture of Leopard that was caught on cam in Mumbai, that sequence is in the last episode. Almost every episode has sequences from Indian terrain. As i try to rewind all the six episodes, too many astounding moments come flashing back – sloth looking for a mate in an island, bobcats diving into snow, wasp attacking eggs of glass frog, birds flying miles just to collect water for their babies, sequence of langurs, bowerbird with a red heart, and ibex climbing mountains, to name a few. Watch it. Because when nature is the showrunner, every drama is dazzling. This is the unscripted stranger things.

@notsosnob

(ps – watch it only in the best video quality. It’s out #ykw if you can’t find a legal streaming site)

(pps – it’s the only show that my cat watches, too. completely mesmerised.)

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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

by  मोहित कटारिया

(Mohit Kataria is an IT engineer by profession, writer & poet by passion, and a Gulzar fan by heart. He is based in Bangalore and can be reached at [kataria dot mohit at gmail dot com] or @hitm0 on twitter)

 

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.

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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

It was suppose to be DC Comics answer to Marvel’s Avengers. But so far, the reviews of ‘Batman v Superman : Dawn Of Justice’ are more entertaining than the film. And if you have landed up from some other planet, you might have missed this video which is depressing and funny at the same time.

So what really happened? What does it mean for DC Comics’ next? Is there a way out? Have patience and read Anubhav Dasgupta‘s rant.

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(SPOILER AHEAD. It’s fucking full of spoiler. Wait. You still haven’t seen it? Lucky you!)

On Thursday night, I sat down in a movie theater and watched Superman reach into Batman’s chest and rip out his heart. A child sitting in my row decided it was finally time to leave. I should have followed her out, but I stay put like the masochist that I am.

Batman v Superman is the nadir of DC comics. Not only is it a badly made film that made me question whether professionals  — some of them Oscar winners — were behind it, but it is an utterly reprehensible, indefensible piece of garbage that ruins the two most iconic characters in history to satiate the appetites of immature adults who constantly seek validation for their consumption of stories starring characters that were made for children.

Let’s call these immature adults “Batbros” because there’s only so many times I can type “immature adults” before I’m sick of the term.

Batman Begins was a great film that rejuvenated the Batman franchise, salvaging it from the campy wrecks of Joel Schumacher’s Batman and Robin. Christopher Nolan infused the character with a sense of pathos that made his trauma palpable every second of the film. He set it in a world very much like ours but also infused it with comic-book elements like fear toxins and a shadow cult of ninjas. Critics loved it, audiences dug it, fans were happy. It made enough money for Warner Bros to green light a sequel. Like Begins, its sequel The Dark Knight was a dance of reality and myth. Ostensibly a reaction to the American war on terror, Joker representing the chaotic boogeyman, something that Batman, standing in for Americans, simply could not understand. It was a massive, massive success and it still remains one of the greatest films ever made. But a collateral damage caused by it was the emergence of the Batbro. They identified with Batman’s seething libertarianism, his fascistic insistence on surveillance as an end to chaos and terror. They identified with an aspect of the character that was very much post-9/11 American White Male. What they thought they fell in love with was the darkness of the plot, considering it novel while being ignorant of the fact that comic books and comic book movies have touched upon dark themes before. I strongly believe that they do not recognise what makes The Dark Knight special and mis-attribute it to the grim mood of the story.

In the same year The Dark Knight came out, rival comic book publisher, Marvel’s movie arm put out Iron Man. Starring Robert Downey Jr as a genius pro-war one-percenter reformed into a superhero, it was talking about some of the same things as TDK but the approach was completely different. While TDK considered the war on terror a grim necessity, Iron Man criticised it while subtly commenting on the military-industrial complex and how corporations and militarism go hand in hand in a capitalist economy. The titular Iron Man, himself, is a much brighter character, who uses his wit and arrogance to mask his despair while Batman channels it into a life-force.

Spurred by the success of Iron Man, Marvel put out movies that existed in the same universe, done in the same style. Their continual successes culminated in Avengers, a movie that united Marvel’s heroes, which made ungodly amounts of money in the box office and millions more in merchandise sales.

DC floundered along, their one shot at a shared universe, Green Lantern, failing miserably. Batbros found solace in the Batman video games produced by Rocksteady, whose atmosphere vindicated their demand for immature darkness. The stages of the game looked grimy, the characters — save for Joker — wore constipated scowls and dressed in greasy coats. There was an unsubtle misogyny about how the game series treated its few women characters, animating their movements to make them look like they were continually cat-walking. What they got perfectly right were the mechanics of the game, the story, penned by DC Animated series alumni Paul Dini, and the voice-acting, which reunited DC Animated series alums Kevin Conroy, Mark Hamill and Tara Strong.

DC comics’ only mainstream successes were the Nolan Batman films and the Batman video games so, when it was time to reboot the DC universe and rake in Avengers money, they decided to push the tone of both these sources on to their movie universe.

It’s been a fucking disaster.

Man of Steel was positioned to revitalise the Superman franchise for a generation and a fanbase of Batbros that thinks altruism is bullshit. Zack Snyder’s film was a character assassination of the highest order, corrupting the socialist bent of the original Superman to make way for an ill-advised objectivist interpretation. The parallels to the story of Moses (Superman’s creators, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster were Jewish immigrants in ’30s America) were ignored to force Christian symbolism on the character. Snyder misconstrued the power fantasy of Superman to be a physical desire rather than an ideological one. This Superman isn’t great in heart or spirit, but in physical strength. He spends the movie moping around, so crushed by the weight of his responsibility that he does nothing about it. In the third act of Man of Steel, a noisy, grey muddle that makes Michael Bay’s Transformers look coherent, Superman allows wanton destruction as he faces off against a mighty alien being. At the end of it, he manages to catch the alien in a chokehold and snap his neck.

Batbros lapped it up. It was a mainstream vindication of the maturity of a comic book character. Surely, there could be nothing immature about dodging an oil tanker and letting it destroy a building when you have all the power in the world to stop it, or destroying a man’s livelihood because he was mean to you inside a bar.

Strong visuals and a fantastic score by Hans Zimmer elevated it from trashiness into mediocrity and it made some money and sanctimonious too-cool-for-school audiences finally found Superman to be cool after he had snapped some guy’s neck.

Never mind the children as long as the adults are entertained.

The same darkness followed through in the comic books. After the DC line was rebooted, Superman traded in his red trunks, spit curl and charm for armour and an unpleasant scowl. He was, finally, cool.

Batman v Superman doubled down on this interpretation, creating a Superman who possesses all the maturity and angst of a spurned teenager. The movie antagonises him, pities him, hates him and the one time he’s about to explain himself, it blows everything up. Literally. Here’s a Superman who seems like he hesitates to save anyone who isn’t his mother or his girlfriend. Here’s a Superman who forgets all his powers to allow a contrived plot to unfold. Batbros were further vindicated by a Batman who scared the shit out of criminals, who straight-up murdered people with military grade armaments mounted on his vehicles.

Zack Snyder has hid behind the defence that he’s followed the comics to a t. I doubt he’s read a comicbook. I strongly suspect that he flipped through a few pages, looked at the art, skipped dialogue balloons when his ADD took over and thought it was the greatest thing ever. BvS plays like a visual greatest hits of comicbooks. There’s images from The Dark Knight Returns, Crisis on Infinite Earths and The Death and Return of Superman replicated with great accuracy. But here’s the thing. Comic books don’t work solely on imagery alone. The titular fight between Batman and Superman is lifted from The Dark Knight Returns, but it lacks any of the intelligence, any of the motivation behind the fight. The philosophical battle between the ideologies of fascism and libertarianism have been replaced by Bollywood movie-level scheming. But Superman and Batman fight and the screen’s so dark we can barely make out anything so it’s mature, r…right?

Superman dies, just like he did in The Death and Return of Superman, but I felt nothing. The comic book isn’t the best but when Supes bites the bullet, we feel something. His sacrifice in the comic is earned. But in BvS? Fuck no. There’s many ways Superman didn’t have to die, and we’ve spent so much time annoyed by his moping and selfishness that it doesn’t affect us much at all.

But, hey, Superman dies. What a ballsy move, right? Fuck no. Everybody knows he’s going to come back to life. The moment has no point, no impact, no nothing. It’s cheap, superficial imagery and grim to a pornographic level.

But hey, Superman dies so this is suddenly an adult mature film, unlike the Marvel movies where everything’s sunny and you can actually make out what the fuck is happening. Batbros finally had an adult superhero franchise to rally behind. Finally, they felt, we don’t look like kids anymore. Never mind that Batman and Superman stop fighting because their mothers have the same name, killing people is exceptionally mature and adult amirite?

Never mind the kid who is bored by the pointless pontification, blinded by the few splotches of colour that emerge from a dark, drab palette, terrified by the characters they were supposed to love. Batbros will hi-five each other all the way to the fucking bank.

Kids, meanwhile, will be reluctant to buy action figures from the DC universe, page through DC comics while Marvel will capture their imagination completely.

Marvel figures are routinely cleaned up at Toy aisles while DC’s figures enter the bargain bin because nobody cares about their characters.

Except for Batman, barely any DC comics sell routinely as much as their Marvel counterparts, despite the quality.

All this thanks to DC bending over to cater to a tiny subset of fans who want to prove that their superheroes are fit for adult consumption.

Alan Moore, the writer of Watchmen, Batman : The Killing Joke, Swamp Thing and other comic book classics, infamously referred to comic book fans as subhuman. He cited the crowds of adults lining up to watch Avengers. He wasn’t wrong in his statement but he was woefully wrong in his observation.

The Marvel films, while routine, are ostensibly for children, but have enough pathos and intelligence to satisfy adult viewers. They’re stories for children that work for adults.

The DC films, however, drip in darkness. They’re for ignorant people who think that anything meant for children demands no seriousness or maturity. There’s no joy in any of their characters or any of their exploits. Their films are grim to the point of hilarity. DC films are a child’s view of what an adult film is, they are the kind of films that Vincent Adultman from Bojack Horseman would insist upon watching. DC film’s are selfish appropriations of children’s characters by childish adults.

When Alan Moore called comic book fans sub-humans, this is what he was going on about. Not adults who dress up as Thor in line to Avengers 2 but adults who celebrate the image of Superman ripping someone’s heart out while the kids cower, confused.

Thing is, Warner Bros seems to hate these characters. There is a marked cynicism behind the DC universe driven by a begrudging need to make money off IPs they disdain. They heap their own ugliness, their cynical hollywood fear and nihilism into characters that were built to give hope. Superman needed to be brought down from his pedestal of ideological superiority to our ugly levels of angst and paranoia. By reducing the symbolism and ripe mythological gravitas to petty wannabe philosophy, they have greatly diluted the power inherent in the characters. A page in Grant Morrison and Frank Quitley’s All-Star Superman has famously saved people from committing suicides. I simply don’t see films from the DC universe coming close to doing that. They’re content with being ugly extensions of an ugly world. They’re not the mirrors to our society as they hope to be, but the cesspools of our collective subconscious. Saving cats is passé, destroying whole cities is in. Fuck the kids, our audience are ugly man-children.

Batbros are celebrating the latest ravaging of the Superman icon but I feel they’ll turn round. The film has been universally panned by critics, its glaring errors in basic filmmaking revealing the true ugliness inherent in the plot. People are catching on to their shit. However, if it makes any money, it’ll be a vindication of the Batbros’ stance. Warner Bros will double down on the darkness, ruining and ravaging every bit of innocence inherent in the characters until there’s nothing.

If you’re a DC fan, and remember the joy the comics or Bruce Timm’s animated series gave you, and you like the current crop of DC films, I strongly urge you to think about it. Our characters are far more important than your selfish enjoyment and loyalism. We’ve got to save them. We’ve got to make sure Warner Bros get rid of their pointless nihilism. Otherwise we’ll be looking at a bunch of movies about joyless freaks that encourage no emotion, no thought, no joy except for infantile vindication.

Batbros are celebrating the latest exercise in cynical destruction, but they’ll be proven wrong, when, years from now, their children will ignore their Superman toys for a miniature Iron Man.

Batman v Superman is Darkseid’s anti-life, pushing us into cynical acceptance of our grim mentality. We have to resist. We have to be better. This is more important than two rival companies. This is a battle for hope and for the future. And fans are their own biggest enemies.

Anubhav Dasgupta

(Anubhav tries to make good stuff. Besides cinema, he also likes comic books and cats)

It addresses the construct of gender and trans identity while shining a light on the messy journey of self-discovery.

A few days before I gorged on the second season of the American TV series, Transparent, I happened to read a column that made a case for turning away from fictions of the self. The writer went on to say that you must write what you know but if you have a story to tell, tell it like you know it is not your story alone. It was a fitting coincidence. Jill Soloway manages just that with the semi-autobiographical, Transparent – to tell the story of a transsexual parent, in a way that is so universal, that not only transgender people but anyone in the midst of transitions, living their truths and rocking a few boats in the process, would relate to. The scrutiny that comes with the act of ‘coming out’ is true not only of the transgender community in India, but also of someone who is gay, divorced, in a live-in relationship and others, to varying degrees, who dare to disturb the status quo. Soloway explores the tapestry of oddities that make the institution of family, and distills the alchemy of weighty philosophies through the prism of gender.

Season 1 begins with Mort Pfefferman, the patriarch of a dysfunctional family and a 60-year-old retired college professor, publicly transitioning to Maura Pfefferman. The family comprises three adult children – Sarah, Ali and Josh and an ex-wife, Shelly. Coming out to the kids is not depicted as heroic, as much as honest, taking into account the emotional universe of the family rattled by the admission. Transparent acknowledges the collateral damage caused while being unabashedly honest to oneself but selfishness is still hailed, over living a lie. The children’s reactions range from denial to reluctance to a gradual acceptance – a very real portrayal of an unconventional family experience. The uphill task of getting to know a person anew begins with something as mundane as the question of what to address the parent as. Ali, the youngest of the Pfefferman siblings coins an endearing term for Maura, ‘Mopa’ – a blend of Momma and Papa.

Maura’s confession fuels the process of self-discovery in the family members grappling with identity crises of their own. While in Season 1, the characters wave the flag of liberation as they attempt to find their voices, in Season 2, they are at their lowest ebb in their quest for personal truths.  Soloway plunges headlong into the evolution of these characters, where their ugly obsessions and dysfunctional reflexes are front and centre. The series deftly dispels the assumption that brave moments of confrontation dovetail happiness. Flinging open the closet of skeletons and following our truth is only the first of many challenges. Transparent shows how being at home within oneself is an ongoing struggle, which also opens doors to a newer world with lesser and sometimes fleeting, but authentic bonhomie. With wisdom, comes a peculiar loneliness.

The series intelligently illumines that gender and sexuality are not synonymous and that both can be fluid with a range of queer female relationships. A fascinating observation about the distinction between personal anguish and male advantage is highlighted by an instance, where we find out that Maura as a man has a slightly misogynistic past. We also see Maura stumbling into her gender identity like a teenager discovering her body, straddling a sense of adventure and confusion. This is evident in a conversation in a clinic, where the doctor asks Maura, “Do you plan on getting breasts?”, and Maura quips, “Two please.” When the doctor further inquires if she’s planning on undergoing a gender reassignment surgery, she takes a lengthy pause before replying, “I’ll have to get back to you on that one.” Maura also vehemently declares that she loves vaginas, a communication seemingly at odds with being transgender. While Ali tries to academically understand the constructs of gender, heteronormavity and patriarchy, Josh still refuses to come to terms with the loss of a father – the loss Mort to Maura. Also, Sarah, the eldest of the Pfefferman kids finds a sense of redemption in her kinks during her lonely phase following a heterosexual marriage, a lesbian relationship and a breakup. The scene where Maura pleasures the ex-wife Shelly, illustrates with masterly tenderness, their fiendishly complicated relationship and the yearning of the elderly, spurred by loneliness.  Long habit and a firm sense of belonging in case of ex-spouses can lead to a self-defeating return to the old, familiar ways, irrespective of gender.

The character of Leslie Mackinaw inspired by the legendary lesbian poet Eileen Myles says, “I don’t really teach. I like to talk about things I care about to people, who are ready”. Steering clear of a didactic treatment, Soloway has adopted a similar approach in her storytelling, tackling characters with a rare balance of objectivity and compassion. She presents to us the wonderfully weird Pfefferman clan with a healthy irreverence and hilarity; therein lies the triumph of Transparent.

Dipti Kharude

(Dipti just quit her corporate job and is having fun dipping her toes in a ton of stuff like binge watching TV and web series, doing movie marathons, gallivanting, and writing about her escapades. She tweets @kuhukuro)

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*LOTS of spoilers*

“Hello Jack, Thanks for saving our little girl.” says Joan Allen upon seeing her grandson Jacob Tremblay (who play Jack so astonishingly that you want to cleave through the screen and smother him with hugs and kisses) for the first time in a hospital. This line defines the heart of the film. How a 5 year old kid saves his mother’s life. That is what the film is about, not about their heroic escape from the clutches of a psychopath.

A kid that came into being 2 years after his mother became a sex slave, and had been held captive for two years. He talks to the inanimate objects in the room (Good morning ‘lamp’, Good morning ‘sink’, Good morning ‘chair’), talks to his imaginary dog, does stretches with his mother to keep his muscles agile, listens to the ‘Big Rock Candy Mountain’ that his mother sings for him, makes toys with egg shells, and celebrates his birthday with a cake without candles, and stares out of the skylight where aliens live. That is what he’s been doing for 5 years until one fine day his mother decides that its about time he escaped. The instructions are clear – “Wiggle out, jump, run, somebody.”

He is scared shitless coz he literally has not seen anything out of that room and he is 5 years old! His world was a small room with a bed, wardrobe (where he was supposed to hide when ‘Old Nick” visited Mom, the name aptly refers to the devil as I read somewhere), a bathtub, a chair-table and a TV with bad reception. He literally is not aware that there exists a world outside these four walls full of trees and dogs and people and oceans and endless earth, which is round, he later gets to know confounded by the fact that if it is, why we don’t fall off. So when Mom tries to tell him the truth, he screams. (a scene he had the most difficulty performing)

She was all of 17 when this happened, she tells him, when she was tricked to fall down down down this rabbit hole. She tells him of Grandma’s house with a backyard and a hammock. He understands her story, coz he is five (Jacob was actually 7 at the time of the shoot) now. He is a grown up boy capable of understanding complex things, is what she makes him believe so that he can escape. And the moment he does, your heart, along with Mom’s, skip a beat. You literally want to run and save that kid from this monster driving the truck. Jack’s eyes, the moment he comes out of the carpet, are going to haunt me for a long long time.

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Ideally, this is where a conventional film would have ended. The kid escapes, saves his mother with the help of the police, and they live happily ever after, but that is where this film actually starts, and post their escape it is an intense emotional rollercoaster ride that leaves you gasping  for air by the time it ends.

“You’re gonna love it.” She tells him.

“What?” he asks.

“The World” she says.

But what she didn’t know that will she be able to love it?

“I am supposed to be happy.” says Joy (Brie Larson, I would not mind you taking that trophy home, at all.) to her mother at the beginning of a heated argument. She doesn’t know how to deal with her freedom. Everything has changed, from her own family to the world around her. People moved on, life went on. Living for 7 years in a contained space with a crushing hope that one day you might be able to look as far as your eyes can see instead of an impenetrable steel wall four feet away can leave you with severe PTSD. Plus she is worried about her child. She wants him to play with toys and connect with people, of which he is not capable of, not yet. Her mother and step father (Tom McCamus, a brief but wonderful cameo) are patient. They know he will come around, but Joy is impatient, and her interview with a news channels doesn’t really help things.

This film, in terms of narrative, explored an unchartered territory. We are used to seeing the victorious (or sometimes failed) escape of our heroes and that’s when the credits starts to roll. We are not used to seeing these people getting assimilated in the world again, and that’s where the magic lies. Showing us the struggle of Joy and Jake getting used to ‘space’ is where Emma Donoghue’s screenplay shines bright. For Jake, it’s easier coz he is still ‘plastic’ (read moldable) as per the doctor (“I am not plastic” he opposes in Ma’ ear) but Ma is not plastic, and she has to deal with not only her own loneliness but Jake’s as well.

The world is too much for Jake. He can’t handle this vast expanse of nothingness around him at such a tender age (“There’s so much of place in the world. There’s less time because the time has to be spread extra thin over all the places, like butter.”). He, at multiple times, asks if they can go back to the room coz he misses it sometimes. They do visit it one last time before saying their final goodbyes. “Say Bye to the room, Ma” tells Jake to Ma, and Brie Larson lets out an almost silent “Bye Room” under her breath. This time they don’t see the Room as the world they inhabited for 5 years but as a cell stripped off of everything that could have reminded them of their past. The flush, Jack’s ocean with boats and ships is gone, and so is the bed and mattress on which they used to sleep. The door is ajar, and the kitchen is ruined. This cathartic visit ends their ordeal coz Room literally doesn’t exist anymore.

The film leaves you emotionally drained with wet eyes and a runny nose but happy. Happy to have witnessed such an incredibly moving parable of an inexplicably strong bond between parent and child. This film rests at top with “Mad Max” and “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” (another tear jerker) as my personal favorite from last year, and I don’t think any other film would be able to come close because I don’t think any other film will be able to have as much soul as these three.

Would like to leave you with this featurette that should tell you how amazing a chemistry these two share, even in real life

Go watch it for the kid, we don’t get to see such prodigies that often.

–  Avinash Verma