Sunday, August 30, 2015

Memories (2013)

Director: Jeethu Joseph
Writer:    Jeethu Joseph
Cast:       Prithviraj, Suresh Krishna, Vijayaraghavan
Language: Malayalam


Sam Alex, a drunkard cop on long leave after the deaths of his wife and daughter, is forced to investigate a series of murders which are committed in the same pattern. His search leads to a serial killer, and something more than what he expected. 

It is a habit of Malayalam films that deals with such stories of serial killing to make it personal for the investigating officer as a cheap way to get the audience's attention. I detest it with much passion and there are just too many otherwise good films that got ruined because of this. 'Mukham' and 'Kariyillakattu Pole' are two such examples even though it is understandable to some extent in the case of the former. Best Malayalam film I can name from the genre is 'Ee Thanutha Veluppan Kalathu', though I am going by my impression of watching it as a schoolboy on Doordarshan. It was written by Padmarajan and directed by Joshi. 

Coming back to the film in question, Memories, it started off decently enough with Prithviraj giving a good performance. Film starts to fall apart when he starts investigating the case and you lose it completely by the time it becomes personal in a predictable fashion. I hate it when each and everything in the film end up as a plot device and that is what happens with his brother character and those fishes that are totally out of place during that scene. That is just so unsubtle and lazy film-making. Occult/ritual serial killing films are quite hard to pull off but when done well they can be really glorious (True Detective Season One, Se7en). It is not the case with this film and you will really struggle to keep a straight face as they make breakthroughs. They really had to show figuring out the 'Jesus in Cross' pose as a major breakthrough!!! There is no effort to justify the showy nature of the murders from killer's point of view other than explaining it away as him being eccentric and a bible-freak. When they hit a road-block with a password protected computer, the officer calls for a computer expert to unlock it. I sighed with relief that at least they didn't go the 'Legacy' route with that; only for the officer to point at Bible and figure out the password all by himself. Give me a fucking break!!!

To sum up, it is another shitty serial killing investigation film with the only good thing about it being Prithviraj's performance. That, and introduction of the term 'Psychological Move' into Malayalam lingo. It is best when such films don't have too many coincidences by which many of the characters form connections and this one patently fails to do so but actually revel in doing the opposite. And what the fuck is with those unnecessary CGI scenes?? Based on what I have seen from Jeethu Joseph, Drishyam looks like a fluke and not the norm. 

Rating: 1.5/5 
                                                                           

Friday, August 28, 2015

Double Barrel (2015)

Director: Lijo Jose Pellissery
Writer:    Lijo Jose Pellissery
Cast:       Prithviraj, Indrajith, Aarya, Vijay Babu, Asif Ali, Sunny Wayne
Language: Malayalam


Film got released today and I had the opportunity to do a 'First Day, First Show' for it...Downside of that is that its imdb page is not updated with a synopsis. I am not arsed to come up with a new one and will copy paste something from an FB post that Prithviraj did yeasterday:

"Be warned, Double Barrel is like nothing you have seen before. It's a genre bender..rather a whole new genre for Malayalam cinema. It's about gangsters, dealers, schemers and goons...all chasing after an elusive pair of diamonds..all bound by their disarmingly endearing stupidity."

Like he says, it is indeed something very different from the usual and watching the teasers and trailers beforehand is very much advised to ascertain whether you are really up for it. It is the first Malayalam film to be shot using Red Dragon camera, which can do up to 6k resolution, and it is indeed sumptuous in a visual sense. The teaser for it which got released months ago was great but I feared for the film when I saw the trailer for it two months back. The latter conveyed the spoof comedy vibe of it and I really felt it could go either way (കയ്യാലപ്പുറത്തെ തേങ്ങ മാതിരി) after watching that. The actors in it like Prithviraj, Sunny Wayne and Vijay Babu are not exactly known for doing comedy roles well but the way the director go is 'Full Retard', with very unsubtle comedy which works well with the gorgeous visuals. It is like watching that bar scene from 'Dev D' as a full length film. First half of the film works really well culminating with the shootout in a basement parking area.

What worked well in the first half ceases to do so in the second half since what follows is more or less the same and there is a limit to what we can visually absorb in a film. It is just a sensory overload. Film is close to 160 minutes long and it seems the director didn't have someone to tell him the old Malayalam adage: "അധികമായാൽ അമൃതും വിഷം" (Translates as- If taken in excess, even 'Amrit' will act as poison). The vibe that I got from the audience during the intermission was that they were enjoying the ride but soon after the interval, I started seeing people walking out and by the end there was a significant amount of booing. It was kind of justified because the film overstays its welcome by at least forty minutes and it is a shame because if edited down, with proper scissors and all that, we could have got a great film out of the material that they had. Having three totally unnecessary songs in it just makes it worse because they significantly affects the pacing. 

So to sum up, first half of the film is great and second half is thoroughly average bordering on shit because of the sameness. My complaint is not related to it not having a proper story and all that but one cannot just sit through three set-piece action shootouts with the only difference between them being the different environments that they are set in. It is technically good and all that with peppy BGM but ultimately it is exponentially self-indulgent. There is one video-game like action sequence which should be something new for the Indian audience. The cast does well with the cartoonish characters and I didn't even recognize Asif Ali in it. Vijay Babu impressed me with his performance in 'Neena' and in this one he plays a character in a diametrically opposite manner. I was surprised by how well the comedy worked in the film. The story arc of Aarya and Chemban Vinodh becomes irritating towards the end but their introduction scene which involves a lesson on how to drink expensive alcohol was Tarantinosque. I don't know if they rushed the post production to get it ready for the release because the last half hour of the film's coloring is very toned down compared to what came before. That happened after Aarya's character becomes sober and maybe it is intentional. If the film is to be watched, it has to be at the cinemas and I would recommend it just for the fact that they had the balls (Blue balls in heart finally made sense) to do it this way. It will definitely bomb (unless school kids save the day) at the box office but could eventually get a cult following. It is a glourious mess of of film. It is a mess alright but glourious nonetheless...

PS: I did expect it to be a 'Snatch' and 'Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels' rip-off but apart from the gangster heist similarity in basic story-lines and some of the editing flourishes, but it is totally different and especially the comedy style. This one is in an entirely different genre onto itself.

PPS: Saw this again today (03/09/15) and was hoping to catch the trimmed version of it where 20 minutes from the second half is edited out. Older version was still running here and it looks like today will be the last day of its run here. Trimmed or not, film was even better on second watch and am upgrading it to 3.5/5 from 3. Noticed one continuity error- Majnu's Boss gets his hands on Kulsumbi, the drug, just before he gets shot and killed. Then how the hell does he pass it on to Majnu?

Rating: 3.5/5
                                                                      

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Bangalore Days (2014)

Director: Anjali Menon
Writer:    Anjali Menon
Cast:       Dulquer Salman, Nazriya Nazim, Nivin Pauly, Fahadh Faasil
Language: Malayalam


The plot revolves around three cousins from Kerala who hangs out together in Bangalore. One of them (Dulquer), a rebellious biker, was already there. The second one (Nivin Pauly), a typical village type Malayalee, gets a job in a software firm and moves to the Software capital of India.The third one (Nazriya Nazim), Nazriya playing a typical Nazriya role, gets married to a very reserved guy (Fahadh Faasil) with a high-salaried job in Bangalore. It is intended as a coming of age romantic comedy drama film and was hugely successful at the box office and stands now as the third highest grosser from Malayalam, not adjusted for inflation. It even had some crossover success with people from other south Indian states watching it, God only knows for what.

I was never compelled to watch this film as I found Anjali Menon's previous effort, 'Ustad Hotel', to be terrible manipulative bullshit. I finally decided to give it a go today as my broadband FUP limit is up and this one came on TV. It is marginally better than 'Ustad Hotel' but that is not saying much. It is quite watchable for about first hour of the film as it introduces various characters and their interactions. After that, it tries to shoe-horn sappy manipulative story arcs for all the three characters in a typical Indian fashion aimed at brain-dead Indian middle class audience, who tend to get inspired by 'Obvious' philosophical musings from Robin Sharma and are susceptible to shit like 'Art of Living'. We have Dulquer falling for a disabled RJ, Nazriya having difficulties in her marriage (seems issues like sex life can be brushed under the carpet for the film to be in the non 'new-gen' mould) and Nivin Pauly's story-line is supposed to be comic relief. He is supposed to be a middle-class guy with an entry level job in a software firm and he has got a house all for himself in Indira Nagar. That in itself should prompt you to call bullshit on it. Film is around three hours long and it is quite an excruciating watch. Occasional laughs manages to take you to the end which features a dirt track bike race in a typical sports film fashion with the cliched setback in the middle of it, only for the protagonist to comeback against all odds and win it in a photo-finish. 

Overall, it is a non-offensive watchable shit but the success of it itself is offensive. It doesn't go to the terrible level that Ustad Hotel manages to get, and for that, I will put it as marginally better. As far as performances go, Dulquer and Nazriya are playing their usual selves and rest of them are alright. I can't stand Anjali Menon's films which I find to be terribly manipulative, having an artificial sense of sophistication while being very old school.

Rating: 2/5   
                                                                         

Saturday, August 22, 2015

കുട്ടേട്ടൻ (Kuttettan) (1990)

Director: Joshi
Writer:    Lohithadas
Cast:       Mammootty, Jagadish, Thilakan, Murali
Language: Malayalam


Vishnu/Kuttettan (Mammootty) is a rich planter living in a hill-station and trying to lead a life of a bachelor while his mother and wife lives in his hometown. He is a womanizer and to make matters worse, most of his pursuits can be categorized as bordering on the peado-category. While he is struggling to actually fulfill his pursuits, he meets a much senior fellow (Thilakan) with similar interests and approach him to mentor him. They arrange him a 15-year-old girl, whom is taken to his house only to be discovered by his family who made a surprise visit. To escape from the situation, he lies to them that the girl is in fact his daughter from an affair that he had prior to his marriage. To complicate the situation further, his family adopts her into the fold, creating conflict between him, his mentor and their pimp (Murali).

Whether you rate the film or not would depend upon whether you see Mammootty's character as a heroic lead or not. For all intends and purposes, it is really a negative role and I don't know whether it was written to be perceived as such at the time of its release. Even by liberal standards, he is really a piece of shit character whose pursuits are largely exploitative in nature. Mammootty has a penchant for playing such roles in a comedic manner and his role in 'Azhakiya Ravanan' is another such example. Kuttettan is a 42-year-old good looking man married to an average looking woman, an alliance that looks to have been arranged by the elders rather than out of love. They can't conceive a child but the clever thing done by the writer is that he doesn't explicitly use those as a justification for the character's actions. It is as if he would have done the same things even if he was in a happy marriage. This is made even more clear in the last scene of the film when he winks at a nurse who is taking care of him after an accident. 

Overall it is a very good watch with an excellent first half of the film and an alright but convoluted second half. Mammootty should be praised for accepting such a negative role, even if he didn't realize it to be so or if it wasn't perceived as such at the time of its release. Kuttettan is not much different from the role of Pattelar he did in 'Vidheyan'. I liked the fact that the the makers opted to do the social commentary in a subtle manner without giving the audience a sermon on things. His martial status comes as a twist in the film, which makes the first half of the film relatable to all kinds of people. I would've liked it even more if they had kept his feelings towards the girl at the end in an ambiguous manner with a deliberate nod to 'Lolita'. I thought that would have been more interesting than the conflict between him and his pimp. Still, it is a very good watch as long as you don't consider the main character to be heroic in any sense. I do think the writer wanted it to be a negative role and there is even a product placement from Snuggy (Nappies for kids), which I found to be ironically funny, during a song sequence. Mammootty is generally at his best when he plays rich, arrogant but foolish characters and this one can be added to that.

Rating: 3.5/5
                                                                          

Friday, August 21, 2015

നത്തോലി ഒരു ചെറിയ മീനല്ല (Natholi Oru Cheriya Meenalla) (2013)

Director: V. K. Prakash
Writer:    Shankar Ramakrishnan
Cast:       Fahadh Faasil, Kamalinee Mukherjee, Mukundan


Preman (Fahadh Faasil) is a caretaker of a flat at Cochin. Everyone in the flat calls him Natholi (Anchovy) and he faces some issues with some of the occupants of the flat and begins to write a story using the same characters in it. Film revolves around the conflict between Preman and alter-ego character he creates (Narendran played by Fahadh himself), who starts to veer away from what Preman wants from him and starts acting on his own. 

The title of the film translates as 'Anchovy/Natholi isn't a Small Fish' and fried Natholi is in fact my favorite fish dish. I do remember taking an interest in the film due to its interesting title, ahead of its release, but I couldn't catch it at the cinemas. It is a film about which I didn't hear any good things and it went largely unnoticed after the release. The way things are here, that is not a guarantee for a film to be shit and it is often the case that really good films don't do well at the box office at all. It is even more accentuated for films that are unconventional in nature and this film is something that fits the criterion very well. For a Malayalam film to take such risks is almost unheard of these days and it is something that cannot be appreciated enough.

It is a very hard film to describe and the best I could come up with is that it is a surreal comedy. It did remind me Charlie Kauffman's 'Adaptation', a film about a writer, the characters he creates and the writing process. But this films works more like a spoof on Malayalam film industry as well as being self-referential when it comes to V. K. Prakash's filmography. VKP's 'Trivandrum Lodge' had attracted some criticism for its boldness, which some saw as lewd. It was a shock to the system for 'normal' Malayalee audience with its depiction of changing sexual mores but was largely a conventional one in terms of the narrative. In Natholi, VKP goes 'Full Retard' and the result is a very enjoyable watch. Fahadh plays the oddball character very well and Kamalinee Mukherjhee is passable as the antagonist. I am not really a fan of people acting in languages that they are not comfortable with, using dubbing. That does come in the way sometimes but the role is such that it doesn't prove to be catastrophically distracting. We recently had a spoof film in 'Chirakodinja Kinavukal', which was also quite good, but it did come with bells and whistles to make sure that the audience understand what exactly is going on. Natholi, is much bolder as it takes the intelligence of the audience for granted and treats it in a more subtle manner. It is a shame that both these films didn't do well at box office.

Overall, it is good watch and extra credits to the team for making an unconventional film. Pacing is a bit off in some places and there are some totally unnecessary songs in it but it generates enough laughter to sustain till the end. Ending is not compromised like it was for 'Chirakodinja Kinavukal'. VKP was kind of a joke figure based on some of his earlier films, but the films that I have watched of his have been rather good (Trivandrum Lodge & Beautiful being the other two). He doesn't don the Writer's role, and so, I guess it depends a lot on who wrote the film. He had recently remade 'Shutter' in Marathi.

Rating: 3/5 
                                                                        

Monday, August 17, 2015

Metropolitan (1990)

Director: Whit Stillman
Writer:    Whit Stillman
Cast:       Carolyn Farina, Edward Clements, Chris Eigeman


A group of young upper-class Manhattanites are blithely passing through the gala debutante season, when an unusual outsider joins them and stirs them up. 

I am not familiar with Jane Austen's work and I don't think I have seen any of the films that were adapted from her books. But I do have a vague idea about what it entails and this film has been described as a post-Austen work. I came across this film through an Indiewire article which described it to be an influence on the works of Richard Linklater and Noah Baumbach. That should be a reason enough to check out this little indie-hit from the 90s. Bourgeoisie is something that gets mocked in many of my favorite films and this film does a genre-bender on that, with having people from that class (self proclaimed as 'Urban Haute Bourgeoisie') discuss the pressures that they face and fret about downward-mobility. You have one character in it saying how he was looking forward to Luis Bunuel's 'Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie', thinking that it will be a film that appreciates the qualities of their class, going by the title. Film is laugh out loud funny with an extremely intelligent script. You have them complaining about the titled-aristocracy of Europe who looks down on them. A great thing about it is that even though we think we are getting a protagonist perspective from the outsider character played by Edward Clements, it is actually through Carolyn Farina that we view the film for the majority of its running length. So, we are not sure about his motives and in the end it turns out that he is quite honest about it which we find surprising. It is a character that many of us from the middle class/upper middle class can identify with and will make you question yourself. Some in the group find him to be a phony but he has got the backing of Chris Eigeman character, who acts as the Tyler Durden of the group. The ending of the film is quite contrived, but it does earn enough credit up till then for us to be happy about it. 

Overall it is a great watch and one that you will love it if you are the kind of person that enjoys the works of Woody Allen, Linklater and Noah Baumbach. Performances are great and it is really a coming-of-age film that is hilariously funny. Most of the cast were first-time actors who got the gig through auditions. It managed to get a screening at Cannes and got an academy award nomination for best screenplay. Whit Stillman made his directorial debut with this film and I will certainly catch up with other films. Metropolitan was made on a budget of $225k and was a box office success, grossing around $3 million.  

Rating: 4.5/5
                                                                           

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Ravenous (1999)

Director: Antonia Bird
Writer:    Ted Griffin
Cast:       Guy Pearce, Robert Carlyle, Jeremy Davies


Captain John Boyd's (Guy Pearce) promotion stations him at a remote fort where a rescued man (Robert Carlyle) tells a disturbing tale of cannibalism. The film revolves around cannibalism in the 1840s California and some elements bear similarities to the story of the Donner Party and that of Alfred Packer.

The film could be described as a psychological thriller with elements of black comedy in it. There is some dubious use of comedic background music in it, especially during the big reveal, which kind of conveys that the film doesn't take itself too seriously and the audience should do the same. That said, there is some serious subtext to it regarding the cannibalizing nature of the Westward expansion of the US in terms of the effect that it had on the native Indians. The opening credits is similar to ones used in Westerns from the 60s, and even though it is set at a time that is typical of the genre, it is not at all stylistically same. The film is done in such a way that one could think of it as all happening in Boyd's head and not necessarily as anything mythic/supernatural. There is also some 'Antichrist' elements added to the character played by Robert Carlyle. Guy Pearce is a vegetarian in real life and had trouble while filming the meat eating scenes and used to spit them out after the director yelled 'Cut'. I think that actually might have helped enhance his performance in portraying the utter disgust.

Overall, it is a great and gory watch. Guy Pearce is a seriously underrated actor who should be in more films. Robert Carlyle is always great to watch and is famous for his role in Trainspotting as 'Begbie'. Cannibalism is a topic that is hardly touched upon by films meant for mainstream audience and that is very much like the way it is considered in society as well- a strict taboo subject. Ana Lily-Amirpour's (A Girl Walks Alone Home At Night) next film, The Bad Batch, is supposed to be a dystopian love story set in a community of cannibals. I haven't seen any other films from the director Antonia Bird and Robert Carlyle seems to be a constant fixture in them. She passed away recently in 2013, aged 62, and am thinking of checking out her debut feature film 'Priest' next. Female directors tend to get away with showing violence, at level 11, much more than their male counterparts and American Psycho is another such example of this.

Rating: 4/5
                                                                           

Friday, August 14, 2015

Reprise (2006)

Director: Joachim Trier
Writers:  Joachim Trier, Eskil Vogt
Cast:      Anders Danielsen Lie, Espen Klouman Hoiner, Viktoria Winge
Language: Norwegian


Two competitive friends- Philip & Erik, fueled by literary aspirations and youthful exuberance, endure the pangs of love, depression and burgeoning careers. Philip gets his novel published first but suffers from a psychosis which hinders his writing. Erik is still waiting for his first book to be published. They have a circle of friends, mostly from 'other' part of Oslo, whom doesn't share many of their interests particularly but all of them still hang out together signifying that they are still finding their feet in the world ahead of settling down.

It is unique film that deals with something that should be relatable to all. Event though it is told from the perspective of the two young writers and seem like a film about writing and success, it is actually about friendship. Most films, dealing with such a subject, have a tendency to show a higher degree of friendship between all members of the group. This one doesn't do so as the two central characters have the deepest friendship and with the rest, they have varying degrees of depth of relationship, as all of them don't have much in common. Most of us acquire different sets of friends/acquaintances in each stage of our life- one set from school/neighborhood, another one during college and another one from work. If you go by the personalities of people in each set, it will differ based on where you are at in terms of your own personality at that point of time in your life. The former most set, from school/neighborhood, will mostly have the most diverse set of personalities as they were acquired at a time when you have not figured yourself out yet and there is a sense of default aspect to it since you didn't have much choice regarding the geographic location of your home. The set of people in this film is also one like that as it conveys Oslo's small-town nature.

It does have a slightly complex and quirky narrative with multiple characters. You get seamless time-jumps and narration over imagined sequences, which reminded me very much of Spike Lee's '25th Hour'. There is a lengthy such sequence towards the end of the film which we are not sure whether it was just imaginary or whether all the characters in it did have a happy ending. The central characters are portrayed in such a way that we are not sure whether they are really happy when good things happen to the other. It is really a adult way of handling such friendships on screen, a rare thing to see in films as people have a tendency to take it to 11, unnecessarily. 

Overall it is a great watch and was Norway's official submission for the Academy Awards. It won't be up everyone's alley and one's level of enjoyment will very much depend on what it evokes in you. Jaochim Trier made his directorial debut with this film and am gonna check out his other films, if I can actually obtain them. I haven't seen many films from Norway as it looks like the least prolific when compared to the other two Scandinavian countries- Sweden and Denmark. That said, 'Kraftidioten' from last year was indeed a great one from Norway.

Rating: 4/5
                                                                       

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Good Night, and Good Luck. (2005)

Director: George Clooney
Writers:  George Clooney, Grant Heslov
Cast:       David Strathairn, George Clooney, Robert Downey Jr.


Film is an historical drama portraying the conflict between veteran radio and television journalist Edward R. Murrow and US senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin, especially relating to the anti-communist Senator's actions with the Senate Permanent Committee on Investigations. It focuses on the theme of media responsibility and also addresses what occurs when the media offer a voice of dissent against Government policy. 

2005 was a good time for the film to get released because the media in US, now fully corporatised, didn't do his job post 9-11 as terrorist scare was used to push through all sorts of questionable legislations like 'Patriot Act' and conduct some dubious wars. Red Scare was something similar that happened in US after the second world war, whipped up by the likes of J. Edgar Hoover & Senator McCarthy. The communist bogey was used to infringe upon civil rights and liberties, and the activities that they did on its name look totally ridiculous when looked back upon. But you have to be mindful of the cold war context and the nuclear threat to realize how they got support/silent approval to do so. The film will also be very relatable to us Indians, who are going through a similar state of affairs under a right-wing government. Accusations of being commie naxals/Maoists and an order to go to Pakistan is something that is hurled at dissenting voices these days in Modi's India. 

The film is in black and white and features an excellent central performance from David Strathairn capturing subtle mannerisms. The title of the film comes from Murrow's signature parting line in his show. Film uses archive footage of McCarthy and so he plays himself in it. I has recently read a NYT piece which cited the questionable practice of Ed Murrow in which he uses his show to promote a cigarette brand by having a smoke. That does look shocking when looked from a modern context, especially as we don't see people smoking on TV in a non-entertainment program these days. But I have to say that, I did see David Lynch on Charlie Rose show, in the 90s, having a smoke and looking cool while doing that. George Clooney manages to convey a sense of somberness throughout the film and it works as a good docu-drama. But, I think, I would have preferred to see it as a straight-up documentary. At the end of it, you do go: 'Is that it?'. Still it is quaint to see them, during the early days of TV journalism, worry about the influence of corporate side influencing journalism, while these days we are taking it as a given and always look at who owns the outlet and assume some bias.

PS: If you hear about McCarthyism, as I have been these days with increasing frequency, then it refers to accusation of treason or subversion without proper regard for evidence.

Rating: 3.5/5
                                                                      

Polytechnique (2009)

Director: Denis Villeneuve
Writers:  Jacques Davidts, Denis Villeneuve
Cast:       Maxim Gaudette, Sebastian Huberdeau, Karin Vanasse
Language: French


A dramatization of the Montreal massacre of 1989 where several female engineering students were murdered by an unstable misogynist. The film is shot in Black and White and the version that I saw was the French one. It is said to be a fictional dramatization of the massacre in which 28 people were shot at with 14 women dying. The massacre was a major spur for Canadian gun control movement.

I didn't know the exact premise of the film going into it and the film makes it clear from the first scene itself with a gunfire at a photocopying booth. Film is told mainly from three perspectives-that of the killer, a male student and a female mechanical engineering student. Director jumps through timelines and gives a dispassionate account without feeling the need to make it as if it is a big social message. Since I didn't know about the real life background of the event, I was bemused by the premise that someone will do a massacre targeting what he sees as 'Feminists'. In India also, if you go by twitter, there is a tendency to blame 'Femi-Nazis' (their term for feminists) for all sorts of things and it is not surprising coming from people who are opposed to reservation (Indian version of affirmative action to combat caste based discrimination). Many don't realize the default privileges that they enjoy and have a notion that they get to where they are through their own 'hard work' entirely.

It was interesting to see that in the developed world also, females taking up mechanical engineering would raise eyebrows, at least in 1989. In India, it is very common to have male only mechanical engineering batches. The killing spree in the film starts in a mechanical engineering class where the killer asks the female students and male students to split up. He then accuses female students of being feminists for taking up the course they did and starts the shooting. He commits suicide after the killing spree and the cause that he took up was identified as anti-feminism based on his own oral statements during the killing and targeting of females during the shooting. The massacre also sparked off controversies, as initially the male students were criticized for not intervening and later on feminists were criticized for using the murder to promote their cause.

Overall it is a great watch and it being in black and white affords the director an opportunity to show the gruesomeness. A droning sound is used as BGM when the story is shown from the perspective of the killer, which reminded me of 'Under the Skin'. Despite the subject matter, it is an exquisite film visually. The fact that the killer had a motive makes the film more interesting to watch. Denis Villeneuve is a very promising director even though the film for which he got all the acclaim, 'Prisoners', is hugely overrated. If I were to rank his films, it would be like:

1) Enemy
2) Polytechnique

His latest film. Sicario, has been very well received by the critics and I can't wait to watch it. He is also slated to direct the upcoming Blade Runner project as well.

Rating: 4/5   
                                                                       

Monday, August 10, 2015

True Detective (Season 2) (2015)

Creator: Nic Pizzolatto
Cast:      Colin Farrell, Rachel McAdams, Vince Vaughn, Taylor Kitsch, Kelly Reilly


The season's story takes place in California and follows the interweaving stories of officers from three cooperating police departments; when California highway patrol officer and war veteran Paul Woodrugh (Kitsch) discovers the body of corrupt city manager Ben Caspere on the side of a highway, Vinci police department detective Raymond "Ray" Velcoro (Farrell) and Ventura county sheriff's office CID Antingone Bezzerides (Rachel McAdams) are called to assist in the following investigation. Ray is in cohorts with career gangster Francis "Frank" Semyon (Vince Vaughn) who was attempting to legitimize his business with his wife (Kelly Reilly) by investing in a rail project overseen by Caspere, but loses his money when Caspere is killed, prompting him to start his own investigation. 

True Detective follows anthology format with each season having a standalone story and characters. So, there was no need for HBO to rush it and air a season within a year from the end of season one. I don't know why they did it and maybe the competitive pressure from Netflix might have forced them. What made season one unique was the fact that there was only a single writer (Pizzolatto) and a single director (Cary Fukunaga) involved primarily in the creative process. This is pretty unusual for a TV series since they are always under pressure to deliver a season of the show every year which translates into a team of people getting involved in the creative process. But having this anthology format should have helped HBO to stick to the formula that worked in Season 1 but they chose not to and so, multiple people were involved for writing (it was not writing room level but still) as well as directing and it actually did harm the overall quality. 

There has been a lot of hate for this season from the critiques but I don't share their level of hate. It is true that there are some terrible lines in it, primarily in the first four episodes. Plenty of people questioned the casting as well but I though Farrell and McAdams were uniformly great in it. Performances of both Vaughn and Kitsch are a bit uneven and some of it had to do with the ridiculousness of some of the lines. But by the end of the season, I did like them all and thought overall they were pretty good.

Another reason for all the hate was the complexity of the plot. IMO, the complexity actually helped me enjoy the show even more since it was a cerebral challenge.  I do think some of it was made deliberately complex since the show is about the detectives in it and not entirely about the plot. Same thing happened with 'Inherent Vice' where the plot was made almost incomprehensible and deliberately so. In TD season two, that level of complexity is not there and I was able to figure out most of it and an outline of what happened is only needed to enjoy the show. Trouble is that people have a habit of putting themselves in detective's shoes and try to solve it for themselves and eventually gets fed up when they cannot remember all the names and make all the connections. It is much more fun when it is not laid out for you with terrible expositions and you only have a vague idea about what happened over the course of the season. The crime at the center of it turns out to be quite random, in terms of where it came from, setting off a chain of events that affects all sorts of people in high places and the way it gets investigated is also pretty random and that is fine with me.

In season one, we know that the people in power had involvement with the crime but it ends without any resolution regarding those people. In season two, we follow them throughout the season and ends with a significant number of people from both sides (bad and good) getting fatally involved. If you think in terms of survival of central good characters, season one did give a happy resolution even though they didn't get all the bad guys, while in season two, we have a bitter-sweet end with more stress on the former. On the whole it is a pretty good watch but its standard is much more closer to a House of Cards season rather than True Detective Season one. Get over your obsession with season one and enjoy it for what it is. I do hope HBO gives a bit more time and have a more perfect season next time round. Get back Fukunaga if they can.

PS: This slate article Link pretty much explains the entire plot in a very good fashion, but, you can read it only after finishing the first seven episodes ahead of the finale. 

Rating: 3.5/5
                                                                          

Real Genius (1985)

Director: Martha Coolidge
Writers:  Neal Israel, Par Proft, Peter Torokvei
Cast:       Val Kilmer, Gabriel Jarett, Michelle Meyrink, William Atherton


Mitch (Jarett) is a 15-year-old Physics genius who is given a scholarship, by Professor Hathaway (Atherton), and admitted into a very research intensive university. There he assists the professor to create a LASER weapon along with several other students, with the most prominent one being Chris Knight (Val Kilmer). Students don't exactly know the purpose of what they are building while the professor is employed by the CIA to develop this weapon which could target and kill people from space. 

The film is really like a high-school/college film with the difference that all of them are nerds. Still, it does follow genre conventions and Val Kilmer is the genius rebel among them. It is like 'Interstellar' of college films but in a good way. The creators have put considerable effort into making stuff like the science in it and the behavior of nerds as accurate as possible. Martha Coolidge actually spent months researching about LASER technology and policies of the CIA, and interviewed dozens of students at Caltech. 

The story is pretty basic and I saw the first hour of the film late night in a sleepy state and was quite underwhelmed by it. But the last forty minutes was really funny and worked really well for me. Val Kilmer is absolutely the highlight of the film with some great lines and mannerisms. The professor was also great as was the cute lady nerd in it played by Michelle Meyrink. Jarett's character is the protagonist character for us and probably the weakest link in the film. Overall, it is a pretty good watch despite the predictability and 'basic' nature of the plot. I would guess that people who saw it at the time will have tremendous nostalgia associated with the film.

Rating: 3.5/5 
                                                                             

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation (2015)

Director: Christopher McQuarrie
Writers:  Christopher McQuarrie, Drew Pearce
Cast:       Tom Cruise, Rebecca Ferguson, Simon Pegg, Sean Harris


Ethan Hunt and his team take on their most 'Impossible' mission yet, eradicating the Syndicate- an International rogue organization as highly skilled as they are, committed to destroying the IMF along the way. It is the anti-thesis of IMF with its objective being to create instability in a revolutionary sense. Rebecca Ferguson plays the role of a British agency double agent inside the Syndicate, which makes the film all the more interesting since we have to always second guess her as well as Syndicate's motive.

Ghost Protocol was the film that got the Mission Impossible franchise back on track and it worked purely as an action film with three clearly defined set-piece sequences in it. We don't care much for the story and they only act as a vehicle to get Ethan Hunt and his team from one set-piece to another. It went through the mandatory MI franchise references like lit fuse opening credits, self-destructing messages, use of masks, Tom Cruise hanging , Tom Cruise running (That is not purely MI) etc without making it look tacked on. Rogue Nation is the film in which the story takes precedence in stead of action set-pieces and they manage to pull it off nicely. It is not to say that action scenes are not good but just that story involves you more in a a good way and the character played by Rebecca Ferguson helps a lot in that regard. It always helps when you have a double agent whose motives we are not sure of and while this is not a novel concept in spy films, the balance between story and action was just right. Also, the main villain was very interesting and it is a general rule in such action films that 'You are only as good as the Villain'.

Film did start off in an underwhelming fashion with a mediocre opening credits and the disappointment on finding out that 'the hanging out from a plane that is taking off' was there in the film without much story context to it. Anyway, it worked in a marketing sense since it was used as the teaser for the film. MI5 manages to take off only by the time that action set-piece in Vienna Opera venue starts off and symbolically enough, the target is the Austrian PM (WW1 reference). The Syndicate is very much involved with creating instability in the middle east and around the Muslim world, which is the current affairs reference for the film, and a lot of the troubles that is there now is the bi-product of fall of Ottoman Empire and how the region was dealt with after WW1. It is not what the Syndicate is doing in terms of their activities that is of interest to us but whether they are using Ethan Hunt to get to their original target. So it is a case of who is leading on who. There are only three major action set-pieces in the film (Vienna Opera, Morocco water stunt, Morocco Car/Bike Chase) and they gets over, I reckon, by around two-thirds of the film. From then on, it is largely story driven and that is a bold move from the director. It turned out to be a good decision since another major set-piece at the end would have been just tiring. Ridiculousness of the plot, in case you actually think about it, is not a problem since you are expected to leave your brains out for an MI film. It is the least MI film out of all the films in the franchise and that is indeed a welcome change. The whole idea of IMF, with its stupid name of Impossible Missions Force, is itself ridiculous and it is best when they don't go overboard with self-references and Rogue Nation manages to do just that. It works well as a standalone action flick.

Overall MI5 is a great watch and is in my opinion the best MI film along with Ghost Protocol. It is the humor and great chemistry between Cruise and Pegg that worked well in Ghost Protocol along with the great action sequences, and they added Rebecca Ferguson to the whole equation and made another solid action flick. It is not as big a feminist statement as Mad Max: Fury Road was, but it was good that they didn't go overboard with a romantic angle to it. MI6 is on the pipeline now with the shoot set to happen in 2016. I really do hope they go with a good director since that is essential for an MI film to be any good (1,4,5). As far as my MI films ranking go:

1) Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation
3) Mission Impossible (Hasn't aged very well)
4) MI:3
5) MI:2 ( Turned off after ten minutes)

PS: It was the first English film that I saw at cinemas in my hometown since Jurassic Park, around 20 years or so ago.

Rating: 4/5
                                                                             

Friday, August 7, 2015

Karma Cartel (2014)

Director: Vinod Bharathan
Writer:    Vinod Bharathan
Cast:       Vinay Forrt, Sabumon Abdusamad, Joseph Chakola
Language: Malayalam

A multi-award winning, avant-garde Indian indie set in a southern city of India (Kochi). It starts with following a reporter's search for a missing actor, leads to revelation of multiple lives connected to it through greed and bad choices. It is the first Indian film to be made following the Dogme 95 Manifesto set by Danish directors Lars Von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg.

Dogme 95 rules were made to create films, putting emphasize on traditional values of story, acting and theme, excluding the use of elaborate special effects or technology in the hope that it will give power back to the artist as opposed to the studio. As far as Dogme 95 films go, Thomas Vinterberg's 'Festen', which was in fact the first Dogme film, is the high watermark receiving wide acclaim from all quarters, not just for its Dogme sensibilities. It ushered in a new era of film-making with its use of handy-cam, giving all new freedom  for the cameraman in terms of movement as well as scope for innovation. Festen was a big milestone in the whole Film Vs Digital debate that played out since then, with digital winning out in the end for all intends and purposes as of now. 

Karma Cartel follows the rules 1, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7 of the Dogme 95, which has ten rules in total. The second rule that it doesn't follow, involves usage of extra music. It also doesn't follow rules 8, 9 and 10 since it is a genre movie with the director credited and the aspect ratio is not the academy 35mm standard. It is essentially a comedy featuring mostly unknown actors. Generally you don't feel Dogme 95 films to be a visual treat, since the whole idea behind it is to make it as raw as possible. But I actually thought Karma Cartel was quite great to look at and maybe it being set in Kochi during its Biennale  and me watching it at cinemas might have contributed to it. Film does have some quality comedy moments in it but it does lose its steam during the second half. Two short films were made by the director as part of his Karma series, and this being his first feature length film, you do get the feel that the transition has not been quite smooth. Vinod Bharathan is based out of Copenhagen and it was filmed in just ten days during a Kerala visit. Considering those constraints as well as the novelty of seeing an Indian film following Dogme 95, it is quite good and a worthy effort. I don't know how well-versed he is in Malayalam but some of the scenes that are supposed to be comedic did linger on longer than it was needed and the pacing is a bit off, especially in the second half. 

Overall, it is a decent enough watch and all the more interesting because of its adherence to Dogme 95, which is out of fashion even for its founders. There is a Style over Substance feel to the film and it is as if they didn't quite know how to get to the ending in a credible manner. The references to culture of facebook film reviews with ratings worked well initially but later on in the second half, the whole commentary on film making et al did seem a bit much. Vinay Forrt is good as usual and the other actors also did a very good job. The limitations that the film have is to do with the threadbare plot and there is a comedy skit feel to it. The whole Fort Kochi setting is a bit cliched these days but it worked well for the film and they did capture some of the stunning graffiti that were made during the Biennale. It is well-worth a go at the cinemas considering the crap that are generally getting released these days. I must go and checkout the other short films in the Karma series.

Rating: 3/5

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Slow West (2015)

Director: John Maclean
Writer:    John Maclean
Cast:       Kodi Smit-McPhee, Michael Fassbender, Ben Mendelsohn


A young Scottish 16-year-old boy (Kodi Smit-McPhee) travels across America in pursuit of the woman he loves, attracting the attention of an outlaw (Michael Fassbender) who is willing to serve him as a guide. Unknown to the Scot, there is a $2000 bounty on her head and he might be inadvertently leading the bounty hunters on to her.  

It is set in 1870 America but was shot in Scotland and New Zealand along with Colarado. All sorts of awesome is condensed into the 84 minute running time. You kind of think that you know where it is going since the premise is quite similar to the one in 'True Grit', an older bounty-hunter helping a young kid to reach a destination. But, it totally surprised me during the finale which was brutally beautiful. I am a big fan of Sergio Leone's Spaghetti Westerns but this one is quite different in tone and style. While Leone tended to make everything in epic scale, Slow West is an exercise in minimalism and there is hardly any flab to it. It is much more closer to Jim Jarmusch's 'Dead Man' rather than other films in the genre. Even the Clint Eastwood like character played by Fassbender is done in a genre-bending fashion. I was disappointed when it turned that the character had a name.

I won't describe myself as a big fan of the Western genre and don't really try to lap it up as much as possible. The ones that I have liked are the Leone films, 'Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid' and when it comes to modern ones, I did enjoy 'True Grit' and loved 'The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford'. But these are films that you will love if you are a fan of cinema itself and really don't need to be a genre fanboy. I also like it when you get such films in Modern settings like 'No Country For Old Men' and the genre mixing ones made by the likes of Quentin Tarantino with elements of Western to it. Tarantino's next film, The Hateful Eight, is expected to be his first out and out Western.

Coming back to Slow West, it is a fantastic film and will definitely feature very high up in my year end 'Best of' List. There is surprisingly great humor in it and the surreal sort of sequences in it were also great. Ben Mendelsohn and Michael Fassbender are always tremendously watchable. It is a gorgeous film to look at and is a Film4, BFI and NZ Film Corporation co-production. It got a digital video release on the same date as its theatrical release and didn't do very well at box office. 

Rating: 5/5
                                                                         

Clouds of Sils Maria (2014)

Director: Oliver Assayas
Writer:    Oliver Assayas
Cast:       Juliette Binoche, Kristen Stewart, Chloe Grace Moretz


A veteran actress, Maria (Juliette Bincohe), comes face-to-face with an uncomfortable reflection of herself when she agrees to take part in a revival of the play that launched her career twenty years earlier. The play depicts the exploitative lesbian relationship between a 40-year-old businesswoman, Helena, and her 20-year-old personal assistant, Sigrid. Maria had made her debut playing Sigrid and now, 20 years later, she is being persuaded to take up the role of Helena, with whom she says she couldn't identify at all which is her taking a heads in the sand approach. Also, the relationship between Sigrid and Helena is kind of loosely reflected in the relationship between Maria and her assistant Val, played excellently by Kristen Stewart.

The play in question in the film is titled 'Maloja's Snake' and refers to a meteorological/geographical cloud formation between Maloja Pass between Swiss and Italian Alps border. The film is set in the Swiss side of the Alps in a remote town called Sils Maria near the pass. Film can be described an one which deals with 'getting-old-existentialism' and it is more pronounced for people in the acting business especially if you are a woman. Maria is not someone who thrived purely on looks but still she is finding it hard because getting offered to play the role of Helena symbolically means that she is now officially old. She tries in vain to make excuses like the character being weak, unlike her, and she cannot identify at all with Helena, which is her being in Denial stage under Kübler-Ross model. After she finally accepts the role, when she is practicing her lines with Val, they are in constant conflict regarding their respective interpretation of the play, which also reflects the difference in ages between them. This, along with Maria's growing insecurities and vainness, makes Val exasperated by her and leads to her quitting immediately after they see the 'snake'. This happens suddenly and we are not shown what exactly happened to Val and I even thought that Maria might have killed her.

Apart from Val, the third major character in the film is the 19-year-old actress, Jo-Ann Ellis (Chloe Grace Moretz) slated to play the role of Sigrid. The revival of play is supposed to attract headlines concerning Maria playing the role of Helena but by the time play is about to start its run, it gets superseded by events in Jo-Ann Ellis private life. Val leaving and her being not the center of attraction, finally hits it home for Maria as she accepts her reality by the end of the film. Film also takes potshots at Hollywood, not too different from Birdman, and there is one scene in which Val and Maria debates about the quality of films like X-Men and I am on Maria's side. I cannot take such comic book films seriously and find it quite amusing the hoopla surrounding that among the fanboys. One could even consider this film to be a companion piece to Birdman, coming from a female angle. Another film I was reminded of was Paolo Sorrentino's 'The Great Beauty', but that one had a kick-ass central character who was self-aware and assured about where he was at at that age, albeit with some regrets.

Clouds of Sils Maria is a fantastic watch. Kristen Stewart was amazing in the role of assistant and received the César Award for Best Supporting actress (French industry award) for it. This is the first time I had seen her playing a major role, not surprising since she is famous for her involvement in Twilight saga, and looking through her filmography 'Panic Room' and 'Into the Wild' are the only films that I have seen her in. Even though she got most of the plaudits, Binoche was also excellent playing the role of Maria and lack of love for her must be to do with our own exasperation with the character. The central element of the film is of course the relationship between Maria and Val, which is played with enormous amount of subtlety. It is filmed in a very modern way with a minimalist aspect to it. The story idea for the film came from Bincohe who approached the director with it and the latter wrote the screenplay. Bincohe is said to have accepted her role in 'Godzilla', just to do justice to her line that she delivers in Sils Maria about acting in blockbusters. Even though the film is from 2014, it got released in UK and US in 2015 only, and so, I will reserve it for my 'Best of 2015' list.

Rating: 5/5  
                                                                            

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

끝까지 간다 (A Hard Day) (2014)

Director: Seong-hoon Kim
Writers:  Seong-hoon Kim, Kim Seong-hun
Cast:       Sun-kyun Lee, Man-shik Jeong, Jin-woong Jo
Language: Korean


Detective Go Geon-soo is having a hard day, and the following events happen to him in less than 24 hours: he receives a divorce notice from his wife. His mother passes away. He and his coworkers are being investigated by Internal Affairs police inspectors over alleged embezzlement. Then on his way to his mother's funeral, he drives recklessly and commits a fatal hit and run. He tries to cover up the accident by hiding the man's corpse in his deceased mother's coffin. But someone has been watching this all along and he starts getting blackmail calls from this guy soon enough. 

The concept of a detective having a terribly bad day is explored in the first forty minutes of the film and culminates with the burial at cemetery. This portion of the film is a laugh riot and amazingly great and it reminded me of Michael Douglas starring 'Falling Down', which had gone a totally dark way towards the end.. What follows after the initial comedy portion of the film, when it takes a mystery thriller mode, is comparatively average. Still the great cinematography, which included a kick-ass overhead shot of a chase sequence, and plenty of twists and turns make even that portion of the film an enjoyable watch nevertheless. There were some lazy expositions and connecting-the-dots falshbacks which were not at all needed. Also there are just too many happy coincidences like the detective spotting his caller outside the police headquarters. 

Overall it is a good watch with some solid performances. It was selected to compete in the Director's fortnight section of the Cannes 2014. It was a big box office success, collecting close to $24 million, even though it had a tepid opening in Korea. It can best described as a fun action film in the mould of films like 'Lethal Weapon'. I was expecting 'New World' level of amazeballs and it didn't even come close after the enormously promising first half hour, but that shouldn't be a problem for people who enjoy good action thrillers.

Rating: 3/5
                                                                             

Monday, August 3, 2015

The Lunchbox (2013)

Director: Ritesh Batra
Writers:  Ritesh Batra, Vasan Bala
Cast:       Irrfan Khan, Nimrat Kaur, Nawazuddin Siddiqui
Language: Hindi


A mistaken delivery in Mumbai's famously efficient lunchbox delivery system contacts a young housewife to an older man in the dusk of his life as they build a fantasy world together through notes in the lunch box. She is in a loveless marriage, which is a very common phenomena in India due to societal compulsions, and he works in a government company and is close to retirement. Their exchange of notes rejuvenates both of them from their drab middle class life. Their relationship develops into romance, predictably, and ends in an unresolved note leaving us to speculate on whether they will get together or not. 

It is basically a very predictable feel-good film which takes an interesting idea and runs with it. 'Will they, won't they?' aspect goes along in a very conventional fashion, with him deciding not to meet her personally in the first instance and then regretting it later, by the time she decides to leave the place as well. The predictability of it doesn't matter though since there is a whole world building attached to each of the characters and it is something that many of us could easily relate to. There is this 'Govt Babu' aura to the world around Irrfan Khan's character and it seems his personal traits have also been influenced by it. Nawazuddin Siddiqui plays the role of his pestering understudy, who gradually wins over him so that he could be taken under the wings of much senior officer. We are not sure whether it is a normal retirement or whether he has taken a voluntary retirement from the job but I suspect it is the latter. Nimrat Kaur's homemaker character has a young kid and she is trying to please her husband through her cooking as a way to arrest her flailing marriage life. She has a mentor like neighbor aunty, from the flat above her apartment, with whom she communicates through shouting as well as exchanging things through a basket tied to a rope. We never see the neighbor in person. All the characters exhibit subtle traits and mannerisms which makes it a fantastic watch on the whole despite its predictable nature. I was reminded of Wong Kar Wai's 'In the Mood for Love' in some places and it is mostly to do with them discussing their personal lives, albeit with notes rather than in person.

Anurag Kashyap was involved as one of the producers of the film along with several other studios, many of them being foreign. It was screened at Cannes, where it won Critics Week's viewers choice award also known as Grand Rail d'Or. It also got a nomination at the BAFTA awards in the Non-English language category. It was widely expected to be India's entry for Academy's  Awards in the Foreign Film category, but the Gujarati film 'The Good Road' was selected ahead of it, creating considerable bemusement. I haven't seen that film to comment specifically on its quality, but Oscars is not really about quality and 'The Lunchbox' had a much bigger potential to do well there due to its crossover qualities. Anyway, Paolo Sorrentino's 'The Great Beauty', a favorite of mine, won it that year beating the likes of 'The Broken Circle Breakdown' and 'The Hunt'. So, there wasn't much chance of 'The Lunchbox' winning it and it did quite well anyway financially, grossing around $13 million on a budget of under $2 million.     

Overall it is a great watch and at under 100 minutes running time and the way it is filmed, it looks more like a foreign independent film rather than something from India. Struggling middle class is something that is touched rarely by Bollywood and mainstream Indian films in general. Performances from all concerned are excellent and you expect that anyway from the likes of Irrfan Khan and Nawazuddin Siddiqui. Nimrat Kaur, a theater artist, landed the job through auditions and she does a great job in a role where she portrays a normal Indian woman. Ritesh Batra made his directorial debut with this film. A third of its box office collection was from US alone and I suspect it was not the usual NRI crowd alone that were watching.

Rating: 4/5
                                                                      

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Haider (2014)


Director: Vishal Bhardwaj
Writers:  William Shakespeare (Based on Hamlet), Basharat Peer, Vishal Bhardwaj
Cast:       Shahid Kapoor, Tabu, Kay Kay Menon
Language: Hindi


A young man returns to Kashmir after his father's disappearance. As he seeks answers for his father's disappearance, he ends up being tugged into the politics of his state which is reflected in his family as well with his uncle being on the other side of it. It is a modern day adaptation of William Shakespeare's 'Hamlet', set amidst the insurgency-hit Kashmir conflicts of 1995 and civilian disappearances.

I haven't read Hamlet or, in fact, any other works of William Shakespeare and my only familiarity with his works is through the film adaptations that I have seen. To be honest, I don't remember many of them either because of my unfamiliarity with Shakespeare's work and the only one I can say for sure is Akira Kurosawa's 'Ran', which is supposed to be an adaptation of 'King Lear'. Haider is supposed to be the third one in Vishal Bhardwaj's Shakespearean trilogy with the other two being 'Maqbool' and 'Omkara', both of which I have not seen. In fact I haven't seen any of the films from the director prior to this.

The film doesn't shy away from showing what happened/is happening in Kashmir and doesn't try to portray Indian state and its army in a good light. I was pleasantly surprised by the frankness with which it dealt with those issues without having to add caveats everywhere. The only time that it does is during the end credits where it says it has been relative peace there during recent times and Indian Army did great work during the recent Kashmir floods. It is a testament to the democratic credentials of Indian state that we allow such films even though there were some twitter campaign asking for the boycott of this film. I also doubt whether such films will be tolerated in the immediate future under the current right-wing regime as they have installed people from their nationalistic/jingoistic fold into the film certification board since. 

Coming back to the film, the first two-thirds of it is just great up till the wedding scene of Haider's mother and his conniving uncle. Then the director decides to go full Bollywood on us using a song sequence in which Haider dances to a song, whose lyrics tells the tale of betrayal in a laughably melodramatic fashion. From then on the film involves too many twists and turns, all of which leaves us feeling a bit jarred by the experience. Still, there are some great scenes during that as well. I don't know if the director decided for all these convolutions to stay true to the original play but it doesn't feel like a tragedy at the end.   

I read up a bit on the character 'Hamlet' from wikipedia and it seems he is someone with philosophical & psychological complexity. You don't expect all of that in a film adaptation which is constrained by other factors like making it work in a modern sense. Still, the director manages to add things like iconic dialog of 'To be or Not to be' and the Oedipal relationship between Hamlet/Haider and his mother. The latter is quite subtle in the initial stages of the film but reveals itself fully prior to the wedding when the mother (Tabu) reminisce that when he was younger, he used to say that he would marry her when he grows up. Freud had analysed these aspects in Hamlet by stating that Hamlet's hesitation in killing his uncle was due to his desire for his mother and was sub-consciously thankful to his uncle for getting rid of his father. To that level, the film doesn't go since Haider is shown to be too fond of his father and some silly religious reasoning is given in that scene where he spares his uncle. 

Overall, Haider is a pretty good watch even though its first half is much superior to its rather average second half. Cinematography is excellent, capturing the beauty of Kashmir well in a realistic fashion without resorting to 'tourist post cards' kind of methods, and is well-acted on the whole. Tabu's character is given the most complexity and she carries it well. Haider/Hamlet is quite binary. Irrfan Khan has an extended special appearance and the first instance when he arrives on screen, just before interval, is kick-ass. They have used/stole the initial bit from Moby's 'Extreme Ways', from the Bourne Series, during couple of pivotal scenes which didn't work at all because of my familiarity with that piece of music. There is also a nice reference to 'The Godfather' with the hiding of pistol behind the flush tank scene. Prakash Jha could learn something from that scene because that is how you do it in a subtle manner in stead of his 'References Overload' in 'Rajneeti'. Haider was on the whole a financial and critical success, earning five national awards as well as some international ones. Good to see a mature Indian film set in Kashmir dealing with the politics of it without being manipulative at all.

Rating: 3.5/5