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.

Nov 052016
 

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Sultan of Delhi by Arnab Ray, Aka the Great Bong, is a racy and gripping read about a boy who starts with nothing, and rises all the way to the top of his game.

The story starts with a today, and keeps going back and forth to multiple yesterdays – and, most of these yesterdays are a part and parcel of the history of the sub continent. And, in charting the story of the main character around the historical moments – Partition, the creation of Bangladesh, Emergency, the story becomes as much a story of the changing face of India post independence, as it is of Arjun Bhatia

The story is that of Arjun Bhatia, one of the millions who came across to Delhi from Western Punjab in 1947 – with nothing but a bit of gold in his pocket and the burning desire never ever to be helpless again. Arjun, in this period has not yet hit his teens, but has to grow up fast to survive. He has to be parent to his father – who is in deep shock after the events of the partition that led to his wife and other sons being killed (Arjun’s mother and brothers). As Arjun tells his father, during a meltdown

 It’s not that I don’t love you, daddy, it’s that I don’t respect you. It’s just that I don’t respect your opinions. Because I don’t respect fools. Fools are the most dangerous people in the world. They get others killed.

As Arjun makes a life in Delhi, the story charts his growth from a mechanic to a gun runner, and a gun runner to a legit businessman, who makes his way in the corridors of power. Arjun is relentless in his rise to the top. His marriage of convenience – to inherit a going concern, that later settles into companionship – is as important to him; as the love of his life Nayantara – the widow of a man he kills. He is meticulous in his plotting his path ascension – a ruthless drive that is reminiscent of Michael Corleone – the two fold desire to protect your family, and be at the top.  It is a dangerous game, and Arjun makes his fair share of enemies. In one of the best face offs in the book (and there are a few), Arjun has a line, that possibly not just defines him and his way of doing business, but also the essential tussle in Delhi – between the English speaking ‘elite’ and the Hindi speaking ‘new elite’.

Yeh madarchod-behenchod ka sheher hai, angrezi gaali se kisko darwayenge?

While it is a story of Arjun and his rise to being the Sultan of Delhi, it is also the story of the way business is conducted in modern India. It is also the story of families and how they define you. The son who judged his father as a fool, is now judging his sons as the same. You can sense his slight impatience at how long it takes for the next generation to get a point, that he has known instinctively.

The book is racy, the characters are real. They speak real. They sound real. You know about people like them. And, yet it is a story that is unique in it’s ambition. As Ray recounts the story of Arjun Bhatia over a 60 year period, the non linear narrative of jumping between time frames – each revealing a little more about Arjun – keeps you hooked.  The flashbacks move the story forward, they aren’t just there for the sake of ideal curiosity. The use of hindi is natural, as is the use of English. And, that is one of the things I really enjoyed about the Sultan of Delhi, is the way it flowed.

I also give full compliments to whoever edited this – because if i had material that spanned 60 years, i would not be able to write such a tight book.

I am hoping there is a sequel. I want to know what happens with the characters, next 🙂

Sep 152016
 

I wrote this for She the People, earlier this week

Many years ago, I read Margaret Atwood’s, dystopian novel, Handmaid’s Tale. Set around a plausible tomorrow, it looks at a world where fertility has plummeted, and there are a special category of women   who are kept especially for reproductive purposes. As I read the “Politics of the Womb” by Pinki Virani a frightening today began to emerge. Where there are women, whose only value to the world seems to be the eggs that she produces, the uterus that she has, and the womb that she rents.

A riot, in very slow motion, is being engineered on the woman inside her body; to take her apart, part by profitable part.

The slow rampage is in the name of God – for hers is the womb and she shall conceive.

In the name of science – for hers is the hostile uterus and medical evaluation must arbitrate. ……The world over, the combined might of religion and science has converged to martial many a uterus with a child. At any cost; to the woman, to her baby.

The opening lines of Pinki Virani’s long hard look at the surrogacy industry, hits you in the gut, and pulls you into a narrative structure that takes you into the universe of uterus pimp; the woman (who is the walking uterus; IVF clinics that charge, and charge, and charge;  the desperate, would be,  parents who want to have a biological child; and the mad rush for designer babies. Politics of the Womb – The Perils of IVF, Surrogacy and Modified Babies is both a behind the scenes look at the new industry that seems to have grown without regulation;  the ethics of such work; and a normative framework for regulation. It is also a manifesto of the rights of the unborn child. Someone has to speak for the child, and Ms Virani makes a very strong case for children born of IVF.

 

The books looks at how expensive  IVF (In Vitro Fertilization) treatment  is being pushed as the first option, on desperate parents, when there are a gamut of other options, that could spare the prospective parents both an expensive bill, as well as physical and mental trauma. There is between 72-80% failure rate per IVF cycle. Less than a third of people who start the IVF treatment, come away with a baby. The costs-  financial, physical and emotional – are seldom publicized or discussed. And, all this in the backdrop of an  industry that sells a myth of fertility, and downplays the medical risks both to the mother and those that may occur to the child. Virani  looks at the data surrounding IVF and birth defects, that leads to children being born autistic, and  with mental retardation. The risk of babies conceived through Ivf or Icsi (intracytoplasmic sperm injection) is 37% higher than babies conceived naturally. “Collateral damage” says a doctor, on the side effects, and birth defects.

Virani’s anger against the commoditization of the uterus, and its commercialization, is palpable. When she quotes doctors, involved in the baby making business,  she lets their callousness and utter disregard for the woman’s body, and the reproductive process , stay there unvarnished. “What is a uterus, it is like a room. Repaint, redecorate any number of times”’, Virani quotes a doctor saying.

Surrogacy is in the news of late, because of the bill being discussed in Parliament, as well as the Government’s banning of commercial surrogacy. In light of the high pitched conversations around this topic, it might be worthwhile to read the “Politics of the Womb” to look at the issue in a holistic manner.

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(Politics of the Womb; The Perils of IVF, Surrogacy & Modified Babies; by Pinki Virani; Viking; Rs 599; Pages 304)