NH10 : Gurgaon as Urban Cinematic Narrative

Gurgaon is a classic case study in unplanned urbanization from the the shady, character laden  Chakkarpur’s of the World to the  global DLF Cyber City’s which inhabit a parallel universe. Take an auto out of DLF Cyber City and the realities of the crime rid city confront you in the face. Law and Order depends on your good fortune rather than the local cop. Last year, Aurangzeb was a film to watch out for dealing in the murky real estate mafia of Gurgaon, where ‘Katta’ or the country made pistol and Koffee co-exist at ease. The film starts off with a punchline line : ” Mere Baap ka Gaon, Gurgaon” or my fathers village is Gurgaon. This year, it is Anushka Sharma’s NH10 taking the cinematic discourse forward with the dualities of life in Gurgaon. 

NH10‬ is a gritty film with nuanced contrasts between the medieval and the modern of my former work town the corporate DLF Cybercity, Gurgaon and its Jat hinterland with Khap Panchayats with gotra linked gruesome honor killings. Realistic lingo of a modern corporate couple is refreshing with panoramic shots of MG Road Shopping Malls with my work DLF building number 5 shown in one flickering sequence with the infamous Sahara Mall. These shots made me nostalgic. The on screen couple Meera (Anushka Sharma) and her Tamilian Husband chatting on their laptops while sitting on the same bed, is something that a Gen Y Couple can only understand. Love and attraction in the office space is discussed at ease and sex is portrayed for pleasure rather than procreation. This is where the director tries to establish the polar opposites right away, early on in the film. This a powerful contribution to the conversation on relationships in Urban India.

Raw violence has been utilized effectively as a cinematic device. The punch lines of Gurgaon being a youngster throwing tantrums and that the constitution ends at the shopping malls of Gurgaon being very symbolic of the urban mess with a rustic soul called Gurgaon wa! Certainly Anushka’s breakthrough act with a realistic ensemble cast, with a razor sharp edit, a must watch film of the year!

Badlapur: A Movie Review

This is Sriram Raghavan’s latest movie outing with the last being the so called spy movie ‘Agent Vinod’ starring the Prince and his would be Begum, which I had watched in Singapore three plus years ago. Badlapur, named after a major railway station junction in Maharashtra is a dark murder thriller bordering on a genre begun in Bollywood with the John Abraham starred ‘Zinda’ with again a dark theme. This movie resolves around a mother-son murder revolving  around a bank heist in which the characters of Vinay Thakur and Nawazuddin Siddiqui aka Laik kills in a fit of rage to save himself the tamil speaking wife  and son of the character of Varun Dhawan aka Raghu, the revenge filled and driven protagonist of the film. Varun Dhawan’s character is of a budding ad man whose life gets derailed due the sad murder episode. These emotion filled scene shots are narrated matter of fact by the director and cinematographer. Varun Dhawan character gives up on the conventional justice system to nail the culprits of the murder (tapping on the justice delayed is justice denied rhetoric). Varun’s character appoints a female detective played by a seasoned TV Actress, and how she extracts the initial information trail post the incident is very well narrated in the script. Laik faces a 20 year term for his heinous crime but his partner Harman (Vinay Thakur’s character) escapes with the loot and sets up a flourishing Goan restaurant with a live band and marries a beautiful woman. Varun Dhawan’s character is revenge driven with rage as he retreats to a low key existence in Badlapur town near Nashik as a Warehouse supervisor (one of which looks very similar to the authors experience outside Nashik’s MIDC Satpur’s Industrial nerve). Laik is involved with a commercial sex worker played by Huma Quraishi who ultimately becomes a keep of a politician. Huma’s character is layered and the sexual politics with Varun, Nawaz and Huma is one of the main side plots of the film. The parole politics of the ngo sector and the cancer afflicted Laik and his mother is very interestingly shown on celluloid. Rage and the central focus of revenge via sexual violence  is the underlying tone of the revenge drama. The characters of the film such as Vinay and Nawaz with Huma and Divya Dutta, the single mother prison NGO worker (and her chemistry with Varun’s character)  is a standout feature. The film uses Tamil and Marathi as useful linguistic  contours to paint the film in layers, although stereotypes of a Punjabi Mum versus grieving Tamil In-laws aka ‘Two States’ is perpetuated. The use of graphic violence of of gore and the sexual content make the film bold but disturbing. The violence is the soul of the film. The film’s anti-climax of an ending with Varun’s character killing off Harman and his wife in cold blood to extract revenge is appropriated by the murderous Laik is a very Japanese-Korean esque cinematic treatment. The cinematography was very East Asian inspired as the direction of the film. Pune was the canvas of the film with MG Road as the main backdrop with Marz-o-rin cafe depicted in a couple of important shots with the narrow first floor seating arrangement sipping hot coffee over a serious conversation (where the author has been to a number of times). Laik is shown as enjoying cheesy Bhojpuri cinema after being released on health grounds reeks of stereotyping as the criminal being from the hindi cowbelt. The Marathi Bhajan groups singing praise in the temple in cinematic Badlapur is tasteful.  Nawaz and Huma are standout performers of the film with Varun rendering a credible act, albeit a brave one vis-a-vis his contemporaries. The background score and songs move the narrative forward and the editing is crisp. A film unsuitable for young audiences but a different film with a strong ensemble cast. A film where you would not wish to watch with your parents. Sriram Raghavan does a better job this time with his potential in this film. If one has to watch the film, it has to be for Nawaz and Huma as star performers that they are; lend substance to the soul of the film.

Shamitabh: A Movie Review

This is my first Bollywood movie watching experience (and movie review in a while) after 16 odd months in Singapore; the last being the slapstick comedy ‘Besharam’ on holiday. This time around is an art house-ish film called ‘Shamitabh’ starring the legendary Mr. Amitabh Bachchan and the Southern star Dhanush better known for his ‘Kolveri di’ viral hit in wider India. The film is a satirical, spoof like take on the antics of Bollywood with a quip that why don’t Maharashtrians get a major break in Bollywood and the dual protagonist says that is the way it is in here, an artificial entry barrier. Danish aka Dhanush in the film is mute, but a obsessive film fan since he was a boy breathing cinema (there is a song track in the film conveying that thought process and persona). Amitabh Bachchan aka Amitabh Sinha on screen is a fail actor turned alcoholic who lives in the graveyard who calls it the house in ‘Mumbai with a garden’ at 500 rupees per month.  Mr. Bachchan in real life was turned down by the All India Radio early on in his career due his iconic baritone and there are dialogues in the film eulogising his trademark baritone in his later years . His weakness became his greatest strength.

There are instances in the film where the award ceremony corruption has been mocked and the inevitable casting couch. Akshara Hassan as the enthusiastic Assistant Director does everything to give mute Danish a break in Bollywood. They stumble across a medical technology in Finland that gives the mute an artificial voice if they can find a voice. Amitabh Bachchan is the voice who shadows Dhanush’s character and gives his acting life. So Shamitabh is born, with Amitabh Bachchan’s voice and Dhanush’s fire in the belly to be an actor. His desire is more than his talent he says in the film and the author of this post whole heartedly agrees with the ethos. Amitabh Bchachan’s drunk/injured mirror scene from the 1970’s film ‘Amar, Akbar, Anthony’ is subtly recreated. 

The tension between the voice and the mute actor’s acting explodes with both parting ways and badly faltering as independent entities. Ego tussles are emotively covered in this cinematic landscape. Love is depicted sensitively between Danish and his mother in rural Maharashtra as with Danish and his Assistant Director confidant which is romantic, but more platonic.

The ending of the film is the best as it is disability is sensitively portrayed  when Shamitabh wish to confess to the world that they are two talents working as one person. They meet an accident in which Danish dies and takes up Amitabh’s so called reserved place in the grave where he usually spends his time. Amitabh who is proud of his vocal chords loses his ‘voice’. The irony is well understood. Never be vain about ones talents as it can be snatched away in a matter of seconds.

Akshara Hassan (quite a find i must say) is fresh and holds her ground in capturing screen space while scolding Danish and Amitabh on managing egos. Music is strategically used as a device to convey the story and the southern master Illiyaraja is spot on. The cinematography is documentary-esque in its technical treatment.

Balki, the Director is an Amitabh Fan Boy and he makes no bones about that. It is a sensitive but enjoyable watch in the era of mega commercial hits without any acting prowess.  Amitabh, Dhanush and Akshara make the film an intellectual and entertaining watch. Dhanush is a powerhouse of an acting talent. We should see more of him in Bollywood fare.

Finally, the film is a dedication to the Valets and support staff of the acting superstars who make their life easier. They deserve the dignity. Thats a beautiful message. Kudos, Balki and Mr. Bachchan.

Interstellar : A Film Review

interstellarInterstellar is an intellectually dense film like Nolan’s previous films such as Inception and Dark Knight. Interstellar connects strands of Food Security and Space Exploration; evokes human emotions such as longing, love, parenting, survival instincts and rational scientific thought. A great campus recruitment video for the  and social institution of science, subtly questions the landing on the moon. In a very Nolan-esque stroke of the cinematic brush, various ends have been tied up to dispense a spell binding narrative, albeit 15 minutes too long.

Ann Hathway as the junior Dr. Brand is gorgeous, and plays her cinematic role well. ‘Cooper’ the ex NASA Pilot turned explorer protagonist of the film is grief stricken from the demise of his wife. He is an absentee engineer, reclectant farmer father, in rural US and his daughter ‘Murph’ and son are being mentored by the Grand Dad. There is striking quip by the Grand Dad; saying that ‘parent teacher conferences’ are not grand parent teacher conferences’. There is some super-natural, gravitational phenomena eating away the harvest every year and human kind is dying with every generation. In this context, space research was treated as discretionary. NASA then was needed but had gone under-ground. How Cooper was tracked down by NASA through Morse Code and a constant mention of Murphy’s Law, Newtons Third Law and other high school physics syntax makes science and geek-ism sexy.

The Senior Dr Brand played by Matthew Caine, as the space pioneer has a certain depth to his presence on the screen. Human Politics is depicted in some detail and the quest for survival. The emphasis on love as an emotion greater then the self and as a raw material for making  ‘human’ , human is the signature take-way from this cinematic opus.

The emphasis on science, satiated my intellectual cravings;  not at all a masala entertainer A Must Watch at a theater near you.

Happy New Year: A Movie Review

Happy New Year is an exercise in cinematic excess and a Fan Girl tribute to SRK by Farah Khan. The Film is nether a thriller as its inspiration the Oceans Eleven Series, nor a complete comic spoof as Om Shanti Om nor a Dance Film as ‘Lets Dance’ or ABCD. A mashup that simply does not gel apart from stunning visuals of Dubai. Although SRK and Deepika are sincere, the film’s plot and editing could have been lean and sharp. The humor is purile and slapstick as Farah’s Brother Sajid has demonstrated in his rather elaborate cinemascape.

Vishal Dadlani and Anurag Kashyap have a gay comic scene exposing the hypocrisy of Reality Talent Shows that’s rather in very poor taste. The music for a dance based film could have been better.

The amateur attempt in evoking sentiments in Long Distance Nationalism during the film were targetted at NRI Riyals and Pounds at the Ticket Counter, and thoroughly reminded of Modi’s Madison Sqaure Garden Hysteria (there is even a Modi Look-alike in the film). SRK please head back to your Swades roots. Pun intended.

The Lahori Chole Puri and Chai with my Dad opposite my childhood theater in Ruwi after the movie really made my day.

Bang Bang: A Movie Review

‪Bang Bang‬ has a certain thud to it, if not the proverbial explosive boom as anticipated. Hrithik and Kat have awesome chemistry and, are the soul of the rather thin story driven venture. Stylized to the T, should have had more substantial character actors weaving the narrative of an espionage drama. Inspired from a Hollywood Thriller (How inspiring is that Mr. Anand); Bang Bang’s strength is the exotic locales of Prague, Abu Dhabi Yas Marina F1 Track and South East Asia in which the incessant action scenes are shot. Hrithik’s dancing and six pack abs plus the oozing oomph of Katrina sizzles up the screen amongst rather mediocre performances of the supporting artistes. Enough eye candy for the raging hormones. Danny as the principal negative character with Javed Jaffery as his sidekick was an interesting villain choice. Danny has a presence on screen to face-off with Hrithik.

More importantly, it was my first movie watching experience in Muscat with my Dad in a Decade. Priceless.