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: MFF 2013, film reviews

It’s update time again so here we go, in the order that they were published:

Fire in the Blood — a well-meaning but far from memorable documentary on the evil pharmaceuticals that care for nothing but profit. A lot of people loved this documentary, which made me feel like they’d screened a different film for me. Because the documentary I watched had almost nothing that was new either in terms of research or storytelling. Keep in mind I know nothing but headlines about pharma and AIDS treatment. Still, the documentary seems to have had a good run at the theatres, for which I’m very thankful. Like I said before, it’s well-meaning effort and if a few more people know that AIDS doesn’t mean the end of regular life, this is a very good thing.

An ode to Dalip Tahil — written before the release of War… Chhod Na Yaar, in which Tahil played four roles. The piece goes out to the members of the Dalip Tahil fan club, one of who is currently in hospital of dengue.

Captain Phillips — I love Paul Greengrass’s films and this one is as tight and tense as the best of his work. Unfortunately, it’s a bit disappointing when you see how Greengrass gave in to the Hollywood project of ignoring real life nuances and making Americans look heroic.

Ian Birnie and Leos Carax. From Mumbai Film Festival's Facebook page.
Ian Birnie and Leos Carax. From Mumbai Film Festival’s Facebook page.

Posts about the Mumbai Film Festival 2013:

What to see at the festival: Part One, Part Two.

Leos Carax in conversation.

In conversation with Tillotama Shome, who plays Kanwar in Qissa. Tillotama just won an award at the Abu Dhabi Film Festival for her performance.

In conversation with Fahad Mustafa, one of the two directors of the documentary Katiyabaaz. The documentary won the award for the best Indian film at the Mumbai film festival.

Been-there-heard-that at the Mumbai Film Festival: No country for old peopleThe Inception of ticketing systemsOverheard at MFF

Reviews of The Butler, The Fifth Estate, Katiyabaaz and Qissa.

An overview.


Links: When Hari Got Married, The Strife of Love in A Dream

When Hari Got Married is a sweet little documentary about a taxi driver named Hari, who lives and works in Himachal Pradesh, and is about to get married:

It’s the stuff of a romantic comedy, made all the more poignant because it’s real. In Hari, a Pahadi taxi driver from Dharamsala, documentary filmmakers Ritu Sarin and Tenzing Sonam have a shuddh desi hero. He’s the little guy that you can’t help but warm up to because he’s just so utterly adorable. Pocket-sized and a motor-mouth, Hari chatters his way through When Hari Got Married. As he candidly talks about everything from the financial prospects of being a taxi driver to the caste system, it’s easy to imagine someone could fall in love with this man just because of his words. In their honesty, simplicity and wit lies a modern Indian man who may not be perfect, but whom you want to cheer for all the same.

The full review is here.

From Camille Henrot's The Strife of Love In A Dream
From Camille Henrot’s The Strife of Love In A Dream

Camille Henrot’s short film, The Strife of Love In A Dream, is a strange and fantastic work of art:

Despite the lack of verbal commentary, Henrot’s film beautifully articulates how the various systems capitalise upon people’s anxieties and offer solutions to fear, like the neatly-packaged pills of Atarax or the make-believe stories of vanquishing evil in art and films, as well as the ritual at Annamalai Hill (it culminates with a massive bonfire, which looks spectacularly awe-inspiring in Henrot’s film). Faith — whether in medication or divinity — gives the believer the strength to counter their fears even while making them hypersensitive to symbols of its pervasiveness. Like snake venom, it is both the poison as well as the antidote.

Read the whole piece here.

Kim Longinotto’s Salma

A severely-edited version of this piece was carried in today’s DNA (scroll down). Those who have worked with me know that few things give me as much joy as zapping out extra words in anyone’s copy, including mine, but I think cutting an 1100-word piece to 260 words is brutal even by my standards. So here’s the  rambly version.

Blood lines

Salma was 12 years old when she began menstruating. Her family pulled her out of school and locked her up at home. This is standard practice in Salma’s village. Girls are hidden away the moment they ‘become women’ and are allowed out only to get married.

From Kim Longinotto’s Salma

For nine years, Salma’s world was a room whose only comfort was a window that let in a little sunlight and looked out on to nothing. At one poing in Salma, award-winning filmmaker Kim Longinotto’s newest documentary, the Tamil poet Salma goes back to the room that had been her prison and sits by the window. “Why would you build windows that you can’t see out of? It’s crazy,” she says with a laugh. You have to wonder how anyone can laugh about being locked up in a room for nine years. Longinotto has a simple explanation: “Salma’s not normal. … I think she’s like an Indian Nelson Mandela.”

Salma is an acclaimed Tamil poet who has been praised by critics for the lyrical nuance and  elegant candour of her writing. The story of how she became a poet and a politician is less well-known. Longinotto learnt about her from Urvashi Butalia, founder of Zubaan (they brought out a translation of Salma’s poetry in 2009). “I thought Salma’s one of millions of women under house arrest,” said Longinotto. “Families pick them up one by one and they just get locked up. We never hear of them because they’re women. Here’s a woman who’s survived and who’s out. I thought, I’ve got to grab a camera and make a film about it.”

The little village near Tiruchirapalli, in Tamil Nadu, where Salma was born and where much of Longinotto’s Salma was shot, doesn’t seem remarkable at first glance. It’s clean. The houses are painted in bright, pretty colours. Inside the homes are modern conveniences like washing machines, tiled walls and floors, televisions, water filters. It’s difficult to reconcile this modernity with the village’s aggressive male chauvinism.

While most girls in Salma’s village were married by the age of 15, Salma resisted until she was 17. Then when her mother convinced Salma that she was becoming seriously unwell because of the stress caused by Salma refusing to marry, Salma relented. It was much later that she realised her mother had duped her. When she recounts this in the film, a Mona Lisa smile that is neither cheerful nor sad stretches Salma’s lips.

Kim Longinotto
Kim Longinotto

Salma is more melancholy than Longinotto’s usual style. Longinotto never stages the action in her films, but most of her documentaries are full of drama and unfolding events. Salma, in contrast, is made up of reminiscences. “I was absolutely terrified because I thought. this isn’t how I make films,” said Longinotto. Following her editor Oliver Huddleston’s advice, Longinotto made sure she got many shots of Salma on her own — daydreaming, driving. They emphasise how solitary Salma is and also provide the space for her poems to be read out as voiceover. For Salma, who despite her efforts can’t stop young girls from being forced to abandon their studies and marry or prevent heartbreaking incidents like that of a young girl who sets herself aflame because she was locked up, the only way to make sense of the world around her is poetry. It’s a sentiment that Longinotto can probably relate to since filmmaking has played a similar role in her life. The director had a difficult relationship with her parents, a nightmare of a time in boarding school; she spent a year homeless as a teenager and almost died; she’s been raped. It’s filmmaking — hunting down stories of incredible women and making documentaries on them, in particular — that has helped Longinotto see herself and her past in perspective.

For Salma, poetry became the breadcrumb trail that led her out of her cage. Marriage to Malik initially landed Salma in a new prison. Perhaps because she had refused to marry him for years, he set out to cow her into submission with threats and violence. Afraid, angry and trapped, Salma turned to poetry. Neither Malik nor his mother approved of this. Salma realised no matter where she hid her poetry — in the cupboard, her dressing table, in the box where sanitary napkins were stored —  the pages would disappear. Determined to continue writing, Salma wrote on the backs of discarded calendar pages and hid them. Ultimately, it was her mother who smuggled Salma’s writing out of Malik’s house and sent it to a small publisher in Chennai.

“Salma’s mother was her jailer, but she was also the one who helped smuggle Salma’s poems out,” said Longinotto. “What Salma’s taught me is that the people that can damage you the most – which is your family – are also the people who love you the most.” Today, Salma’s escaped the ways of the village partly on the strength of her poetry, which piqued the attention of the Tamil literary establishment and press, and partly because Malik pushed Salma to stand for panchayat elections (she won). At one point in the film, Salma asks Malik why he encouraged her to join local politics. He replies that it was the only way he knew that would allow her out of the house and be free. Not looking at Salma, Malik tells the camera that he made mistakes when he was young and he was wrong to have stopped Salma from writing. It’s almost as though making Salma first join politics and then move to Chennai, where she now spends most of her time, were Malik’s attempts to redeem himself. “I struggled with this all the time that we were there,” said Longinotto. “I found myself becoming fonder and fonder of him.”

Contradictions and arresting female figures who challenge an oppressive system are regular features of Longinotto’s filmography. In the past, she’s made powerful documentaries on a variety of subjects, including gender identity in Japan, FGM in Kenya and divorce in Iran. In 2010, she made the multiple award-winning Pink Saris, about Sampat Pal who founded the vigilante group, Gulabi Gang. (According to Longinotto, however, it’s not a gang. “It’s the Sampat Pal show.”) Along with inspiring survivors who are the protagonists of her films, the other common thread that runs through Longinotto’s work is a sense of optimism. No matter how bleak the situation, the subjects of Longinotto’s films find silver linings and hold on to them, much like Longinotto herself. When you consider what Longinotto and her band of merry heroines have survived, it’s amazing that they can cheer so readily. To Longinotto, though, the silver linings are a basic requirement. “I wouldn’t want to make a film that’s just depressing and negative. … That’s why I love making these films about these women. They’re the real rebels. I’m not. I just run along with them and film and follow them.”