Posts Tagged ‘Placebo’

With just 2 days more to go, we are now coming close to the end of the festival. Continuing with our daily reviews and reccos, here are the notes from Day 5 of Mumbai Film Festival, 2015.

Our Day 1 Wrap is here, Day 2 is here, for Day 3 click here, and Day 4 is here. And click here to read the post on Christopher Doyle’s Masterclass.


THE CLUB by  Pablo Larraín

Pablo Larrain’s film starts with a Biblical quote about how god separated light and dark so that man could tell good from bad. That’s perhaps why this tale of moral ambiguity is shot in a foggy gray pallete – here the good men of god are upto some very bad bad things indeed.

Set in an sleepy sea-side town, The Club tells the story of a cabal of four delinquent priests and a fiercely twisted sister (their very own Nurse Ratched) living in a sort of hostel for damaged holy men. A violent incident related to the sexual abuse of children forces the harsh spotlight of the Vatican on them and brings a crisis counselor to their doors, tasked with deciding their fate.

This film is a kick in nuts of the Catholic Church. That in itself is ofcourse a proud cinematic tradition but The Club’s power lies in its ability to humanize the moral failings of the men of the Church while never shying away from revealing their depravity. In a way this is an intense psychological study of repression and its horrors – had me thinking about its grim design for hours after it had ended.

Easy to see why Larrain is so highly rated – this film is pitch perfect in its direction & its craft. The mood is terrific, perfectly capturing the insularity and foreboding of a house of secrets. The acting is uniformly strong, helped no doubt by the fact that the casting is excellent. From the pacing, to the background score – everything has the stamp of a master craftsman at work. Don’t miss it.

THE SECOND MOTHER by Anna Muylaert

Val is a loving, matronly housemaid in a posh Brazilian household – indispensable but taken for granted. Her sixteen year old daughter turns up to stay with her, only she refuses to live by the subservient code her mother has internalized for herself – thus setting the cat amongst the pigeons.

I went into this film with fairly low expectations & was pleasantly surprised by how good it turned out to be. Film Festivals are usually full of brain food but this was the most emotionally intelligent (and satisfying) film I’ve seen this MAMI. This warm film sketches its characters with an intuitive touch and asks insightful questions about our notions of familial relationships.

The film’s biggest strength is the performance of Regina Case as Val. This could easily have been material for weepy melodrama in the hands of a lesser actor, begging for the audience’s sympathy. Instead Val is funny, daft, flawed, loving & refreshingly real.

This study of class-relationships should be particularly relevant for an Indian audience (we are after all world leaders at being terrible to the help). We all know someone like Val, the trusted maid who is always expected to be there for us but never expected to have a life. Films like this might encourage us to be a lot nicer to her (at a point in the film Val’s daughter fed up with the way her masters treat her tells her ‘this is worse than India’!).

Sumit Roy


This early ’70s animated erotica film was made by a bankrupt animation studio on a stringy budget, released unceremoniously into Japanese shores, unreleased anywhere further to the West, and never released on DVD except in Germany. It feels like a movie made by people who had just about nothing to lose. Long segments of the film involve the camera panning from one end of an artwork to another, a still frame is broken by the slight movement of a palm or blinking eyes. What it lacks for in movement, it makes up with style. Heavily influenced by Gustav Klimt, Aubrey Beardsley and Egon Schiele, Belladonna is a gorgeous sensory assault – probably the most beautifully vicious sensory overload I’ve ever faced in my life. A jazzy, trippy soundtrack by Masahiko Satoh breathes a sort of irresistable sensuality into the movie.

When I walked out of the film – and I’m not exaggerating – I literally felt a void inside my head, and I walked down the stairs in a daze, as if I would stumble and fall at any moment. It had an unusual physical impact on me that I can’t really place into words. What baffles me is how this movie is still so unknown and under-seen despite it’s groundbreaking animation, music and sheer visceral impact. Maybe it’s because of the general populace’s disposition towards animated films and Anime fans’ dismissal of classic anime for slicker modern animation. Prior to this, the only version of the film that existed was an inferior VHS rip that did little justice to the visuals. Cinelicious’s gorgeous restoration of the film makes it ripe for rediscovery, and places it, with little competition, in the ranks amongst one of best films ever fucking made.

The VHS rip is floating around online, but I strongly suggest that you wait for the restoration to come out on video. It’s very much worth the while.

PLACEBO by Abhay Kumar

I’m sure more eminent, eloquent personalities have put their experience of this film into words better than I have so I’ll keep this snappy. Great fucking film. Probably the most remarkable – in style and content – film to come out of India in ages. It’s importance and relevance probably render it quite unreleasable in India. It’s a documentary about a certain educational institute but I shan’t name it. However, having spent two miserable years in an Engineering college, I can say that it perfectly encapsulates the sense of depression, isolation and nothingness that creeps into you as you gradually become a victim of the beast that is the Indian education system. And, moreover, it felt like two punches : one to my face, because I’ll probably never make anything as good as this in my life, and the second to my butt, because it really pushed me, more than anything else in a long while, to get off my ass, pick a camera and film.

– @psemophile

Day 5 MAMI : Yeah, surreal still. Saw filmmakers, actors (popular, lesser known everybody man!) walking around with gay abandon, struck conversations and then camaraderie with twitteratti   (this guy had to call security to rid of me), struck a conversation with  Vetri Maran and somehow told him that I did not like Visaaranai (he also remembered the question I asked in the first screening in the film) which then turned into a 20 minute conversation where he answered everything I asked (coolest guy, for sure). For somebody who is out of town, from a city of ‘dhandhe waale log’, attending his first film festival, this has definitely broadened my worldview. I think I have a better understanding of words like ‘condescending’, ‘pretentious’ and ‘one of the best filmmakers’.  Dimaag khul gaya!

Oh, yeh toh bhool hi gaya. Our ‘film festival’ audiences don’t know the art of laughing in a theatre. This one gentleman I was sitting beside said to me, ‘it would be very good if you did not talk during the film’ just as the film was about to start. And when he started to laugh during the film, it made me feel like someone whose food is falling off from the sides of their mouth. That’s how disgusting this is. It’s only etiquette and it can’t be taught (don’t let the phone ring, don’t laugh like a dog getting beaten up, don’t talk during a film because it’s not as important as gas pe rakkhi sabzi jo jal rahi hai etc). Mainstream audience ke saath naachoonga main next time theatre me, I guess.

PS:  I was with Ava Duvernay in the lift yesterday and didn’t realize it until just now when I opened the catalog. Sorry about that.


Chloe Zhao’s debut  film follows a Native family in South Dakota, after the death of their father.  A family that has brothers and stepbrothers, and a troubled mother, it will definitely have someone who wants to escape. A brother that wants to escape to LA, a sister who’s disillusioned and melancholic after the death of her father and sets out to discover his world of Rodeos, drugs and cowboys forming unlikely friendships, and how they discover what it means to have a home. And have each other for company.  A Linklater-ish film that boasts of a few Terrance Malick shots, I liked it very much. It could have been more tightly knit, but then it’s a Slacker film.

PLACEBO  by Abhay Kumar

When I saw Abhay Kumar’s crowdfunding video for Placebo, I thought ‘hata bhaincho, scam saala’. No really, that’s how obscure it was. Mujhe laga aliens ko laake shoot kiya hai isiliye chhupa raha hai. The film, however, is something else.  It’s a documentary. Although it was introduced as Docu Fiction, and I did find some parts of the film scripted, and I did ask a question about that, and you obviously know the answer. It  captures the humor of the Indian colleges so well, I doubt it will ever get a release (I am an engineer, and I could relate to it). It starts of as an inquisitive brother’s quest to find out why did his brother indulge in an act of violence that ended him with a dysfunctional arm. In the process of being undercover for 3 years, Abhay finds himself in the midst of so many ‘unforeseen’ changes that the personal, intimate film he set out to make has to now take a stand and bring forth a happening in Indian colleges. A happening that’s shocking and heartbreaking, but so common that we take it for granted.  I am writing very vaguely about the film because I do not know if I should disclose anymore. But believe me when I say, that this film demands to be seen all across India. For the most part it was shot on a handycam, but you’ll marvel at how technically brilliant it is. The music of the film is a force to reckon with.  So is the film.

THE SLEEPING GIANT  by  Andrew Cividino

Entered into this film because this was the only option apart from the incendiary queue for El Club and Peddlers. A coming of age comedy drama that has very raw, shocking humor (especially a dining table scene, oh my), is brilliantly shot and so coolly edited (three Ship of Theseus, Bridge of Spies level cuts) and bhayanak music. There is a not so subtle homosexual undertone which drives the narrative, but the last 15 minutes are such a disappointment. Achhi film hai waise, dekh sako to dekh lo.

PS: Open ending is a cinematic device that is slowly becoming a festival film trope. Why are the filmmakers so afraid to resolve a film? Lunchbox deserved an open ending, that played with your dimaag. Warna toh yahaan chutiyaap hi tha. There are issues that plague new age films and that is sad because Milap Zaveri will continue calling a great/good film as a ‘festival film’.

We have been tracking Abhay Kumar’s films for quite some time now. We had written about his short on the blog, and in earlier edition of MFF, when his another short was in Dimensions section, we had predicted his win too. Interestingly, this year he is back with a feature-lengh documentary, Placebo. And what a joy it is see a filmmaker making an impressive debut as he graduates from shorts to feature. One can easily spot some of the similar patterns in all his shorts and documentary.

And here’s Achyuth Sankar‘s review post on the film. This is his first post here.


We’ve all thought about the question, “What are the few things you absolutely cannot live without?”. For me, and all of them in equal importance (I’m not going to write the obvious things like food, water, air, etc), they are cinema, and a few really wonderful and beautiful people, some friends, some family. Cinema figures that high in my list, as it does in the lives of more than a few people I know.

At 6:30pm today, in a house full screening at MAMI, I gave 90 minutes of my life to that cherished thing which I can’t live without, cinema. It was a documentary called Placebo. It’s about the one of the most prestigious colleges in India (not any IIT, I’d rather not get into any more specifics), where the filmmaker’s brother is studying. The brother gets into a serious accident, and during his recovery, the filmmaker decides to stay in his brother’s hostel and document the lives being led there, in an attempt to understand what led to that accident (I won’t be referring to it as an accident any more, it was a self inflicted hurt, severe hurt). He follows the lives of four people in the said hostel, seemingly without any greater aim. Sometimes, a story chooses its storyteller, especially when it’s a story that needs to be told, and that is what happens to the documentarian here. The lives he begins to document shape up to be a small, but essential picture about the lives of students who have chosen the path of the elite by joining there. People are pressurized, or they’re not. Sometimes, they stumble into the doorstep of a revered institution with lofty dreams, but to many of them, simply making it there summarizes their dream. What does one do after that? What does one do when they have no idea where to go? What guidance does one get?

I was contemplating, while driving back home, why do most of the absolute greats of cinema talk about serious things like depression, disconnect, alienation, fear. Why not happiness? The question has come up many times before, but no answer till today. It is because.. when things are good, when we are happy, we are already ready to share. But when things are going down the shit hole, not even a handful of us can talk about it and admit “Hey, I’m fucked up and I need help”. That’s why it is so much more potent, when a film talks about things that nobody likes to, wants to or knows how to talk about. Suddenly, we feel a resonance within that isolated corner of our mind.

That’s what Placebo is.

That slight resonance, which reminds us of the importance of our own feelings. But more than that, it talks about something a lot more. It’s a documentary, with the filmmaker going to a college to understand why his brother hurt himself as badly. But a story that needs to be told chooses its own storyteller, and this college, and the stories of all the students who’ve lived there, chose this filmmaker. One shocking suicide after another, and it’s no longer just about a personal exploration, it’s about all of us. All of us who’ve studied, who’ve felt pressurized. All of us who, I dare say, can’t even begin to imagine the true extent of desperation, where the phrase “give up” doesn’t mean settle for lower grades or go to a less reputed institute. All of us who have been lost, at one point or the other, looking at the sea of people around us filled with genius, as we catch ourselves wondering “How the fuck am I going to make a mark in all of this?”.

There is one particular part in the film, where a character says something along the lines of “We are all isolated. You’re here talking to me, but I’m isolated inside and you’re isolated inside. My words aren’t my exact thoughts. But only I understand my isolation. You know the fucked up part? You think you understand, but you don’t.”

Placebo is truly a story that begs to be told. You can see it evolve in itself. The original intent of the filmmaker wasn’t to talk about student suicides or the casual indifference of college management or depression. It was merely an investigation, a very personal one at that. But as the story begins to tell itself through the storyteller, you won’t care about the change of course. Because the story needs to be told, and we all need to let it.

Romanticism aside, it took (in the filmmaker’s own words) a 1000 hours of handycam footage and constant questioning of intent to bring out this 90 minute long story. 1000 hours, vs 90 minutes. To look for that story which has revealed itself to you, and to do it justice, that’s no easy task. Because it’s not something you’ve concocted in your head, it’s all there. It’s all already there. The loss of aim, loss of hope and dreams, the crisis of faith and loss of ideals, the pressure, loneliness and depression that we students face. It’s all there. We don’t know how to talk about it. This film just showed us how to.

There was approximately a 3 minute standing ovation at the end of the film, followed by a Q&A session. In it, someone asked the filmmaker about how personal the subject was, and how he could keep filming while everything was so close, especially since his own brother was severely hurt. The filmmaker said that whether we like it or not, when we hold a camera, it will create a barrier. That’s the price one has to pay for the story. You’re in it, you’re affected by it, but you’re still separated by that invisible inch.

Abhay Kumar is that filmmaker, and he stayed in the hostel of that college for two whole years, filming as much as he could. He and his partner in crime (his own words, not mine), Archana Phadke then spent another year finding the needle in the haystack, and all the other needles too, in order to tell this hard hitting story. If there is one thing, and absolutely one thing I can learn from this, it’s “Get a camera and go make a fucking movie. It takes a lot of effort, but what’s stopping you?”

Abhay, you’re honestly one of the best filmmakers out there at the moment. I haven’t made a single piece of cinema, I don’t know how it’s done, I’m no authority. But films mean a lot to me, you’ve just made it mean more.

Thank you so much.

Achyuth Sankar

(PS – You can watch Abhay’s shorts here (Just That Sort Of A Day) and here (Life Is A Beach)

(Born in Trivandrum and having spent his last 8 years in Bombay, Achyuth discovered his love for cinema here, thanks to affordable unlimited internet plans. His pass times are blowing up all his savings on purchasing Blu Rays, going for a morning show at some PVR, or eating good food and having a cold Bud. He moonlights (or rather, daylights) as a final year Engineering student, with a severe love for Harley Davidson motorcycles. He fell in love with movies after watching Good Will Hunting. The only thing he loves as much as cinema is his Labrador, Cindy)

Mumbai Film Festival – our annual movie ritual is on. And like every year, we are going to cover the festival like nobody else does it. moiFightClub regulars and readers will bring you all the day’s reccos and reviews.

Our Day 1 Wrap is here.



Things looked way more organised today as no screenings got cancelled and in spite of the weekend, the crowd management was quite smooth. Quick tip for people watching movies at PVR Juhu – head over to Dakshianayan next to ISCKON temple (5-mins walking) for a quick bite or lunch if you are hungry. Very reasonably priced and the best South Indian food on the western line.

Caught three films today too. (While getting nostalgic about the days we would catch 5 films daily. Sher buddha ho gaya ab.)

DHEEPAN by Jacques Audiard

Audiard’s Palm d’Or winner is a continuation of his theme of looking at the French underbelly and the lives of migrant communities there and it’s as brilliant as we have come to expect from him. This time the focus is on Sri Lankan Tamils through the life of a defeated LTTE soldier and it’s easy to understand why it won him the top award at Cannes. The refugee crisis Europe is in the middle of right now finds an intimate reflection in the struggle of Dheepan, played with a breathtaking intensity by ABC, whose own life has many parallels with the fictional story. He moved to France from Sri Lanka 24-years ago, on an illegal passport, escaping from the life of a child-soldier for LTTE. Today he is a known Tamil writer in France but his sincerity in portraying the role probably comes from a line he said while replying to an audience question – “For a refugee, the closure never comes.”

THE IMMORTALS by Shivendra Singh Dungarpur

Shivendra Singh’s documentary feels more like a walk in a brilliantly curated museum of Indian Cinema History, complete with a very romantic audio-guide. It does give us a look at some rare pictures, equipment, stories, and relics from an era that seems to exist in a time thousand years ago, and not just 100. It’s shot like a dream with every frame looking like a master photographer’s creation but the missing names of interviewees, the poetic but rambling narration, and the abrupt narrative stop it from becoming a great film. It’s puzzling that the Director chose this route as he had some great material at hand. But then, every passionate lover has his/her own way of courting the muse. This one happens to be a bit too personal.

THITHI by Ram Reddy

A hundred-year old man (Century Gowda) dies in a village and his family and villagers prepare for the grand feast (Thithi) to celebrate the life of the grand old fucker. Very few Indian films portray village with as much irreverence, quirkiness and in shades of grey (instead of the standard glorification or demonization) as Thithi manages to and that is probably because of Raam Reddy’s writer and Casting Director Eregowda who hails from the same village.

The film is populated with “more than 100” characters, all non-actors casted locally and they bring so much novelty and weight to this occasionally uneven (the last chunk felt like going in too-many-directions) but very ambitious script. A must watch, not just for the humor but also for the philosophical undertones pulled off quite effortlessly.

– Varun Grover

CHAUTHI KOOT by Gurvinder Singh

Gurvinder Singh picks a potent premise – the everyday fears & paranoia of 1980s Punjab & yet delivers a film that feels mostly ineffectual. Singh eschews drama for mood & atmosphere but never quite seems to be in control of his craft enough to deliver the horror that the material intends. What doesn’t help is that the film is full of opaque characters who lack psychological depth – Tommy the dog (who is a crucial part of the narrative) feels like the best realized character. Slow, D.E.L.I.B.E.R.A.T.E.L.Y paced – the kind of film you can snooze through a couple of times without missing much. Underwhelming.

The Sky Trembles and the Earth Is Afraid and the Two Eyes Are Not Brothers by Ben Rivers

Since I’m not into vipasana & don’t plan to do the Iron Man triathlon anytime soon, I compensate by watching the occasional extreme art-house film as a feat of endurance. The reviews for TSTATEIAATTEANB (phew!) promised a tough, challenging watch and that’s exactly what the film delivers.

This visually striking film doesn’t have much of a narrative, instead it plays as a parable on control & the loss of it (or that’s what I think it’s about). It follows a French filmmaker trying to make a film in the majestic yet inhospitable Atlas mountains of Morocco (reminded me of Herzog & Fitzcarraldo) who is kidnapped & subsequently has graphic, painful misfortunes visited upon him. The film’s language is part surreal art project, part improvised documentary and is always destabilizing audience expectations.

Difficult to say that I liked it, though it does have some moments of amazing cinematic power. More appropriate to say that I’m proud I lasted the whole course. Many others in the hall didn’t – haven’t seen these many walk outs during a screening since Love Story 2050.

@Sumit Roy

PLACEBO by Abhay Kumar

Rarely a film hits you so hard, and that too at the right spot. An investigation of lives at the medical school which has one of the toughest admission process, Placebo is a brave, brave documentary film.

The film creates such a stark mood, and at times, it’s so funny and disturbing. The editing must have been crazy as Abhay shot the film over a period of 2 years.  Special mention for the sound design and background score.

Placebo shook me completely. It’s easily one of the best documentaries i have seen coming out of India in the recent times.
There is one more (last) screening on 3rd November at 6.30 pm (PVR ECX Screen 4) Please DO NOT miss it.

Prince Shah

TAXI by Jafar Panahi

Film is Taxi, and its driver and director are the same person – Jafar Panahi.  As he roams around on the streets of Iran pretending to be a taxi driver, people get in/out of his taxi, and the film captures the changing society and it’s morality. Peter Bradshaw aptly described it as Anti-Travis Bickle.

For most part of the film, everything happens inside the taxi. And yet, it’s funny and poignant in equal measure. It’s great fun as passengers of different nature/social status get in and make their point. But it’s sad when you think about the extreme that Panahi has to go to make a film. It’s heartbreaking. Don’t miss the text end plates of the film. This one is a Must Watch.

DHEEPAN by Jacques Audiard

Audiard’s Dheepan reminded me so much of his earlier film, A Prophet. As a ex-LTTE soldier moves to France and tries to start a new life, we realise that it’s never going to be easy for him. Forgetting the turbulent past, making sense of the confusing present, and fear of the unknown future – he and his two unknown companions, who pretend to be his family, battle it everyday.

In the last half hour, the film takes a dramatic turn which is quite different from the tone of rest of the film. But it still remains a powerful film which has empathy for its characters. It completely belongs to his lead actor Antonythasan Jesuthasan who is there in almost every frame, and has a great screen presence.

Jesuthasan was at MAMI to present the film and for the post-screening Q and A. Interestingly, the film mirrors his journey as he was also a member of the LTTE, and later settled in France as a refugee. When i asked him if his life has changed for any better after the film got critical acclaim, bagged the Cannes top award, and he is being invited all over. He said earlier he wouldn’t buy the metro train tickets in France. Now people recognize him and he is forced to buy that 2 Euro train tickets. So that has changed for him – expense of extra 2 euros. And he is still a refugee in France. The difference between life and cinema. Do watch it.



Abhay Kumar’s documentary film, Placebo, just had its international premiere at the reputed International Documentary Film Festival of Amsterdam (IDFA).

And the good news is the film has also been nominated for Best Film in “Competition for First Appearance” category. It’s competing with Always Together (Czech Republic) by Eva Tomanova, Drifter (Hungary/Germany) by Gábor Hörcher and Mother of the Unborn (Egypt/United Arab Emirates) by Nadine Salib.

Here’s the first look teaser of the film


After witnessing an act of brutal violence, a film maker starts following the lives of four students at one of the prmiere educational institutes of India. However, as the camera starts infiltrating this complex mindscape of ambition and restless youth, a startling new reality begins to emerge – one in which an implosion is taking place. In this world, what can be the cure?


Written and Directed by: Abhay Kumar

Associate Director: Archana Phadke

Produced by: Abhay Kumar & Archana Phadke

Executive Producer: Miia Haavisto

Edited  by: Abhay Kumar & Archana Phadke

Consultant Editor: Deepa Bhatia

Sound: Micke Nystrom

Music: Shane Mendonsa

VFX and titles:Vijesh Rajan

Colorist: Sidharth Meer

Animation: Rajesh Thakarey and Troy Vasanth