Jan 262017
 

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First day, first show – first time ever (i think) in my life ….

Raees tells the Icarus  like rise and fall from grace of Raees Alam, the son of a bangarwaali (scrap seller is the nearest English word i could find). Raees is brought up in the late 70’s era in Fatehpura (Gujarat) by his mother (a fantastic cameo by Sheeba Chaddha ), with a one point philosophy,”koi dhanda chota nahi hota aur dhande se bada koi dharm nahi hota‘.  It is a line that helps her maintain her dignity even when a policeman tries to intimidate her, in the aftermath of a anti liquor raid that has failed. Raees grows up from being a school kid who transports liquor in his school bag, to being one of the major players in the Gujarat underworld. In his rise to the top, he is chased by honest cop Jaideep Ambalal Majmudar (Nawazuddin Siddiqi); and it is this, almost erotic, relationship that is the lynch-pin of the film. the scenes with the two of them are the best, and the  screen crackles with energy with they are playing off each other.

This is a plot we have seen before. Man comes from humble beginnings and becomes a ‘Godfather’. A don, but a savior of his community. Afoul of the law, but friends with lawmakers. There is a certain ambivalence in the morality. But, you root for the man who is, technically, the villain. This is Godfather, both 1 &2, Nayakan, Deewar, Shakti, Ganga Jamuna, Dalapati – and, the theme itself is fascinating. What happens to a ‘good’ man aligned with the wrong side. None of the central characters in the films mentioned above, got to the top without blood shed. The blood shed, and often public blood shed, is what builds the fear, the authority, the power base. And, the brutality at one end, is compensated with compassion for ‘my people’ at the other. And, Raees is a god father of the old kind. Although participation in community religious activities is part of his ethos, and the Shia Muslim part of him is part and parcel of the character, (the matam in the begining, is brilliantly shot)the only time you see him praying (as a one on one communication with a higher power)  is at his mother’s grave. And, I find that aspect quite fascinating. In a way it is a throw back to films of an older generation – with the mother as the moral core (Mother India, Deewar ) of the family, as well as the full fledged participation and festivities that bring communities together – and the community is the community of the labour class.

But, if the plot is as old as  films, the story of Raees Alam is new. The nuances of the character, the setting (Gujarat that is gritty, bleak, and with an underlying sense of dry humour), and the revival of a dynamic, and a segment that has not been seen in main stream Hindi films for long,  the pan religious working class/labour class – where poverty unites more than religion divides. This is a dynamic most of us growing up in the 70’s and 80’s saw in movies. One of the things that director Rahul Dolakhia does very well, is create the 80’s vibe – be it in terms of music on radio, or Laila mein Laila featured on a caberet dancer (Sunny Leone), or the characterisations of various characters in the film. The references are real, and give the film a context of time and space. When Raees Alam is beating up a seth into agreeing to pay the dues of his millworkers, there is a hat tip to the greatest film on labour issues in modern India, Kala Patthar. The other thing that Dolakhia does well is visually narrate the scenes in which Rais stamps down on someone who has crossed into his territory. The machismo posturing, the sheer outpouring of testosterone, and the rapid spiral downwards to a a scenario that is going to blow. The scenes that bring out the sheer single focued ruthless brutality of Raees are built up the best, and shot the best. The fight sequence in the abattoir, the scene where he goes to kill his mentor (Atul Kulkarni in another fine cameo), the riot scene, and the show down with Musa (Narendra Jha) are very well done.

Shah Rukh carries the film. Raees Alam is is brutal, ruthless, and a cold blooded killer. And, yet you feel for the character. I predict he is going to bring the pathan suit, kohled eyes, and banyans back into fashion. The man oozes screen presence, and in this film you don’t see too much of the superstar, just the actor. Nawaz is good, completely understated, and has some of the best lines in the film. Mahira – is seriously underwhelming. She just seems so overawed by being in a film, that she never manages to break out of the tv actor mode. Zeeshan is a good support role, but you wished that the writers had bothered to give him something beyond being a good friend. And, I think that this is the problem with the film – Dolakhia tries to cram too many themes, and too many interesting characters,  into a two and a half hour film, and none of them is ever explored with any nuance. This could have been a 10 hour narcos kind of series, but, i am nto sure that it would be a commercially viable project. But, the acting, the characters, and the editing, s the film tightly paced – though the pace drops in the second half, when the film focuses more on the ‘god father’ part of Raees, and less on the ruthless rise to the top of the crime pyramid. There is an inexplicable pregnancy that seems to go on for ever, and for ever. And, the purpose of both Mahira and the pregnancy, seems to be to build the human side of rather ruthless killer.

Is it worth a watch – definitely. I am possibly going back to watch it again, next week.

Dec 192016
 

 

Many moons ago, i watched a war film called Operation Daybreakthe story of Czech partisans – fighting for the British Army – whose mission it is to assassinate Reinhard Heydrich . Heydrich was the brain behind the plan for the Final Solution – a soultion that would see millions of Jews being sent to the gas chamber. A man who was truly evil, and without a moral compass.  Operation Daybreak was a movie about individual heroism, and a mission that is greater than your own life. I have seen many such films base on true life incidents of war, but Operation Daybreak has stuck in my memory, possibly because it was the first one that I saw in that genre.

When i began watching Rogue One yesterday, it was impossible not to make comparisons. A well organised, united,  highly militarised enemy. Rebels who are not organised, not united, and have weapons cobbled together from leftovers. And, a mission to destroy a weapon of mass destruction, that would save the universe.

If you look at the film and ask, what is the film about – it is about heroes, who fight for something they believe in, for a better tomorrow. A film about hope. IT is also a war film, in the true sense of a war film. A small squad of misfits who goes to take on the Goliath military operation- think Guns of Navarone.

The film had a magnificent set of characters, and unlike most films in recent times, i wished that the movie was slightly longer so that i could get to know them better. All in all, story wise, a much better outing on the franchise, than the last 4 films. I would still rate Empire Strikes Back as the best Star Wars Film, this comes very close in toppling that number one status.

If you are a star wars fan – this is a must watch. And, if you don’t know the universe at all (how is that even possible), it is still worth viewing for the tightly plotted storyline and well etched characters

Dec 012016
 
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I finally got to see Dear Zindagi.

A story about a young woman – a cinematographer – who has everything going for her. She is confident, talented, good looking – and yet feeling completely out of sorts. Nightmares. Insomnia. A sense of being on the edge with everyone in her life. A sense of not belonging. we have all been there.

But, she does something, most of us don’t do – she visits a counsellor for help to take charge of her life again.

Alia’s character, Kaira, does not have any dark demons. No child abuse. No abusive parents. None of that. And, that is what make’s Gauri Shindes take on mental health so interesting. The fact that seemingly ‘normal’ people can have problems. That you can cope with your everyday activities, have fun, laugh, smile and all of that, while you are crumbling from the inside. Alia’s vulnerability and brittle strength are played well. SRK as the counsellor is outstanding. The sheer empathy, decency, and that his character does not judge situations or issues in the young woman’s life, or her choices, makes him a poster boy for popularising mental well being. I am not sure anyone else could have pulled off the role as well – there was, unlike in most of his films,  no SRK superstar in this film. There was only Jahangir Khan (Jug), and you wish you met someone like that when you were going through your own shit (without outside help). And, it is not because of the way he looks. It is because of the way he is. SRK, is infinitely better when he plays his age (or close to it).

A bit talky, maybe 15 minutes too long . But, beautifully cast. well acted, and a lovely little slice of life. I would definitely recommend it to watch in the theatres – preferably with BFF’s, an extra large box of tissues, and some pop corn.

May 042016
 

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(image source : here)

Facebook tells me, it is Star Wars day.

This is how mythology begins. Wait a thousand years, and see it being transformed into a religion, replete with a ‘God’, good and evil, heroes and villains, and most importantly, an organised clergy that helps perpetuate it.

 

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And, it has already begun.

There is a Temple of the Jedi Order that is the main stay of the ‘religious’ movement. it defines itself as follows,

Jediism is a religion based on the observance of the Force, a ubiquitous and metaphysical power that a Jedi (a follower of Jediism) believes to be the underlying, fundamental nature of the universe. Jediism finds its roots in philosophies similar to those presented in an epic space opera called “Star Wars”. It is a religion in and of itself.

The Jedi religion is an inspiration and a way of life for many people throughout the world who take on the mantle of Jedi. Jedi apply the principles, ideals, philosophies and teachings of Jediism in a practical manner within their lives. Real Jedi do not worship George Lucas or Star Wars or anything of the sort. Jediism is not based in fiction, but we accept myth as a sometimes more practical mean of conveying philosophies applicable to real life.

There are, of course,  the 21 maxims of Jediism.

All in all, it has aims that are quite noble, and it doesn’t ask too much of its followers. Which possibly explains why people are choosing it in many countries. New Zealand, Great Britain, Australia, Canada to start with. In Turkey, students are demanding that the Jedi Temple be allowed on University Campus’, along with Mosques.

Any religion that has Han Solo as a defender, and possibly a future icon to whom believers offer prayers, cannot be too bad. I am not quite sure how future followers will deal with Jar Jar Binks, or with the Ewoks; but, i can see Chewie having a pride of place, as would R2D2 and 3PO.

In centuries to come the Great War between the Sith and the Jedi will go into mythology as a religious war.  The Battle for Endor will have ballads written for it, and Darth Vadar would possible be part of the holy pantheon (as opposed to the unholy one). There will be a cult of the Emperor, and other Sith Lords; and I can see  orders devoted to both, and religious wars will continue. It is human nature to fight. People will fight about this too. But, for now the religion remains mostly harmless, and kind of goofy.

My favorite story on this comes from Wikipedia,

In 2008, 23-year-old Daniel Jones founded the Church of Jediism with his brother Barney, believing that the 2001 UK census recognised Jediism as a religion, and that there were “more Jedi than Scientologists in Britain”.[10] In 2009, Jones was removed from a Tesco supermarket in Bangor, North Wales, for refusing to remove his hood on a religious basis. The owner justified Jones’s ejection by saying, “He hasn’t been banned. Jedis are very welcome to shop in our stores although we would ask them to remove their hoods.Obi-Wan Kenobi, Yoda and Luke Skywalker all appeared hoodless without ever going over to the Dark Side and we are only aware of the Emperor as one who never removed his hood.

All in all, it sounds like good fun, and a joke gone wrong (or right, depending on your point of view).

Apr 182016
 

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I can’t remember if I saw, the original Jungle Book on television, or in the cinema hall. But, i remember watching it the first time, with complete delight. I loved the characters – Bagheera, the panther who is Mowgli‘s guardian angel in the jungle, Baloo – the sloth bear who had nary a care in the world; the vultures like the Beatles, and of course, the George Sanders voiced Sher Khan – who was as menacing as a Disney film would let him be. Since the first viewing, i have seen the film many, many times – along with the other Disney favorite, Dumbo – and cried buckets of tears each single time, when Mowgli approaches the prone form of Baloo.

The 2016 adaptation of Jungle Book is not a fun and frolic run through the jungles, like the earlier avtaar. It is a film for a grittier, more violent world – where nothing is what it seems.

The story remains the same. Mowgli (Neel Sethi) , human cub, brought up by a pack of wolves, has to be returned to the ‘man village’ before Sher Khan (the man-eating tiger)  kills him. Bagheera volunteers to do the needful.  Along, the way there are many adventures and old favorites return in a new avtaar.

Scarlet Johansen as the python Kaa is quite fantastic

Christopher Walken plays King Louie, with the kind of manic psychoticness that only he can bring to a role. The sheer insanity of the character reminded me of Marlon Brando’s outing in Apocalypse Now‘my ears have ears’ he tells a stunned Mowgli, as he asks the man cub to share the secret o the red flower (fire) with the monkeys.

But, as with the original film – it is Bagheera (ably voiced by Ben Kingsley), Baloo (Bill Murray, thankfully toned down) as the stern dad and mad uncle figures, who provide the contrasts in ‘good’, the boy’s role models. Hopefully Mowgli will grow up with Bagheera’s moral compass and Baloo’s sense of fun.  The interplay between them, is a flavour carried forward from the older film (and the book)

Sher Khan (Idris Elba, as the menacing predator/stalker), is chillingly focused. His pathological hatred towards humans in general, and Mowgli in particular, have driven him over the edge. It is from this precipice of insanity that you see the character unraveling. In his mind, he is fighting the righteous war. Killing humans before humans kill him (and all of them). And, his rage at being thwarted is chillingly brutal.

Neel Sethi as Mowlgi is entirely believable. There were parts you think – God how did his parents allow him to run around with wild animals, till the rational part of the brain tell you – CGI. Given that a child of his age was in a green screen environment, his performance is quite superlative.

The real star of the show is the breath taking CGI. The jungle looks real. The water buffaloes, the hedgehogs, the python skin, the python, look real. The tiger is all together real. The bit where Kaa is trying to hypnotise Mowgli, and you have a shot from Mowgli’s eye level, the python in full glory – you find yourself retreating into your seat.

As entertaining as it was, it was also educational. I got more on understanding wildlife from this film, than through a series of animal world features.  You appreciate how strong a tiger’s legs are, in the sequence where you see Sher Khan’s legs in fully muscular, sinewy glory,  you understand, how they can kill.   the minute observation about animal movements, have been well researched and recreated by the CGI team. This is possibly as close to a real world experience of a jungle and animal life that most kids are going to get (most adults too).

It is not just that, it is also the simple appreciation of the natural habitat and weather patterns.
There is a scene, almost at the beginning, where they show the impact of lack of rain, on the forest. The simulated ‘time lapse’  CGI in describing this is awe inspiring. I think that any school going child, watching that scene, would have learnt more from the 1 minute or so sequence, on drought and it’s impact on forests, than the way it is taught in schools today. The sequence where the monsoons begin, in full glory, and it’s impact on the forest – it is seeing it in a 30 second scene, that makes the power of nature seem all the more real.  The sequence of the water buffaloes stampeding through the countryside, in their quest for water, while Mowgli makes his escape from Sher khan (possibly the best sequence in the film). It would be so cool to teach kids about migratory patterns of animals looking for water,  through a sequence like this. I seriously think it is a must watch for children, it works on multiple levels.

Is it violent? About, As violent as a discovery channel film on how tigers hunt for prey.

I am going to end this one, with an absolutely fabulous rendition of “Wanna be just like you”, by a rasping Christopher Walken