Saturday, December 17, 2016

La La Land

This is definitely going to be an all time favorite film.

I'm so jealous of youth.  And starry-eyes.  And the slow flush of fresh love. And the beauteous search for meaning. And how love often means nursing your lover's dream, even as life chips away at it.

But here's the what-if twist - whither ambition when love is at your heart-step?

La La Land is lyrical, sumptuously accessible, filled with the cynicism and jazz-filled dream of Ryan Gosling, the liquid soul-mirrored eyes of Emma Stone. Emma embodies everybody's confusion, ambition, power and weakness. Both of them love each other so dearly that they desperately want the other to achieve. But what fuels incipient dreams also powers them to places they never thought they would reach. But then, isn't that the very purpose of life?

When both of them stop to catch their breath, to settle down to a simple meal, to figure out what their prodding the other led the other to, truths tumble out. Alas, as is the human norm, the only truth he sees in her mirror are the stories he's told himself.

Such is the persuasion and charm of this fabulous film, that in our involvement with the characters, we absorb the sublimal sub-text by almost missing it - longing for love or life can often take us to different places - both good, both compromised, both tragic, both qualifying as success. In the end, preciousness is what we have, and learn to treasure. However big the regret.

This is pure cinema, in its ambition to help us soar beyond our ordinary lives - without forgetting that the miniscule inside our hearts is an empire for each one of us.

This a movie to learn and love. One for the ages.

Saturday, December 10, 2016


To me, this is a film about choices and communication. Communication - it's lack, it's contradictions, it's compulsions, it's limitations - and what it does to us.  Subtly, slowly, the film pulls us into its myriad ironies and it's questions.  And choices - the ones we make in spite of knowing everything - because life is lived in the pleasures of the moments and not its tragedies.

The communication channels are opened with aliens, and the attempt is to garner from them their intention of coming onto the earth. And the irony is that the communication expert called in is single - and haunted by personal loss - fatal vis-a-vis her child, and vacant vis-a-vis her partner.

And as she and her physicist companion slowly unravel meanings, all around people are misinterpreting meanings. Perceptions, fear, tension - all internalise interpretations which were never there. It's the way we jump to conclusions, day in day out. Cooperation and more communication is called for - and is not forthcoming.

And as my friend Avi, explained - it is reality in its own way - it's my reality, yes, but it is also a part of the larger canvas  - the world exists because we perceive it, even though it is only as we see it.

And it's our failure to understand that these differences are all part of the same tapestry, is what causes grief.

More intense is the dilemma of choices. What if you knew the future and it's grievances - would you still live the road to surefire tragedy?

And since this is sci-fi, there are twists. And one which is sumptuous.  The emotional tug of the mother and daughter interaction, which also gives the perspective to so many of the film's philosophical underpinnings, is the way to life's many solutions.

And seeing into the future is a film plot, but pursuing your heart is life's.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Kapoor & sons - victims and survivors ~

In the universe of pain, we hurt family the most. Our privilege of having seen their souls makes it easy for us to tear into them, ruthlessly, often without remorse. We seek solace in our family, know it be our sanctuary, but have no compunction in taking it for granted: we do not think twice before burning our homes down. 

We become sensitive to every inflection of voice, every turn of phrase - and then sit back and wonder why would we be so continuously hyper about them who have no reason to hurt us?

And there lies the irony of family ties: "we will take you for granted but not have you treat me the same way."

Who amongst us is not haunted by the questions of who is mother's favorite, of why the phone call first went to younger  brother, of why he gets away for all his crimes. In the familial manure, grow our first intimations of jealousy,  privilege, discrimination, hurt. And the shadows stay inside. And lengthen outside us in those inflection points when we lose our heads and our worlds seem to be collapsing around us.

But in between are the good times. When you can be yourself.  And be given space for being yourself.  To learn to be touchy -feel with your mum, to understand the quiddities of your dad, and to discover - often with shocking results - that they are also human, and it's not strengths but frailties which make the man.

Far, far away from home, you miss your mother's admonishments, close to her you hear only the stentorian tone. You grow,  look back and realize that love for siblings can never be equal: it's not a mother taking sides, but one human being being more comfortable with another - and struggling with the choice.

Our capacity to give pain is only matched with our ability to carry it. But when there is a cloudburst, dams burst and there is a deluge. There is a purge, there is remission, there is contrition, there is realization.  There are also hurts.

And the facade of a 'happy family' melts away and the hypocrisies are there for all to see. And for people who would have sworn that they would have died for each other, the stark reality stands in front of them - they could very well have killed each other. 

Love only has victims. Family only has survivors. 

Monday, July 6, 2015

Inside Out

Joy finally gets to know something which we all know - Sadness could also bring people together.

Time and again I've written about pain and darkness. And have been asked what lies inside? Maybe at the core I'm a sad. But it doesn't mean I'm a sad person. I remember what one interviewer said of Woody Allen - "I don’t even think Woody does comedy. I think he does dramas with jokes. They’re all sad at their core." (Chris Rock in a interview.) Happiness has its use.  But so does grief. And they describe a person - not necessarily define her.

The complexities of our emotions is often a choice - but more often than not are they mere chemical reactions? Don't we have control over ourselves?  Of course we do. Often.  But - often not. And the battles inside us rage without us always knowing about them.

And Riley's mind is one such battlefield - as she is born,  grows, glows - and faces change. She is all of twelve years old when her parents change town - and her little being faces the catastrophes which even big beings can often not handle wirh equanimity. And inside her head Joy, Sadness, Anger, Disgust and Fear battle it out. Continuously.  And the five of them battle it out to gain precedence and pursue their own natures even as they seek to protect the little girl they love and have a sense of duty towards, in ways their nature knows best.

Calamity strikes when Sadness strikes,  and she and Joy lose their way in the mind's labyrinth. And we discover the way our inner world works. The factory of dreams, the imaginative friends we conjure in our inner lives, what inhabitates the deepest recesses of our fears, what happens to our memories when we dont dust them into remembrance enough, how our core memories - things which our hearts know are significant - make up the core of our beings, and how our consciousness is a moving train which often, oh so often, gets derailed.

This is a triumph of a film. It delights in its inventiveness, and finds humour in its darkest moments. It conjures the synapses and the interconnectedness of our emotions - how we swing from one end of the emotional spectrum  to another,  how we struggle to feel something and end up feeling something else, how our inner philosophies seem like cubist art (oh yes!) and how our inner lives determine our outer ones. 

And amidst it's adventure,  camaraderie,  road journey,  lost highways, dream factories, crashing trains and crushing losses, the movie gives its heart to heartbreak and generously allows Sadness to find its mojo, in a way in which only a Joy could do.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Detective Byomkesh Bakshy! - Dhoti too loose ~

As I walked out of the hall, there were only two kinds of comments all around - "Why did they make it so complicated?" and "I dozed off for ten minutes".  And I suddenly didn't feel guilty of nodding off somewhere in the middle of the first half. That's Dibaker's Byomkesh for you. Moody, atmospheric, stylish - and crushingly boring! And that is such a tragedy. 

In creating a big canvas, the director lost track of small things. Terrific atmospherics don't automatically create intimacies. A thumping soundtrack doesn't eliminate intrinsic somnolence. And big nation-saving stories don't create big stories. 

Dibakar seems so pleased with the budget he has got to recreate a truly beautiful period piece, that he forgot that there have to be characters in front of all the art direction who should be able to connect with the audience. And that's where all the Byomkesh films made in Bangla are far superior than this one - they connect, they hold one's attention, and they leave one rooting for the eponymous hero.  Such complete satisfaction!

And the surprise is that in such a long movie, the characters are still so underwritten. Take Swastika's Angoori Devi. This beautiful actress is the femme fatale. Her body tells of many stories it knows, and her childlike voice anticipates the tragedy of misplaced trust. But with all her talent, her limpid eyes and slow seduction, Swastika can't transcend the limitations of her poorly etched character. Or the fact that, Satyavati doesn't exchange a single coy look with Byomkesh throughout the film, and in the end is proposed to. Lazy writing and absolute balderdash.

Strangely, it is the end when the film bursts into violent life. Ferocious, fabulously choreographed, and like a page out of an Antigone saga -craft at last seems to meet purpose. Indeed, the last ten minutes are almost like a different film. And the film this film should have been. 

Furious 7: tender tinder

So there was this dude who was asked why Indians didn't do well in life in general. And the answer was that, well, because they spend most of their time watching films! This is that kind of a film. Time waste. Time pass. Whatever. And the kind you come out happy and utterly satisfied. And in spite of aphorisms of the kind above, don't make you feel wasted. 

One of the greatest pleasures of my life is of reading a thumping mystery as a Saturday evening drifts by, and I sit all alone, as the body count increases, and I turn page after page, and wonder if life could be better? I remember a Sherlock Holmes mystery where the master of the house acts as the man servant, and opens the door to a guest, and shuts it on his face, saying "Master is not in," because he was reading a book with a fireplace burning , a cigar between his lips, and a glass of something strong glistening on a side-table. And didn't want to be disturbed. Well, again, this is that kind of a film. 

And when you are into the seventh instalment of a film franchise, well, you are with family. You know the tics and tricks, that expression on the face, that reaction, the loves and fears, of each one of the protagonists. You become indulgent towards the irritating and big-hearted towards the bogus. You do this for family, don't you?

Oh and there is much to be indulgent about, what with so much cheesy splendor on show. Cars speeding out of planes, landing on highways and immediately commencing pursuit of an armored truck which has nasty guns sprouting out of every nick and corner of the vehicle. Or a billion dollar car crashing out of the airy heights of the glassy exterior of a skyscraper into another building, and then another. And a car flying into thin air to encounter a helicopter midair and blowing it apart. Oh the audacity of imagination! 

But there is a sunset feel to the proceedings. Paul Walker would no longer be there. And he would be missed. He gave a winsome vulnerability to the film amidst it's impossible heroes and heroics. There's tenderness and remembrance. And the final tribute in the film shows the warmth of this warm persona, not only with his co-leads, but with the audience. Slow or fast, life spells out the inevitability of moving on and away. 

For the rest of it, this is one breathless ride. The best was saved for the last. 

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Insurgent: incisive.

Shailene Woodley's Tris is a character forever in an existential crisis. Her vulnerability shimmers on her face. She says "Everybody who has come close to me has either died or been hurt." The time she completely breaks down, after telling her truths under the influence of a serum, is a time where, strangely, she shows her greatest strength: her fragility. Because she can combine it with her determination, and transcend her self-doubt. 
Tris carries the guilt of her mother's death, that of her father and of personally killing a dear friend. For someone like this, the choice to give oneself up for any eventuality is easy. For her humaneness would ensure her survival - if not physically, then as the idea of her. 
But as humans we can scarcely think so far ahead. We can only be generous, humane and good. And let the Universe take care of us. 
In this outstanding adaptation of a mediocre novel, interpretations of 'the greater good' abound. Questions of slotting human beings into definitions of their primary strengths are asked. And the fight ensues. 
In a society which is demarcated into Dauntless, Amity, Candor, Abnegation and Erudite, as per a person's choice of what her strengths are, the lines have to blur. Someone has to think that they are brighter, better, more entitled to power. Humans desire peace but abhor nature's piecemeal distribution of resources. Hence trouble is forever the compatriot of peace. 
The film explodes even as its heroine implodes. It sears in it's ambition, in it's portrayal of a city getting destroyed as it's societies disintegrate. And it soars in scenes which take your breath away. And in front of your eyes you see a wisp of a girl turn into a peerless heroine.