Thursday, June 30, 2016

26. Deadpool

Deadpool was slaughtered by India's overzealous CBFC, even after giving them an A certificate. So all gaalis invoking mothers and usually covered body parts were snipped out as well as some of the gory action and sex scenes. I managed to catch the film on an international flight and had the pleasure of watching spurting blood, burping abuses, crazy-ass action and badass sex.

Oh well, I exaggerate. Let me just say it was the kind of movie I would have loved to see when I was in my teens. A mercenary abandoning his sexy girlfriend to join an experiment to become a superhero... when parts (most parts, actually) of the experiment go wrong and he becomes a freak - Deadpool.

If you like in-jokes, superhero references, the Marvel universe, go and watch Deadpool. 

25. Te3n

If you are a thriller lover, you can give Te3n a miss. There have been better thrillers and indeed, this one itself is an official remake of 2013 Korean film, Montage. Many aficionados have confirmed the original has a tightness that is probably missing in the remake. 

If you are a Calcutta lover and love seeing this beautiful city in films, its lanes and landmarks lovingly captured on celluloid, you could do better than this. Te3n's producer, Sujoy Ghosh, himself has directed - what I think is - the most bewitching depiction of the city: Kahaani. 

If - on the other hand - you love acting, love seeing actors get under the skin of a character and lift the film from where the script leaves it, then you should probably not miss Te3n.
That Amitabh Bachchan is a phenomenal actor is no longer a fact that needs to be repeated. We have also lost count of the number of times he has transformed a mediocre script into a gripping film through his acting. But what still happens rarely is when Bachchan gets the opportunity to metamorphose into a completely different animal from what we have grown accustomed to. 
For example, I loved his performance in Sarkar but I also knew that it was not something novel. The swagger, the style of his earlier roles were given a silvery polish and presented with a flourish. However, with a film like Paa, he manages to do something that is outside the grammar and vocabulary of his regular acting. There, he shifted his speech, facial gestures and gait to match that of a thirteen-year old. And that, I think, was an unbelievably brilliant performance. 
In Te3n, the way Bachchan gets into the body of a tired, defeated, septuagenarian is again magical. You could argue that he is really playing himself - an seventy-something grandfather. But you have to see his confident body language as India's biggest star and realise how far apart John Biswas of Te3n really is. The loose skin of his neck, the stoop, the gasping to start the scooter, the tired chases, the dropping eyes... it is a defeated man who fills up the scenes in Te3n and that transformation is masterful.

If you are a fan of Amitabh Bachchan, you have probably watched Te3n already. Good choice. As always.

Calcutta: The place where they know which Gods to worship

Thursday, June 09, 2016

24. Praktan

In a way, Praktan can be broken down into a simple formula:
1. Main story track of estranged lovers
2. Add a comic track (another couple, newly married)
3. Add a music track (four well known Bengali musicians, playing themselves)
4. Add a commentary track (an elderly couple, played by two yesteryear superstars)

This seemingly simple mathematical formula can fall flat due to a variety of reasons - boring setting, indifferent actors, lacklustre music, emphasis on the tracks, so on and so forth. But writer-director duo, Nandita Roy and Shibaprasad Mukherjee, do a masterful sidestepping of all these pitfalls and delivers a script that is thought-provoking and entertaining in equal measures.
In fact, after their previous success - Belaseshe - where they looked at a separated couple at the twilight of their lives, Praktan looks at a young couple's life after their divorce.

As a train goes from Kurla to Howrah, a first class bogey has twelve characters (as above) and film traces their journey. The focus is on Prasenjit and Rituparna, as a divorced couple and a series of flashbacks reveal their falling in and out of love beautifully. Quite interestingly, they are always in the beautiful parts of Kolkata when falling in love and always in their claustrophobic bedroom when falling out of it. There are some cliches in this relationship but the music lifts some of the regular scene really well.

Rituparna and Prasenjit are both good, looking alarmingly young in their pre-marriage avatars but the scene-stealer is Aparajita Adhya as Prasenjit's second wife. Soumitra's presence becomes critical because he closes the interval and the ending with two wonderful readings from Rabindranath - something that only he can do. His role doesn't require an actor of his stature otherwise. Sabitri - as his wife - brings the house down with a monologue in Bengali-accented Hindi. The newly married couple provides a killer comic track, with all sorts of gags. And the quartet of musicians - them of Chandrabindoo, Bhoomi and Anupam Roy - liven up the proceedings with great background music, superb songs and a brilliant antakshari!

About the absolutely stunning visuals of Kolkata in the film, these are some of the most memorable that I have seen in recent times. While Kahaani's Kolkata was grimy, sweaty, mysterious and set to retro music, Praktan's Kolkata is bright, happy, inviting and set to the music of its present day residents. If someone had to make a tourism video for Kolkata, I would recommend nothing but this song.

Overall, Praktan is one of those films that are not entirely novel in their theme but bring in a freshness in its treatment. The direction and acting are competent, the music is great and there is never a dull moment. As commercial Bangla cinema becomes a clone of the worst successes of Hindi cinema, I would love to see more such middle-of-the-road films gaining greater commercial success. On a weekday evening in Bangalore, we had a near-capacity crowd to see a subtitled print. That commercial success may already have been gained.

[Frivolous Footnote: The last time I remember Rituparna Sengupta in a train journey was when she got killed. In Partho Ghosh's Teesra Kaun, she was the victim of a murder during a train journey that also starred Mithun Chakraborty.]

Tuesday, June 07, 2016

23. Waiting

What would you do if your significant other was on life support and there was no chance of recovery?
What would you if there was some chance of recovery but you had run out of money?
What if the chance of recovery was higher but there was commensurate of him/her turning into a vegetable?
Waiting asks some of these difficult questions and, instead of answering them, makes comments on modern day relationships, love, friendship and reactions. And also asks that most difficult question: "What is Twitter?"

The devout and the atheist
Naseeruddin Shah is brilliant (yawn... what's new?) as the husband who's waiting for his wife (played by Suhasini Mani Ratnam) of forty years to come out of a coma. Kalki Koechlin also puts in a good performance as the newly married wife, steeling herself for a long wait for her husband to recover from a disastrous road accident. Together, they form an endearingly odd couple whose philosophies towards life are radically different and yet, they are bound by a common fear, in a tight space. (One minor quibble: Wasn't Kalki Koechlin over made-up all through?)
The supporting cast consists of some very fine performances. Rajat Kapoor, by now, has made a name for himself as the handsome antagonist. What started as the perverted uncle (Monsoon Wedding) has become even better - subdued yet effective - in this film, where he plays the doctor who is trying to make his patients see reason while they are on an emotional roller-coaster.
Rajeev Ravindranathan (Rama of English Vinglish) plays a comic bit-part and looks to be well on his way to becoming a regular as the bumbling colleague in Hindi cinema.
After a patchy debut (London Paris New York), Anu Menon makes a strong impression with her assured direction in a story where very little happens but the interest levels never drop.

Waiting reminded me of Rituparno Ghosh's Dosar, where a husband was in a near-fatal accident which killed his lover and his wife had to nurse him back to health, while being disgusted by his infidelity. For a brief sequence, Waiting hinted at a similar plot before swerving off in another direction. Both films - excellent ones - were masterful explorations of the modern Indian psyche by asking very uncomfortable questions.

Do you want your ailing husband to die?
Because he is in pain? Or because you hate that he cheated on you? Or because you don't want to spend the rest of your life taking care of him?
Why do you want your wife to live?
Because you love her? Or because you need her to take care of you?

[Frivolous Footnote: As Naseeruddin Shah read PG Wodehouse to his comatose wife, Kalki read James Dashner. The former doesn't need any introduction while the latter writes speculative fiction for young adults. An interesting contrast between the two sets of characters.]

[Frivolous Footnote 2: SPOILER ALERT
In one scene, Naseer confesses to his wife about an one night stand he had thirty years ago. Knowing Naseer's penchant of playing fathers to illegitimate offspring, I wondered if Kalki or her husband could be his progeny. Manmohan Desai has scarred me for life!