Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Autograph

As Arun Chatterjee (Prosenjit) leaves Srini's flat, after she refuses to go out with him, and Srini (Nandana Sen) asks him to stay on so that she and her director-boyfriend Shubho (Indraneill) can drop him home, he notices the dinner- table set for two. He turns and says "Let me go now, for anyway, I have to leave - ultimately."

It's the superstar Arun Mukherjee's sad autograph on a loveless life. And first- time director Srijit's autograph of finding significance in minutiae.

Taking a mere idea from the legendary "Nayak", Srijit weaves a story of hubris, obsession and integrity. And how, as a man finds a dream, he in turn often loses his soul.

Prosenjit is the superstar who wants to prove that his name is enough to put the marque on fire. And for him the way to prove it, is his adoption of a new director, and even becoming his producer. For wouldn't then he be the center of all attention - and prove that he makes or unmakes a film, irrespective of the director?

The chosen heroine is the director's live-in girlfriend, Srini. And as the filming of the story commences, the layers of the characters start unravelling. And the edifice of relationships start crumbling.

It is a trusim that our deepest feelings are what define us - and give us our inner success or failure, outward success notwithstanding. Thus, Arun Mukherjee's soul carries burdens which put his life into a permanent penumbra.

And then, one lonely drunk evening, he pours his heart out to Srini.

But just as radiance comes in the outpouring, the shadows build exactly where the sun shines brightest.

The irony of life is glaring, because just when the confession of the lowest point of a life results in redemption, the pendulum swings to the person who is ready to scrap the bottom of the moral barrel to reach the top.

First-time director Srijit's narrative is assured and beautifully layered, as the film's reality tears into life's fictions.

He uses side-characters as mirrors for his principal protagonists: a married couple on the tenous nature of a live-in relationship, an old production assistant to signify intolerance, an aging actor to be shown his place, and a beggar-boy to be reminded he's trash.

As Arun and Srini build a tentative, soulful closeness, Shubho seems to give space for growth to the person he's closest to - until the final ironical twist on the real nature of generosity.


In a film which starts with hubris in a superstar and ends with a recognition of kindred souls, its not of little significance that the turnarounds and the unravellings are heart-rending and true.

And nothing is as expected.

Truly, rare is this film which combines cinema sensibility with such heart-felt sensitivity.


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Thursday, October 7, 2010

Robot

The great Indian sci-fi, with the greatest Indian alien, Rajnikanth!

With an intriguing concept- a robot with feelings, falling in love with the scientist's girl-friend, Aishwarya - and going haywire when rejected.

150 crores is spent like a nouvea riche - a Transformers made in Chennai! But with enough high drama, heightened emotions, corny humour, special effects and song-and-dance, to make it the masala film to go into guessing and to come out grinning!


October 10, 2010
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Saturday, September 4, 2010

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

As always, its a killer to read the novel first. The excitement goes, expectation increases. And who cares even if objectivity increases!

Right up, THE question - Noomi Rapace is, indeed, a fine Lisbeth Salander. Mean, gutsy, sly, idiosyncratic, and - yours only on her own terms.

The film is, happily, largely faithful to the novel, eschewing most of the side-plots and happenstances, without losing impact - except for one romance, which I will come to, in just a while.

The tale is, of course, of a disgraced journalist being called in by the scion of an industrial empire to solve a 40-year old case of the disappearance of his 16-year old niece.

The story unfolds at an even pace, as Mikael (Michael Nyqvist), the journalist, slowly pieces together strands of the old case. This is juxtaposed with an elaborate introduction of Lisbeth - a sleuth ostensibly, but truly an expert hacker - and what makes her so fascinating - her encounters in the sub-way, her clash with her official guardian, her interactions at work as a researcher. What this elongated piece does is to help the viewer delve into the psyche of Lisbeth, and also gives the film its adrenalin, amidst Mikhail's plodding and pottering.

Rapace is fascinating. And the screenplay nicely puts forth the contradictions and vulnerabilities of her character. Opposite her, Nyqvis' Mikael is effectively tired and beaten. His eyes reflect defeat which slowly grow in confidence, as the case starts to unravel.

The plot itself has its share of red herrings, religious references and depravities - which are par for the course for a decent thriller.

The major grouse comes in the form of the total exclusion of the book's fascinating relationship between Mikael and Erika, the magazine Millinium's editor. Its an absence which makes not only the romantic liasion of the film linear, but also robs the film from the story's complexity of relationships. Maybe that would have weighed down heavily on the structure of the film, but then - it would also have elevated the film onto a sociological plain, instead of being just a thriller with fascinating characters.

Until that is hopefully resoved in subsequent films, we need to double over from the sudden kick in the groin - or lie back and revel in the unexpected pleasure there - courtesy Lisbeth's mood!

~Sunil Bhandari
September 4, 2010
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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Wooden Camera

Hidden amongst hundreds of films made every year, are little gems, which sadly just do not get the viewing-attention and viewer-numbers which they truly deserve. "The Hidden Camera" from South Africa is one such film.

Charming, exuberant, and disturbing, this film delves into the racial ambivalence of South Africa, and a child's life, heart and mind, with rare sensitivity. Through the bonding and love of four black children – Madiba (the young hero of the film), Louise (his sister), Sipho (Madiba's dearest friend); and one white girl from a privileged family, Estelle, the entire spectrum of a nation's prejudices and a child's growing pangs and ambitions, are put into a fast-moving narrative.

Madiba and Sipho find a gun and a video camera on the body of a dead man who is thrown off a train. Sipho keeps the gun (with one bullet) and Madiba keeps the camera. And their lives change forever. Madiba hides the camera in a wooden box so the folks in his slum do not get enticed to it. And Sipho finds the power of a drawn gun very quickly.

One starts shooting the world around him digitally – and finds romance and magic in the most mundane of images of everyday life. And the other finds how people can be relieved of their belongings with just a flash of a weapon. The trajectory of their lives takes off on different planes.

And then Madiba, whilst shooting in Cape Town, encounters a white girl, Estelle, who steals a book for him, and gives it to him, as she speeds away in a huge car. Estelle is an unusual white girl: she reads Malcom X, has her walls covered with posters which say "We will stand by our rights", and pierces her nose because "(I) like it and it drives (my ) parents crazy"!

Madiba shoots everything and everywhere. Some of the best moments of the film come as he learns the power of a moving shot by getting a friend to pull him on a wheel barrow, and learns about the magic of lenses by shooting through colored plastic pieces.

The conflicts come in the form of Estelle's racist father, who can't stand blacks; and Sipho's taste for easy money. The denouements of both are immensely moving and shocking.

The film brings out the intense tension of the confrontations which poor kids face on a day-to-day basis as they go about their lives, and the challenges which an auteur faces in a world where there is no saying where the next morsel of food will come from.

The grime and the energy of the slum area are established with disarming and graceful charm. The friends, as they form relationships, who judge not before loving; and the siblings, as they enjoy each other's company, are etched effortlessly. Even as Sipho steals and kills, and Estelle fights and protests with her father, their intrinsic innocence and faultless view of the world never falters.

The final scenes of the railways tracks, as Madiba and Estelle set out to find their own world and way, are a testimony of a spirit which seeks its own rules and answers, as also of the infinite search for truth and beauty. And this film finds both in abundance.


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Sunday, June 20, 2010

American History X

There's a moment early in the film where Derek (Edward Norton) ) has just mercilessly slaughtered two blacks, for having vandalized his car. And the police have surrounded him, and he has his hands behind the back of his head. And then he rises like a demi-God, a smirk on his face, with tattoos of a Swastika and barbed wires on his bare body. 

Danny, his younger brother, is looking on in fright, shock and awe. Derek looks at him in absolute triumph and then winks at him. The deed is done. And the police and the incarceration are just small prices to pay. And Derek, in the most subtle of pass-throughs, had just given his legacy of hatred and intolerance to his younger brother. 

On the face of it, American History X  is a seething document on racial discrimination. But deep inside, the film is about the origins of evil, and the influence which family has on us. 

We start our lives with clean slates, our hearts and minds eager to learn, ripe to be influenced. And the seeds of prejudice often come on the dining table: one comment of discrimination, and a mind could be warped forever. After things spin out of control, it becomes easy for Derek's father to tell his separated wife: "Doris, you don't know the world your children are living in." For he wouldn't remember how he himself had sown the seeds, which had now come into a full flowering of prejudice and hatred. 

The film moves between past (shot in stunning black and white) and present, as Danny writes a punishment-paper of "historical relevance" – his brother Derek's history. 

The film's set-pieces delve deeper and deeper into the origin of our true beings. The family discussion around the dining table is heart-stopping in its intensity. Derek is insistent how incidents of black-white disputes are being explained away and marginalized, as if "its not a riot, its rage; its not crime, its poverty."

Ironically, Derek than manhandles his sister, Devina, who doesn't like what he says, and a line is crossed. His mother tells him "I am ashamed that you came out of my body." And she asks him to leave the house.

The man-slaughter thereafter becomes just an extension of Derek's frustration and anger. 

But life changes people, just as they are influenced with people they accept in their lives. In the jail, it requires an innocent black partner to have Derek see what goodness can do. And a bunch of his earlier avatars to see the forms evil can take. And he understands what his mother meant when she comes to visit him at jail and says "You think you are the only one doing time?"

Derek is a changed man when he comes out of the jail. Even as he starts to negate his past, his past relationships, and draws closer to the family he had always treated with scorn, the past refuses to let go of him.

Family can mean a lot, indeed. When he starts to bond with Danny and seeks to pull his brother out of the mess he was getting into, both of them take down every remnant of their past from the walls, which they did not want as intrusions in their futures. 

But there was a circle of pain to be completed. Nature finishes a task, one way or the other. Tragedy falls, but in ways which are both stunning and heart-rending.

Danny, in his history and testament, says this, to close his essay: "Life's too short to be pissed off all the time. It's just not worth it." He quotes Abraham Lincoln: "We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection."

As this remarkable film shows, its a sentiment easier said than done.

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Friday, June 18, 2010

Three Colours Red

Red is for love, passion, anger: emotions which connect people. But more than anything else, red is about warmth, which makes life livable, lovable.

"Three colours Red" is all about life, and its strange coincidental connections. And how a turn in a road leads to an amazing turn in one's life.

Valentine is a model who has a jealous boyfriend gone out of town. All she wants is "a life of peace and quiet" as she waits for him, and wears his jacket to sleep, to feel him near her. One night, as she runs over a dog, and meets Kern, the owner, to return the creature, life takes a turn. She finds Kern to be an eavesdropper of the telephone conversations of his neighbours.

Connections are found, connections are built. Pity is construed, disgust is found.

And when out of the turpitude, there arises honesty, there is also the strength of innocence which springs forth.

Valentine passes through hell when her life suddenly goes into an alley she doesn't understand, and what she stood for starts to unravel.

Valentine and Kerns, two strangers, alone, slightly adrift, find meaning, where none seem to exist.

When Valentine puts her palm over Kerns', on either side of a car window, she acknowledges how we seek - and find - intimacy and redemption in mysterious ways.

"Three colours Red" is an autumnal film of discovery. Of an old man who remembers an old love in an innocent girl and ruefully tells her "maybe you were the woman I never met". Its about a young woman who knows "something important" is happening to her, but she doesn't know what it is , and "is afraid." Its director Krzysztof KieĊ›lowski's last film and his final golden testament to the mystery of relationships.

Against a background score which is sepulchral and haunting, the film is awash in warm earthly tones found in the leaves on the ground, as a setting sun's refracted slant, as a studio's red glow, as a dance class' chrome.

But above all this, is Irene Jacob's fragile presence as Valentine. Her face is a universe of emotions and her smile lights up lives. She gives this film of discovery, and rediscovery, a meaning and feeling which last far beyond the ordinary.

~ Sunil Bhandari
June 7th, 2010.
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The Two Jakes

Jake Gittes is a successful private detective. He has seen it all. He is cynical about life, sardonic about relationships: he is also insightful and sensitive. Corruption surrounds the world he inhabits, but, miraculously, it has not completely corroded his soul. As he says "In a town of lepers, I am the one with the most fingers."

And that, in this world, is both his strength and his Achilles Heel.

And this multi-layered man makes The Two Jakes a film-noir thriller with more than a mere thrill.

What seems like an open-and-shut case of marital infidelity and rage-murder, suddenly starts getting complex when a recording of the conversations of the adulterous wife and murdered man reveal a name which is right out of the tortured past of our detective Jake. Suddenly, there opens up a mystery - and an old wound.

As Jake delves in deeper, the reasons and the stakes turn out to be murkier. As Jake says, with irrepressible profundity: "Nine times out of ten, if you follow the money you will get to the truth."

But the greater mystery involves Jake's past: "You can't forget the past, anymore than you can change it." And as much as he let's his loins dictate what he does ("Put your ass up in the air: I am trying to be a gentleman here"), he gives in to the debilitating effect of remembrance ("Memories are like that: as unpredictable as nitro. You never know what will set them up.")

In the end, the thriller comes out with a trill of the heart. Rogues are secret heroes and self-annihilation is ultimately a noble sacrifice.

Complex, though languorous; intricately plotted, though sometimes overwrought; atmospheric, though under-directed at times; lush and beautifully scored, one cannot go wrong with a film where the adulterous woman totally refutes being an accomplice in premeditated murder by saying "I was honestly unfaithful".


~ Sunil Bhandari
June 9th, 2010
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Saturday, May 29, 2010

Kites

Anurag Basu's ouevre is full of love in the shadows - and he manages to give anguish and understanding, instead of licentiousness, to the most basic of instincts and profane of relationships. His Murder, and more so, Life in Metro were landmarks of passion on the cliff-edge.

Hence he was the right person for this venture. Hrithik's stealing his betrothal's brother's to-be-bride from under the nose of the Mafia family's noses, was fraught with dangerous potential.

But, alas, he choses mush over edge, even when he had two full-bodied hot-blooded young stars ready to tear each other out. Instead of the dirty love-making the film was screaming for, we get virginal looks reminiscent of the squeaky-clean '70s.

And then, to make matters worse, the wisp of a story is not even given a bushy tail to wag.

But when one has given up on getting to see a great film, one sits back to check out the little pleasures. Mercifully, they do keep coming!

The film starts beautifully, interweaving the past and present. Hrithik's voice says "When kites fly together for too long they get cut." The barreness of the land is symptomatic of what is to come.

Hrithik's rake is seductive enough for a fragile Kangana to fall for. And his entry into her rich family starts the descent into deceit.

The first meeting of Hrithik with Mori, underwater, is beautifully filmed, with an Enya-like ululation playing out in the background, underlining the physicality of the tryst. Mori is a goddess worth the greek god.

And her boyfriend is, of course, a cad. He runs his hand over her thigh and says he flipped for her two legs leading to heaven. But at least he is honest in his grossness: the film's script is dishonest in having us believe that it is any different for Hrithik and Mori.

The Las Vegas sequences are deliberately garish, and Mori is a waif in the lights. And the rain-encrusted nights are beautifully captured. And so is Mori's knowing innocence.

The real tragedy here is the lack of connect between the lead players. Kangana's desperate love for Hrithik, delienated in just a couple of scenes has more authencity, than all the looks which the lead pair share. This is the most under-written part of the film, and a large reason for its lack of emotional resonance with the audience.

But the set-pieces come a-plenty.

The salsa dance is pulsating and cheoragraphed with panache, and itself worth the price of the ticket. The warmth of love-on-the-run glows in the way it builds. The landscapes of the song Zindagi do pal ki, Mori's and Hrithik's touching, kissing, the closeness and the radiance, along with the light-heartedness of the Mexico chapter are filmed with heart.

Unfortunately the chase scenes, which form a large part of the second half, fill you with a sense of deja vu, as uni-dimensional cops and villians try hard to make fools of themselves.

The penultimate scene is filmed in a white barren landscape against the blue sea, as Hrithik retraces - and follows - Mori's tragic fate.

The film ends where it started, under the sea, in a sepulchral, uplifting underwater dance of spirits. A scene which could have broken a viewer into pieces, only if, alas, it had been at the end of a full and fulfilling film.


~ Sunil Bhandari
Copyright © 2010 – All rights reserved.
May 28th, 2010



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Sunday, May 9, 2010

Iron Man 2

Remember David Niven as James Bond in the spoof, Casino Royale (which came out much before Daniel Craig made it there with Eva Green)? That was a deliberate spoof and an atrocious film, unfunny, and immediately consigned to the dustbin of cinematic memory.

Well, here is Iron Man 2, an unfortunate - and undeliberate- spoof, in its very second outing.

A Russian is plotting against Iron Man with his own personal agenda. A rival American businessman is trying to make the Iron of the Man a national property. And Iron Man is dying, and he wants to spend the last days of his life boozing and partying and generally letting himself go.

Robert Downey can take the tragedy of a soul and make you feel the pain - that's his calibre. Here he plays out the insecurity and the sarcasm of his alter ego as a continuing joke. And he is joined in this unenterprising endeavour by almost every actor. Until it becomes one big unfunny comedy.

The story had some potential - with the chance to bring out the angst of an arrogant Super Hero suddenly finding himself to be mortal, and the delicious Scarlett Johansson being set up for potential romance.

But the tethered story-writing and the untethered (and under-directed) Downey (showing more of his arrogance as an actor than that of his character), make the film sink.

Tragically, the best action set-piece belongs not to him but to Scarlett Johansson, who delivers some superb blows as she gets into the villian's lair. The final confrontation is tame and yawn-inducing.

With Gwyneth Paltrow, Samuel Jackson, Mickey Rourke, and Scarlett Johansson, if this is what they make of their franchise, Iron Man is already rusted.

~ Sunil Bhandari
Copyright © 2010 – All rights reserved.
May 8th, 2010


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Thursday, May 6, 2010

The Hurt Locker

Films are ultimately experiences. They touch a nerve, mostly tangibly, often intangibly. Some films hit you with a bat; some creep astride ( and then inside) you. And then there's The Hurt Locker, a film which does both.

A military squad in Iraq, which the film follows episodically, is doing a job of defusing bombs. One of the soldiers discovers tragedy. Another counts his days to escape. And yet another finds the job to be his personal escape.

Its all attitude. It could be another day in the office, with different people just doing their jobs in their own way. But this is war - a different kind of an office.

And that's what the film is all about. In its edge-of-the-seat construction, it brings in its layers and sub-texts.

The psychology of a passion, when life is taken over and everything else matters little. When what you do (here: work inside a pressure cook) gets inside you so completely that it touches your very soul. And leaves you cold to the warmest of human connections. War becomes drug.

And in its realization of this grim idea comes the reality of what a war can make of a person.

Its a frightening, liberating and an imprisoning thought. And that's what this film is.




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Sunday, April 25, 2010

Up in the air

You don't know how empty you are, unless you are filled up once. Its a lesson of life, which takes a while to learn; and often learnt with great grief. And once learnt, leaves you empty - and full - at the same time.

"Up in the Air" is all about how people change as the people in their lives change.

Ryan Bingham travels 270 days a year. He is soon to become only the 7th person ever to clock 10 million air points. His sisters don't get to see him at all. But he loves it all - the air terminals, the hotel rooms, the food at the terminals, the continuous moving around.

He fires people for a living, when employers are too squeamish to do it themselves.

He is smooth, terrific at his heartless job. And famous on the lecture tour for his treatise on how to live off a rucksack ("Your relationships are the heaviest component of your life. Lighten your bag of them. We are not swans, we are sharks. Slower we move, faster we die")

And then he meets his female counterpart - Alex ("I am you with a vagina!") And they find chemistry, and start to re-arrange their crazy travel schedules to meet, and mate.

And then along comes young Harvard graduate, Natalie, out to change how things work in the company Ryan works in. And Ryan is in danger of being set to start operating from the home-town office. No travelling again. Devastation is near. He abhors Natalie. And to add salt to the wounds, he has to show Natalie the way things work out there. And they are up in the air, together.

And, as so very often happens, life is never the same again.

The slickness of the film, the charisma of its actors, their seductions never ever give a hint of what is to follow.

Time and again, in film and life, we have seen the vulnerability of the lonely man. And the disaster which ardour wroughts. Someone who is tough in his job, just ends being clueless and guileless - and tragically, child-like - in matters of the heart.

George Clooney is beautiful, in his smugness, in his desiring and desirability. One realizes how much we miss him as a lover, when he lights up his life, and ours, as he delves into his affair with Vera Farmiga. The essential vacuity of his life stares at him starkly.

And when Anna Kendrick enters his life as Natalie, the essential pain his job causes, starts to show on his face, as he watches Anna do what he has done for aeons, and sees what it does to her, and what it does to him, but doesn't show.

And one sees he was never ever tough.

The film is continuously funny, and insightful.

Natalie is eager, ambitious, in love, but unable to understand a man like Ryan. When he tells her about his ambition to reach 10 million air points, all she says is "Why do men have to pee on everything, and put a name on it?"

When Alex is leaving a tryst, she tells Ryan "Call me when you are lonely." And he stops her and says "I am lonely."

In the end, after he returns to his lone-ranger life, Ryan is all set to start flying again, and as he stands in front of a gigantic flight-detail screen, his shoulders droop. As he gets into the plane, he tells himself that he was back where he loved being, and however bright the city lights below were, his wingtip would always shine brighter.

Alas, we know better.


~ April 25th, 2010


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Saturday, April 24, 2010

Wake up Sid

Its a nice place to be in.

Not in one's rich pad, but in an attractive friend's apartment. Never to worry about food, even when there is no money. And even if you are lazy, rude to parents, unwilling to commit, there is always a Director-writer to give you a nice internship for your photography talent!

Welcome to the Indolence Paradise of the Rich n Famous.

Sid meanders in a world of tequila and parties and car rides in the night. Since he is sensitive he watches the sea also.

He gets angry when his father wants him to work. And walks out of his home in a huff. He finds a place to stay in, he finds a job, he finds a lover. Period.

Ayan Mukherji, the Director, has obviously grown as a priveleged child. Maybe the biggest trauma in his childhood was when he couldn't order a Dominoes pizza when he wanted to.

The depth of this trauma shows in the superficial silly movie.

Oh there is the gloss, the show, the acting. And one is pleasantly entertained. It makes you feel good. You like the locations, you like the characters. And the music is continuosusly there in the background, pleasant and unmemorial.
Precisely what the film is too.

~ Sunil

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Gulaal

A fevered tale of power-hunger, love and deception given a visceral and gut-wrenching treatment.

A feudal background has beer bars as residences, folk singers as conscience keepers, and student union elections as a metaphor of the Union of India.

Bravura acting, scathing lyrics and a director who doesn't believe in holding back, make for a truly compelling, though often difficult, viewing.


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Revolutionary Road

A searing drama of the angst of daily living, of the desperation to feel special in an ordinary world, and how we are defeated by the very things which we need freedom from.

Kate Winslet is peerless, and her silences steal the show from a garrulous and edgy Leonard de Caprio.

A matchless film on unmatched ambitions.

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The diving bell and the butterfly

Here's a quirky and delightful film, a meditation on the preciousness of life.

A high-flying editor of Elle is suddenly laid off with a rare disease, and in a state of total paralysis, where the only communication he can do is through one eye, he looks back and forward to his life.

Unusually structured, with a large part of the film from the point-of-view of the protoganist, whom you don't even see, the film pulls you into its deepest messages: how a deeply flawed life can also be a life fully lived.

As he looks back into the fancies, foibles and follies of what made his life, we discover how the smallest moments can bring the greatest memories. How wind ruffling the hair, the feel of a child's warm and small body in one's arms, the lush curve of a woman's body, and the sheer beauty of the world we live in, can be enough to sustain a life messily lived.
We ourselves do not know what we mean for ourselves, and to others, until, often, there is no time to say it. Fortunately for us, this film says it.

Totally hypnotic, and deeply moving, the film shows you, how, as you plumb the depths of life - and despair - like a diving bell, you are also getting - and giving others - wings of life, like a butterfly.

~ Sunil Bhandari
January 9, 2010
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2012

2012 is not a Fellini. It could well have been, though. The destruction of the world comes with a destruction inside men also. But there is Ray on the kerb too. For there are humanists amidst humans becoming beasts.

2012 is a big film on a small peg. The Mayan calendar ends in 2012. It is interpreted by many as the end of the world. By this film too. The sun is overheating. So is the earth's crust. And the scene is set for the film's hyper-ventilating.

The little signs are there. The first scene in India, where a small boy's toy boat in a flooded street capsizes in the "tsunami" of a taxi's wake. The small cracks on the pavements in a town in California, over which children play hopscotch, in glee. A cruise ship which rolls ominously, as if by a beast from below.

The world leaders know about the impending end for years, and they make a diabolic plan to bring about survival. But only of a few.

Our hero, a failed author, has a family to save. And his breathless journey towards safety is the film, as everything around collapses, burns or sinks.

It is easy to discredit Hollywood by saying technology overpowers in a big film, and everything is made simplistic to amass the masses.

But the fact remains that no film will ever work without an emotional core. And 2012 also, in its broad strokes, addresses all the major concerns and drivers of a man's decisions of life.

There is selfishness of a Russian mogul. But also the incredible humanity of a Head of State, who refuses to seek safety as his countrymen die. The US President tellingly urges a scientist to leave for safety by saying that one scientist in a new world would be better than 20 politicians. And as everything seems to near anninhilation, there is someone who stands up to remind everyone that a new world could not be built on an act of cruelty, and the moment we stopped fighting for each other would be the moment of the true end.

There is nothing which is subtle, its all spelt out, by characters who are upfront there to say the lines or do the doing. But sometimes that is what is required - a sentence reminding us what defines us as humans and not animals, amidst times when each man is seemingly on his own.

Amidst all the havoc being wrought, there are great scenes of beauty. A flight of birds - almost like a flying of the spirits of all humanity - from the valleys of Yellowstone Park. A Buddhist hermit's mountaintop temple, slowly getting engulfed. The last sight from Mount Big Horn. Vatican City in prayer with the Pope. The ark-decks in deep yellow sunlight.

And then the contrasts. A lama boy's small truck in front of the ultra-modern arks. The generosity of a pilot and the venality of his Russian boss. The immensity of a President's decision and the self-centerdness of his Deputy.

What touches the core is, of course, when the floor beneath the home cracks, the mall in which one shops collapses, and gardens disappear. It is far more compelling than seeing the White House crumbling.

In the most dire of times, there are so many ordinary men who can and do become heroes.

It sometimes does take a Hollywood film, amidst its fireballs, earth-cracks, catacysms and tsunamis, to tell us that.

~ Sunil
Nov 26th, 2009



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Taking of Pelham 123

Who could have thought that one of the sexiest things would be to hear Denzel Washington and John Travolta talk to each other on the phone? After all, they are just two middle-aged men, putting on weight, with one of them an ornery official in the New York Metro heirarchy and the other a man holding 17 Metro travellors hostage.

But there you are.

When things go right in a film where everything is going wrong, its a privilege to peep into what is going on in the hearts and minds of its protoganists.

And straightaway what could just be a thriller gets elevated into a psycho-drama of a cat and a mouse, or maybe, as it transpires, two cats.

The drama of a subway train being taken over for ransom is just a sly bare-bone structure on which the story of the greed of an entire city hinges. If Travolta uses a kidnapping to raise money, in more ways than one, Denzel, the hero, is under investigation for taking a bribe. And the Mayor is one who takes one dollar as his salary but wears the most expensive suits possible. And his greatest regret is he didn't anticipate the collapse in the stock exchange because of the kidnapping, otherwise he could have made some money out of it.

So here is a world where every protoganist is morally compromised, whatever the compulsion.

The action scenes in the entrails of the earth, or up on the roads are well executed and bristle with a fine tension. But the finest scenes are reserved for when the two protoganists clash. The scene where Travolta drives Denzel towards a confession, could well be the most compulsive. And when they finally meet, the screen bristles with what could well be, well, pent- up passion!!

Its easy to compare or/and criticize the previous film with this one. But both are films made in different eras, and this version does well to be inclusive in its recognition of a world which is morally grey, and where that guy carrying a pound of milk home, could be a great father and also a person who has accepted a bribe.

And that is where Taking of Pelham 123 takes your breath away.

~ Sunil
September 7th, 2009
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The Japanese Wife

A gentle school teacher, in hinterland Bengal, makes a pen-pal of a Japanese girl who is a shopkeeper on the outskirts of a Japanese city. Soon, they marry. But not once in their married lives do they meet.

With this wisp of a story, Aparna Sen weaves a film of utmost magic. Capturing the integrity of an almost-impossible relationship, with artistry and lyricism, she gives one of her finest films till date.

Each character is perfectly cast, the music and the editing are at one with the pace and cadences of the story. And the cinematography captures colours and shades with an artist's palette.

Its hard to think of innocence treated without cynicism, in these times of reality television and encouraged skullduggery ("the end is all that matters"). And to do so with a lightness of touch and humour is an even more difficult task.

And as this small gem on love, longing and loneliness draws to a close, one is reminded of the small things which keep people together, however far they may be.

(Out in halls in early April)

~ Sunil Bhandari
March 5, 2010
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Love Sex aur Dhoka

Three unrequited love stories. Two seductions. One fine film.

Cameras are integral to our lives. They are no different from an eye - except that they record, remember perfectly, and allow us to playback. And hence they can become chroniclers, intruders, or spies.

As soon as a camera delves into the privacies of our lives, they catch a rawness of behavior which we are not even aware of.

Dibankar wants to catch those moments - the unplanned, the unmasked, the unhinged.

Three separate stories are told linearly, with touch points in each other. But they are tales on their own - spanning out respectively on a new director's camera, a shop's survelliance camera and finally on a spy cam.

The first part is predictable (couple in love, girl's father the foul-mouthed villian, and all the consequences) but comedic and visceral in its treatment. The final scenes shot in a "nightshot" mode, from the ground level, off-kilter, have a brutal impact.

But it is the second part which holds the film together and gives it its poignant heart. Seamless, beautifully written and immacualtey enacted, it is shot in a shop's survelliance camera. What starts as a seduction to create a MMS, slowly converts into jealous love - and then the circle turns. Truly a gem of story-telling.

The third part, shot as a spy camera for a sting camera, unravells as a sting operation of a compromised to-be-dancer by a famous pop singer. It is a sting story for a reporter and redemption for the girl. What is unexpected is the tenderness between both.

Dipankar writes in the vulnerability of a woman with heart-breaking authencity. And he creates atmosphere with authenticity. The camera is a vital accessory as it heightens the rawness of feelings. The dialogues are rugged, profane and often very funny.

Ah and the infamous sex scene? It is not a turn-on (it wasn't meant to be) and is full of grief as a consequence of its build-up.

And ultimately that is what makes this a fine film. It takes its making into the folds of its story, crazily heightening the tension, laying bare the layers of a man's compulsions, a woman's susceptibility, or the pathetic comedy of a cad.

LSD looks radical, but works so well, because it is truly old-fashioned in fashioning some fine stories.


~ Sunil Bhandari
19th March 2010

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Freeway

Reese Winterspoon is the vixen, the Red Riding Hood, in this bad-mouthed free-wheeling black-comedy adaptation to the fairy tale. She is feisty, even as the big bad Wolf, a paedophile Keiffer Sutherland, starts to feast on her.

On the run from foster homes, after her drug-addled step-father and hustler mother are put behind bars, she is on the way to her granny. And encounters the Wolf.

Produced by Oliver Stone, this little gem is punchy and violent and menacing and hilarious as it mixes its blood, cusses and energy delightfully. Unmissable.

~ Sunil Bhandari
Feb 23, 2010
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Four weddings and a funeral.

Four weddings and a funeral. And my fourth viewing. And once again I am suffused with goodwill and warmth. Rare is the film which is so perfect. In its characterisation, its dialogues, its sheer incandescence.

Largely episodic, quientiessentially English, its about Hugh Grant and his group of friends, who keep falling in love, moving on, marrying or (in one case) dying.

Set amidst, what else, four weddings and a funeral, it follows the on-and-off-and-on affair Hugh has with the immensely attractive Andie Macdowell. Their togetherness, repartee and chemistry crackles and is one of the reasons the film glows.

But there is much much more to revel in the film. The care in fleshing out characters, where with just a few dialogues and a couple of scenes, a person comes fully alive and makes you care.

A new priest who does his first wedding, with hilarious results; Hugh's heartwarming Best Man speech; Andie's counting off her lovers in a cafe; a girl secretly in love seeing her object of affection go through numerous affairs; the intensely moving speech on the death of a friend (including the deeply-felt Auden's poem "Stop all The Clocks") ....the riches in the film are many.

The writing is immaculate, the direction nuanced and the acting first-rate.

A film to savour again and again.

~ Sunil Bhandari
April 5th, 2010
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Inglorious basterds

At the heart of the film is savagery, bereft of tenderness, brimming with menace.

And Tarantino is THE master of menace. He creates it with consummate ease - he leads you up, he holds your hand gently, and then he let's you fall, nay, hurtle down, like a rollercoaster which only goes down.

He fills his films with an elegantly raw artistry and his own special slow-burning build-up. You could liken it to a long foreplay, or you could call it the tease of a talented sadist.

See how he starts this film. Pretty girls, lush French countryside landscapes, romance in the soundtrack - all these fill your senses. But its not long before you realize all of it is not for the heart or the heart-break; it only exists for the heart-attack.

Tarantino brings his love for interweaving stories and cinema into play. He weaves complexity with relish , and finds World War 2 as happy hunting ground.

As a director, Tarantino brings the amazing out of his actors, time and again - Uma Thurman, John Travolta, Kurt Russell, Darryl Hannah, Luis Lui, just to name a few. Here, we have Brad Pitt trying out his Brando-pose and Soutern brogue with broad brushes. And finds opposite him a smooth (name), a little known German actor, who underplays his animal, with tease and ease.

Tarantino writes with an overpowering sense of ironical humour and humorous irony.

There's Wild West in the soudtrack when the Nazis come, the Jew hunter smokes a pipe which is straight from the Marx brothers. A bloody confrontation is preceded with a game with placards affixed on foreheads. And the fantasy finds its end in the very place where all fantasies start and end - the cinema hall.

After a linear Death Proof, Tarantino returns to his complex story-telling - interweaving stories, flashbacks which pop in without warning, quotidian conversation which work like the sharpening of a knife, and the shock of an in-the-face denouement.

It is no surprise that the last line in the film is "My best work so far, eh?." Hmm, with Kill Bill, Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs in ones CV, its a tough one to answer. But, oh yes, a rousing addition to the pantheon, indeed.


~ Sunil Bhandari
Oct 1, 2009
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