Links: Oscar hopefuls, Paddington, Dolly ki Doli and more

Click for my reviews of

Tevar (ghastly. No seriously, it’s ghastly)

Big Eyes (terribly disappointing, particularly since you’d Tim Burton would be in his element in this biopic. Sadly, no.)

The Imitation Game (who knew Alan Turing had a whole lotta Sherlock in him?)

(which should have been called Aiaiyo. Deeply homophobic and generally meh.)

American Sniper (so many problems, but so very watchable.)

Paddington (warning: you will find yourself eating marmalade after watching this film.)

Dolly ki Doli (just not fun enough)

Baby (which should have been called Indian Sniper.)

Khamoshiyan (worse than Creature 3D.)


Links: PK, Ugly and looking back at 2014

My review of PK, which is one of the bravest films to come out of Bollywood in recent times. It’s not surprising that director Rajkumar Hirani’s candy-floss-flavoured attack on godmen struck a nerve in some people. The good news is that more people chose to watch and cheer for PK.

Everyone loved Ugly, but the film just didn’t come together for me. It’s not bad, but neither is it as compelling as a story like these needs to be.

Looking back at 2014, it had some superb onscreen heroines. It also had some mindbogglingly confused women characters, including the nightmare that was Action Jackson and Highway, in which a kidnap victim who not only falls in love with her kidnapper but somehow turns the kidnap into child’s play in her head.

Finally, in the list of what Bollywood murdered in 2014: Storytelling, heroic good looks and more.

Links: Reviews of Ungli, Exodus: Gods and Men, Action Jackson, The Hobbit, Lingaa

Actor Emraan Hashmi has had a rough time of late, with every release flopping at the box office. Ungli tried to appeal to the audience’s inner vigilante, but the film was all kids of stupid. My review is here.

Ridley Scott as director, Christian Bale as Moses… it sounds so good. But dear god, it’s so bad. Speaking of god, how do you like the idea of the universe being run by an 11-year-old boy?

A few of the plagues in the Book of Exodus really do sound like cosmic pranks, like unleashing countless frogs and swarms of flies upon Egypt or making Egyptians break out in boils. The plague of frogs and boils sound particularly like the sort of things that would make an 11-year-old clap their hands with glee. But there are others that are no laughing matter. The water of the Nile turns to blood, livestock and babies are killed, crops are destroyed. What is particularly disturbing about God in the Book of Exodus is that he’s intent upon showing off and in the process, making everyone – Egyptians and Israelites – suffer simply because he can and because he feels like it.

In fact, the first plague affects all of Egypt, slaves and masters. As one after another natural and supernatural disaster strikes the country, it becomes increasingly clear that this is not power play to free the Israelites. Rather, the plagues are to rub the Egyptian gods’ noses in the metaphorical dust and to somewhat literally put the fear of God into the Israelites. More than once, the Pharaoh says that he’s ready to free the Israelites and let them leave Egypt. More than once, we are told God hardens the Pharaoh’s heart and the Pharaoh recants that decision, setting the stage for more catastropes. Had God not made the Pharaoh change his mind, there would have just been two plagues.

In some ways, it’s perhaps more comforting to think that a child, who is enjoying playing around with his new toys, would behave so petulantly, rather than a grown up god who made us in his own image.

Read the whole piece here. (It’s long.)

Action Jackson is, without doubt, the worst film I’ve seen. It’s the one time, so far, that I’ve been seriously tempted to boycott a film. Except it was the only release that week, which meant we had to review it even though it is flatly offensive in every possible way. My review is here.

Finally, it’s time for Peter Jackson to exit Middle Earth and as The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies show, it’s about time. I remain on Team Aragorn, thank you very much.  My review is here.

Rajinikanth is back, and he’s got a double role in Lingaa. The film’s real star, however, is the subtitlist. My review is here.

Links: Garam Hava, Boyhood, Kill/Dil, Film Bazaar and banning ‘feminism’

MS Sathyu’s classic film Garam Hava was re-released and it’s a film that doesn’t seem dated or irrelevant decades after its original release in 1974. A look at how differently India’s political establishment has changed its attitude towards the indie film:

Whether it’s the shame and heartbreak of being jilted, the frustration at being qualified but unemployed or struggling with stereotypes, much of Garam Hava is still real and relatable. The difference is in the world surrounding the film — can you imagine Prime Minister Narendra Modi using his considerable powers to ensure a tiny little indie film gets released?

Read the whole piece here.

My review of Richard Linklater’s remarkable Boyhood.

My review of Kill/Dil, which is far from remarkable.  

NFDC’s Film Bazaar has a section titled Knowledge Series and here’s a glimpse of what happened there:

Tony Leung came to Goa! I didn’t meet him. But one woman did, and she ruined the rest of us brown women’s chances with him.

TIME magazine had its annual word banishment poll and this year, one of the candidates was “feminism”. Sigh.

If there’s one thing that has become increasingly evident, then it is how difficult equality is as a concept. Possibly as a result of generations of patriarchy, we can only envision one group overpowering the other, which is why there’s that curious vision of feminists toppling men from their position of power and reducing them to leashed pets. Since that’s what men did to women in so many parts of the world, it makes sense to many that women will return the favour when the power balance shifts to them. That isn’t what the feminists are saying, by the way. It’s the vision put forward by those who oppose feminists.

This is why you need feminism and feminists to appear like that ticker that TIME so dislikes – because otherwise misconceptions persist and people remain illiterate.

Read the whole piece here.


Links: A catch-up of movie reviews

September has been a pretty cruel month. The jury’s out on October.

Mary Kom, directed by Omung Kumar and starring Priyanka Chopra.
In one line: “To really tell Kom’s story, we’re going to need a braver and more talented film industry.”

Sin City: A Dame To Kill For, directed by Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez; starring Mickey Rourke, Jessica Alba, Josh Brolin, Eva Green and others.
In one line: “It takes rare skill to take actors as talented as those in Sin City 2’s cast and present a film that is as forgettable as this one.”

Creature 3D, directed by Vikram Bhatt and starring Bipasha Basu.
In one line: “Most people watch Bhatt’s films expecting a comedy and although Creature has some moments of delight, there’s only so much of Bhatt’s CGI snarl that you can take.”

A review of the old Khoobsurat, directed by Hrishikesh Mukherjee and starring Rekha. As it turned out, this film and Shashank Ghosh’s new Khoobsurat have only two names in common — of the films themselves and Manju.
In one line (the new film): “Ghosh’s decision to effectively make Fawad Khan’s Vikram Singh Rathore a sex object is a masterstroke that makes Khoobsurat one of the more enjoyable chick flicks that Bollywood has produced in a while.”

Daawat-e-Ishq, by Habib Faisal and starring Parineeti Chopra and Aditya Roy Kapur.
n one line: “Daawat-e-Ishq is a Bollywood-shaped tick mark supporting the argument that Section 498A is used to harass people side.”

Liar’s Dice, directed by Geetu Mohandas and starring Geetanjali Thapa and Nawazuddin Siddiqui.
n one line:  “Thapa and Siddiqui deliver riveting performances that blind you to the weaknesses in the script and characterisation.”

Mardistan, directed by Harjant Gill.
In one line: “Gill speaks to four men about their understanding of masculinity and how they negotiate conservative patriarchy in their everyday lives.”

Haider, directed by Vishal Bharadwaj and starring Shahid Kapoor, Tabu and Irrfan Khan.
n one line: “The real story of Haider is not in the lives of these main characters, but in the nameless others who together create the most poignant and realistic portrait of Kashmir that Hindi cinema has seen so far.”

Bang Bang!, directed by Siddharth Anand and starring Katrina Kaif and Hrithik Roshan.
In one line: “Quite obviously, Viren’s death must be avenged and by the power of Pizza Hut, Mountain Dew, Ray Ban, Hokey Pokey and other brands, Rajveer Nanda (Hrithik Roshan) is here to do so.”

Links: Reviews, Oscar drinking game, snubs and more

This round-up is long overdue and I’ve been delaying this only because I’m not sure how to organise two-pages worth of links. So now I’m biting the bullet and dismissing any prospect of organisation. These are just links, in no particular order.

The Lego Movie is, without a doubt, one of the most awesome movies I’ve seen. (Spaceship! Spaceship! Spaceship!) (Everything is awesome!) Sure, it’s product placement, but it’s also adorable and very, very clever. And maybe even a little subversive.

Recently, The Times of India published an article that said Aleph had recalled copies of On Hinduism by Wendy Doniger from bookstores in Bangalore. It’s not quite clear what’s happening with On Hinduism because Aleph has only issued an odd, confusing statement. However, the Doniger affair began with Penguin deciding to withdraw and pulp existing copies of her book, The Hindus. More on freedom of expression here.

Marathi cinema is seeing something of a resurgence, after having been squashed and starved by Hindi blockbusters. One of the films that proves this renaissance is the gorgeous and heartbreaking Fandry.

A review of Gunday, which is perhaps the most graphic Bollywood bromance I’ve seen.

Nishtha Jain’s documentary on activist Sampat Pal, Gulabi Gang, is an interesting documentary on Pal and her organisation. There’s always so much eager to attack men and families that are strangers or unrelated. When it’s one of the Gulabi Gang’s own who is involved, everything becomes more complicated.

My review of Highway, a film that I thought was ok right after watching it. In hindsight, the more I think about it, the less I like it, particularly the end where the victim of a kidnapping imagines herself and her kidnapper as children, gambolling around a picturesque countryside. Because you know, that’s what kidnap is: child’s play.

Honestly, I wasn’t expecting great insight from Shaadi Ke Side Effects, but neither did I expect the film to unravel as much as it did.

There’s a new season of actor Aamir Khan’s talk show, Satyamev Jayate, on Indian television.

A quick compilation of the best film nominations at the Oscars and a list of some of the films that the Oscars snubbed this year.

Alexander Payne’s Nebraska, which is slow but just such a wonderful, contemporary look at Americana. He’s so good at capturing family dynamics and making the seemingly dysfunctional reveal itself as strangely endearing.

Ok, I admit I liked watching the Oscars as a kid. I got up at the crack of dawn and took great joy in the fact that I was in my jammies while the red carpet stars had to scrub themselves into their high fashion. But let’s face it, not only have the Oscars revealed themselves to be the product of much lobbying, even the dresses aren’t as much fun as they used to be. Remember JLo wearing a dupatta held together by a brooch? Tilda Swinton in her kaftan? Now the Oscars is the kind of do to which someone like Lady Gaga comes wearing a totally regular dress. So disappointing. However, since I’d have to get up and watch it, I figured a drinking game was the best way to make Oscars fun.

Two pieces on Gulaab Gang: a review and a piece that was written when the Delhi High Court initially agreed with Sampat Pal’s claim that Gulaab Gang was defamatory.

By far the best chick flick I’ve seen come out of Bollywood is Queen, with Ranaut delivering a brilliant performance (and superb dialogues) as a young Dilliwali who conquers Europe and herself.



Links: Inside Llewyn Davis, Dedh Ishqiya, Miss Lovely, American Hustle and RIP Suchitra Sen

It’s update time again. These movies are playing this week at a theatre near you, if you’re in India. Leaving aside American Hustle, the other three are all highly recommended.

American Hustle, which is strictly ok: 

It’s got 10 nomination nods from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which makes you think David O Russell’s new film American Hustle must be all kinds of awesome. Here’s the good news and the bad news all rolled into one: American Hustle is good fun if you can distract yourself from the illogical bits by focusing on the wigs or gaping necklines of Amy Adams’ outfits. …Unfortunately, logic leaves the room entirely too often in American Hustle. The plot that’s supposed to hook the big guys is barely credible and too little of the reasoning and motivations are worked out clearly.

Full review here.

Inside Llewyn Davis, which is so heartbreaking and so beautiful.

By the end of the film, Llewyn hasn’t lost hope even though he’s exhausted and feeling the blows a little more than he did at the start. Considering how cruel and callous Llewyn is to so many people around him, you’d expect that it would feel like he’s getting his just desserts when luck doesn’t favour him. But even as the Coen brothers lay bare Llewyn’s many flaws, they’re constantly underscoring how intensely Llewyn loves the music he creates. Nothing else matters in his life and even if it would be sensible to compromise just a little now and then, Llewyn won’t. His music is the one good, pure thing in him and his life, and he will guard it ferociously.

Full review here.

Dedh Ishqiya, definitely one of the best movies I’ve seen of late:

It doesn’t matter if you sniff out the twists in advance or aren’t particularly keen on the Urdu poetry that glints like the perfectly-cut gems in the aforementioned necklace. Dedh Ishqiya is an absolute delight because all its parts fit beautifully. The cinematography, sets and costumes are exquisite. The editing is sharp. Most importantly Darab Farooqui’s story is plotted wonderfully by Vishal Bharadwaj and Chaubey’s screenplay. Bharadwaj has also written the dialogues and they’re stylish, witty and a wonderful change from the awkward khichdi of Hindi and English that we usually hear in Bollywood films.

Full review here.

There was much to love in Dedh Ishqiya, and this is a piece on one of my favourite moments in the film. Very spoilery. You have been warned.

At the heart of “Lihaaf” is the fear of the unknown, which paralyses the young niece with fear and renders her blind to the harmless simplicity of what is actually happening in the room, under Begum Jaan’s quilt. In Dedh Ishqiya, Chaubey, Bharadwaj and Darab Farooqui’s (who is credited with writing the story) homage to Chughtai presents a significant difference. Instead of a young girl, it’s the grizzled, old Khalujan who is witness and he’s not in the dark. Even though he has been rebuffed and conned by Begum Para and Munniya, even though he is bound as a result of his own actions, when he sees the two women together, he is struck by the beauty of their intimacy. The expression on his face is of sheer wonder.

You can read the entire piece here.

Another superb film: Miss Lovely.

Although the plot follows Sonu, Vicky and Pinky, it’s the detailing of Miss Lovely that makes it a fascinating watch. Siddiqui, George and Singh do an excellent job of playing the desperate survivors that their characters are, but giving their credibility an essential sense of authenticity are the others around them. For instance, Tiku, the midget manager whose office in a chawl is filled with women who do “sexy” dances for him and fake Bruce Lees, deserves his own film. The supporting cast of Miss Lovely is weather-beaten and poufed just as you’d expect people in this sleazy industry to be. From the upholstery to the television sets and the radio that provides ironic commentary to the unfolding events of Miss Lovely, every detail is pitch perfect. KU Mohanan’s cinematography is gorgeous, lending a colourful melancholia to this grimy world.

Miss Lovely moves slowly, unravelling like real life. It demands the viewer read into silences, see the phantoms hidden by smoke and the cheap dazzle of measly successes and the menace lurking in smiles and embraces. The violence and degradation that characterise the films that Vicky and Sonu make, seeps into their lives subtly.

Full review here.

Miss Lovely _01

One of the most striking aspects of Miss Lovely is the cinematography:

Later in the film, there’s a scene in which Pinky, the ambitious young actress Sonu falls in love with, is doing a song sequence. The set she’s dancing and lip-syncing against is all mirrors and bright lights, creating countless reflections of her and her back-up dancers. They become a flurry of sparkly bodies, all glittering desperately and weirdly indistinct despite the harsh, bright lighting.

Pinky stands out, but it’s almost as though she’s able to do this because we’re seeing her through Sonu’s eyes. Still, we almost never see just one of Pinky. There’s always a reflection or a fragment of a reflection sharing her spotlight. It’s the perfect picturisation of a character who has been revealed to be less a person and more a collection of facets put together with the singular intent of making it as a star.

Read the entire piece here.

And finally, a farewell wave to Suchitra Sen, one of the most charismatic actresses Indian cinema has had.

Looking at her filmography, it becomes obvious that Sen didn’t pick her roles unthinkingly. A large number of the characters she plays are strong, independent-minded women whose existence isn’t defined by the men they fall in love with but the work they do. The heroines Sen played were usually educated and often defined by their demanding professions (Sen often played a doctor in her movies). These heroines were career-driven women who weren’t ashamed of choosing their careers over domesticity, women who were able to walk out of unhappy marriages, women who weren’t afraid to react like men do to heartbreak (remember Rina Brown taking to the bottle in Saptapadi?). These women were nothing like Sen herself, who had only a basic education, had chosen to stay in a marriage that was rumoured to be unhappy and was rarely open about her emotions, particularly in public.

Click on the above link for the entire piece.