Ola Bola : A cool sports film

Ola Bola is a terrific sports film! Had to watch it after the film festival controversy and PM Najib’s mention during the Merdeka Day address. Saw elements of Chak De India including ego clashes, non enthusiastic parents towards sports and an inspiring pep talk before the end of the match. Some flights can be very cool as watched this film on the in flight entertainment system chewing on pandan cake at 36000 feet. #MH1091

Madaari : An Anti Corruption Narrative

Madaari is a cerebral masterclass directed by Nishikant Kamath on the helplessness of the average educated Indian Middle Class to voice out their grievances apart from the elections which at the most is a nominal democracy. This film follows the usual underdog vigilante justice route, but has some gems when the character of the eight year old kidnapped boy threatens the assailant as the son of the home minister, that the language of power is understood by a kid. The film explores themes such as overpopulation, inter religious marriage, migration and single parenting with the simplicity which reminded me of ‘Lunch Box’.

The ‘HIdden Business of Indian Democracy’ with all it’s shenanigans such as fundraising through bad infra deals which crash. Irrfan aces his role with a solid presence on the screen. Such political activist cinema comes rarely, reminds me of ‘Rang De Basanti’ in terms of solid cinema. The illusion of Indian Politics is laid bare through fiction of cinema. The anti corruption narrative gets a voice as the Lokpal gets institutionalised.

An unlikely Social Justice Narrative : ‘Kabali’ Tales

Kabali is a film that tries to engage the minority Tamil diaspora issues in Malaysia, especially the former plantation worker community who are disenfranchised from the mainstream racial politics in Malaysia as they are the subaltern without education and jobs, driving them to the underbelly of crime in Malaysia. Rajnikanth acting as the gangster messiah of the Malaysian Tamil Hindu community, plays on stereotypes and the lowest common denominator emotion of the macha (colloquial Tamil for the friendly neighborhood boy ) in Port Klang. The Tamil Movie Industry with this gamble of picking up a diaspora topic for a megastar film starring Rajni Sarr, has moved on from Jaffna Tamil Politics of Mani Ratnam Cinema to a safer Malaysia which is a lucrative market for the industry.

I applaud the social justice driven dalit subaltern political impulse of Director Pa Ranjith which has got a huge megaphone for an outlet; the reason why Ambedkar wore suits vis-a-vis a Gandhi as a statement of resistance against subaltern nature of existence is the same reason why the character Kabali wears it as well. The structural inequalities of the Malaysian Indian Community are depicted, in that sense this film brings the issues to the Indian living room such as teen age pregnancies and crime. On the cinematic method side, Kabali is an excruciating slow film, with a smattering of Bahasa Melayu and Mandarin making it ‘Truly Malaysia’ story. A through and through film for the die-hard Rajni fan, it stood out for its flawed depiction of its minority politics than anything else. This film attempts to bridge labor activism with racial politics under a post-colonial cloud.

It is now time to watch Jagat, a smaller budget Malaysian Tamil Film (a rare effort by Director Sanjhey Kumar Perumal, who took a decade to make a film) on a similar theme, far less popular, due to the indie character of the film. Kabali has indeed brought the Malaysian Indian community more traction than any other creative initiative earlier. A very clever film which has balanced politics in a commercial warp, with the masala entertainer of a Rajni Film. A job very well implemented Mr. Ranjith.

Nil Battey Sannata:A Short Quip

Nil Battey Sannata is a damn good film. Swara Bhaskar as a trained Sociologist from JNU stars as a house help with a grit and determination with an aspiration larger than her reality. ‪#‎NBS‬ depicts the condition of government school education. The true measure of poverty is the paucity of dreams rather than a material construct. Good cinematography is a stand out feature of the film along with some solid performances. More power to indie films.

Thoughts on Guru

Guru (2007) is an inspirational biopic based on Dhirubhai’s life which is fresh every time I watch it; gives me a rejuvenated spirit. I watched it for the first time nine years back with two classmate-friends in Ruwi Cinema. Moni Bhai is how I was addressed in college 😊 AB Junior best film by far. Mani Ratnam could only make him act. License Raj and its follies are depicted in the film well.

The Cinematic Voice of the Gulf Migrant: Airlift

‪#‎Airlift‬ is a film which I love totally. The gulf based migrant was placed into focus, which is rare. The treatment was nuanced, the geopolitics was right on dot. Akshay Kumar is a shrewd producer, appealing to the newly nationalist middle class. The flag waving made my cry. The streets and deserts of Ras Al Khaimah doubled up as Kuwait City. The topography reminded me of the backlanes of Ruwi and Dasrait in Muscat. The Arabic makes me homesick! This film is special as the gulf migrant takes centre stage, and i am a gulf migrant kid who grew up in Oman.

The cinematic voice of the gulf migrant is usually missing from the narrative as the USA/UK NRI is eulogised in ‘Namaste London’ or ‘Swades’. The fictional take of the film, is representative of the despair of the gulf migrant, a person who is the financial light of his family but hardly has any recourse to legal mechanisms in case of political disruption such as the Iraqi Invasion or the recent Arab Spring protests.

The indifferent behavior of Indian Diplomats towards the diasporic ‘subaltern’ is depicted in flesh and blood. The Gulf Desk is a neglected posting for the elite Indian Foreign Service officer dreaming of Manhattan and Trafalgar Square.

I am glad that Akshay Kumar and the Malayalee Director (who is aware of the territory of the Keralite migrant life) made the film, bringing an elusive neglected voice to the discourse, albeit in commercial cinema.


Wazir : Miscalculated Cinematic Mov(i)e

‪#‎Wazir‬ is such an undewhelming film with Amitji and Farhan in it. The plot is interesting with a J&K political angle, old school Vidhu Vinod Chopra from1999 blockbuster Mission Kashmir. Powerful star cast; partially impressive performances with the lack of a punch. Bejoy Nambiar, the director could have layered the film the execution. The good part was the deft cinematography and the loose end was the excessive music in the flow of the film.

Madras Cafe was way better. It’s not Check mate, Mr. Chopra!

‪#‎Bollywood‬ ‪#‎changethinker‬ ‪#‎micromoviereview‬‪#‎singapore‬

Bajrangi Bhaijaan: An Indo-Pak CBM

Bajrangi Bhaijaan is a breakthrough project in the Salman Cinemascape as it is a rare feat that a film that stars Salman Bhaijaan has minimal action sequences and is more an emotional experience regarding separation and inter-faith understanding. Leaves a tear at the corner of your eye with all the emotional bombardment on the senses with separation plot of a speech impaired girl (the talented Harshaali) who is super adorable like a doll.. This film is probably the most thoughtful film of Salman, after ‘My Brother Nikhil’ which was a cool decade back.  The film tackles deftly the xenophobic anti minority bent of the Sangh, the snobbish mentality of the upper caste Hindus towards non vegetarian fare and shows the humanity which often gets clouded by the veneer of religious dogma. Also, shows Sufism as a common ground between India and Pakistan.  Well done, Mr V Vijendra Prasad and Kabir Khan; the conceptualisers  of this rather off beat, yet mainstream story. With a dramatic ending, across the LoC in Kashmir, with the speech of the little girl being restored miraculously, the film carries a strong people to people message.

Pavan is the new ‘Prem’ of Salman now. after this performance. Salman’s fan following will bulge especially among a family audience. Nawazuddin Siddiqui again delivers a stellar performance redeming the film as the activist Sindhi Reporter who brings in the media angle by publicising the Bajrangi affair. The second half is a critic’s delight, while the first half was a Salman Khan Fan boy/girl video in the words of a dear friend. Bhaijaan delivers a clear break from a Kick, Ready and a Wanted; his popular fare mainly meant for a hardcore Bollywood Audience.

The cinematic treatment of Kabir Khan is macro, placing a human story in a geopolitical narrative. The India Pakistan theme continues from the last Salman starrer with Kabir, the uber successful ‘Ek Tha Tiger’ which I saw in a theatre in Vashi, Navi Mumbai twice. The biggest Confidence Building Measure India Pak Relations can get. Truly a ‘Being Human’ affair.  Narendra Bhai should watch this film with Nawaz Miyaan in their next meeting. 

Art has a unique ability to inspire hope and look beyond the prejudices of reality. Bajrangi Bhaijaan offers some hope in spreading Love and Understanding.

Piku : A Bengali Masterclass

Piku, directed by Shoojit Sircar of Madras Cafe and Vicky Donor fame has an stellar ensemble cast of Amitabh Bachchan as Bhakor Banerjee, the seventy year old retired ITC Executive with a constipation paranoia who lives with his fiercely independent architect daughter ‘Piku’ played by Deepika Padukone. A film set in CR Park (the Bengali Community Hub in Delhi), as in Vicky Donor; Sircar has his nuances of an upper middle class Probashi or ‘Out of Bengal’ Bengali family and its dialectics of conserving culture on one end and moving on with adopted city’s sense of modernity. Irrfan as the Saudi returned Cab Service Owner Rana, is delightful as he has his accent right and the mannerisms of a gulf returned civil engineer, forced to do business in which he is often not at ease. The ‘Kafala’ system of Gulf Countries is brought in the conversation with the mention of the employer with holding Rana’s passport once he reached Saudi Arabia, and got terminated once he made an issue out of it.

Amitabh Bachchan, the legend has his Bengali spot on, with a large part of the film in Bengali and English. Stereotypes are circulated and reaffirmed but fortunately Sircar has the nuances perfect. Deepika Padukone as Piku is hyper, articulate , nyaka but straight forward Bong Girl with the dense kajal lined eyes who wants her space and sex on her own terms, but there is a longing for a stable hetrosexual relationship which her ageing father is rather aggressively discouraging towards.

Complex human relationship between an ageing father and his dutiful daughter is zoomed in which is the heart of the story. The health mad ageing father with his constipation problem and his rebellious daughter and their banter is characteristic of a bengali household. The Bengali Lady with her loyal Boyfriend-Business Partner ‘Syed’ played competently by Bengali Actor Jisshu Sengupta is under stated but vital in the story line as Piku is wooed by Rana who himself drives the Father-Daughter duo to Kolkata from Delhi via the beautiful ghats of Varanasi as Bhaskor wants to visit his paternal home housed by his younger brothers family who are scared that Piku might sell off the property to a realtor as is the case with many ancestral homes in Kolkata with the children based in other cities for work opportunities, and not interested to come back. The undertone is strong and clear, that heritage and culture matters.

The character actors such as the help of the family Badun, and the loud, boisterous maternal aunt of Piku played by veteran actor Moushumi Chatterjee adds ballast to the film which is rather based on a cultural narrative.

Editing is crisp with camera work takes a documentary mode in sections with Anupam Roy’s earthy music lends authenticity.  Shoojit Sircar has made a very good film, worth a second watch. There were parts in the film that drew a tear in the corner of my eye, as I have middle aged parents too and have these same conversations with them as Piku had them with Bhaskor.

Bollywood with Kahani and Byomkesh and now with Piku has made being Bengali, real cool. A film that has soul and substance, Piku is a film to have in your DVD Collection.

Dibakar’s Byomkesh Bakshy: Connecting History and Regional Literature Seamlessly

Dibakar Banerjee with Byomkesh Bakshy has extracted the gold which lies hidden in our vernacular regional literature, and painting that specific narrative on celluloid for a South Asian and International audience will certainly make it the best phillum of 2015. My father read Feluda and Byomkesh Bakshy’s detective stories as a child in Bolpur-Shantiniketan while growing up, and these were writings which had captured the popular imagination of reading masses of Bengal. Bengali popular literature has detective stories as a legit genre, may be  cultural  loan from its British Colonial Masters. A rich legacy, which the Calcutta film industry has tapped at least for Feluda by Satyajit Ray and his son and now Bakshy by Delhi bread Dibakar who recognises himself more with West Delhi’s Rajender Nagar than Uttarpara in Kolkata as is evident from ‘Oye Lucky’ , a previous production of his. I was greatly moved by his film Shanghai, the first movie i watched in Mumbai after I left Singapore to move back to Mumbai in 2012, where I wrote in a  changethinker.com blog post titled ” Is a DTH Box, Development” :

The cinematic narrative of the Dibakar Banerjee film ‘Shanghai’ played out in real life. Pragati or Development seems to have been relegated to the real estate hardware component rather than human development indicators such as education, healthcare access or employment generation. Special Economic Zones are fantastic instruments to jump start economic activity in an area because of the Tax Holidays, but what about the farmers who sells out his land, has a lot of cash to deploy but does not have the knowledge to invest to properly to diversify his livelihood since he knows nothing else apart from the generational vocation of farming.”

1943 Calcutta’s Wartime Chinatown with the Narcotics Trade and the World War 2 Japanese Campaign in SE Asia connects the local to global beautifully. There is a subplot in the film that captures the naivety of the young in the years leading up to Independence by the capitalist class who were hand in glove with the imperialists, whether the British or the Japanese or even the ruling elite. Dibakar Banerjee’s film making has a socio-political angle, relevant to the times, which makes his films a joy to watch with the thinking cap on. Shanghai, realised in April 2012 had the SEZ Land Acquisition context with the Activist Bengali Liberal Arts Academic played by Prasenjit, the popular Bengali Movie Actor bumped off by the political elite for economic profits while wrapping it in a rhetoric of growth and the entire cover-up of the affair. Excellent film, not so popular as a Salman Khan film, but throughly engaging. Do get the DVD if you liked Byomkesh.

Sushant Singh Rajput as Byomkesh shines without the over acting and Swastika as the actor femme fatale Anguri Devi and  Indian Idol Contestant & Dentist turned Singer-Actor Meiyang Chang as Kanai/Ching Ling have meaty performances. The ensemble cast of popular bengali actors defying the stereotype yet authentic, Chinese and Japanese Actors wielding the sword and knifes add to the artwork. The cinematography deducting the  crime scene chronology is inspired by Sherlock Homes movie part one, where the deconstruction visually is borrowed from in the technical perspective. There is a scene in the film where Patna lad Sushant uses his Bihari Hindi aka Bhojpuri well, which is very genuine. The takeaway dialogue from the movie is : “The lie closest to the truth is very hard to distinguish”. A punchline indeed. Dibakar certainly knows his actors strengths well. 

The stage design and the background score is its true hero capturing the nuance of the times and the energy of the film. Detective Bakshy’s Bête Noire Dr Guha is the  powerful anti hero in true terms. LSD and Shanghai was just the trailer for Dibakar, with Bakshy he has an Asian Sherlock franchise on its hands. Outstanding film making, at its sincere best.