Easy A (2010) came highly recommended by friends I trust and yet I did not trust them about a teenage comedy. Big mistake. The film is an absolute delight! Olive is an ordinary high-school girl, who jokingly tells her best friend after a boring weekend that she spent the last couple of days living it up with a boy. The rumour mills are immediately set ablaze and she earns herself a huge reputation, which she initially tries to quell and later milks to advance her financial and social prospects.
It’s an amusing story, held together by excellent scripting, characterisation and editing. Emma Stone is brilliant as Olive and there is a stellar cast to support her. Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson, who play her parents, are equal parts nuts and equal parts endearing. Of course, I will never be able to hear Pocketful of sunshine without it invoking hilarious images from the film. Don’t be put off just because it seems to be just another teenage comedy. It really is much more than that.
Biutiful (2010) is the latest Alejandro González Iñárritu film, starring Javier Bardem as Uxbal, a man caught between life and his mortality, needs and his guilt, hopes and his nightmares. The film was heavily nominated for various international awards (including the Academy Award) and won quite a few along the way. Iñárritu uses his usual style of interlinking multiple threads to show the audience various sides of a story – and the film has moments of joy, always underlined with deep melancholy.
I tried really hard to like it as much as everyone else, but it somehow did not touch me as much as I hoped. In fact, it left me quite cold and I couldn’t wait for it to end, so I could move on to something a bit more interesting. A shame really – as I continue to wait for Iñárritu’s next Amores Perros, 2000, which just doesn’t seems to get made.
Reservation Road (2007) – an old one, which I decided to watch for Joaquin Phoenix, and did not find disappointing. The film shows us two sides of a tragedy – the accidental death of a young boy – from his parents’ and from the perpetrator’s points of view.
Beautifully crafted, it continually puts the audience in an uncomfortable position, where taking the moral high ground is no longer that easy. Mark Ruffalo plays the troubled ‘killer’ and his pain is just as raw as the traumatised father’s (played to perfection by Phoenix). The story is a simple slice of life, where things are never completely black or white – and this film has an abundance of grey. Very well-made.
The Tree of Life (2011) is a Terrence Malick film, which has been praised by almost every critic out there and has not only left me unimpressed, but so angry at the praise, that I am not sure if I should even write about it. I feel positively stupid for not liking it, as everyone else seems to have ‘got’ it, whereas I found it lengthy, boring and completely interminable.
I wish I could sum up what the film was about – there was the creation of the world, some dinosaurs, some human birth and death, a lot of whispering to God, some cliché-ridden characters and rites of passage situations, and a whole lot of pointless wandering. People keep saying how beautiful the film was and I’d honestly prefer to watch a few hours of Discovery Channel than waste my time on a film that is so ‘artistic’ that it alienates the ordinary audience completely.
Brad Pitt and Sean Penn are two of the stars in the film, but it’s not about them and they don’t carry the film forward, so I don’t think I can blame them. In fact, I would like to blame Malick himself for making such a pretentious piece – but then I don’t know what I was expecting from the man who is the creator of the worst film ever made, The New World, 2005. And with this rant, I will either lose some of my meagre audience for ever, or will have gained a couple of readers.
Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara is Zoya Akhtar’s second film after Luck by Chance (2009) – and she has once again written and directed a slick, well-put-together, entertaining film. Coming from a family of talents (dad Javed Akhtar – poet / lyricist / screen writer; mum Honey Irani – actress / screen writer; brother Farhan Akhtar – actor / director / producer / singer / writer), she obviously has no problem fitting right in – and though her second film is much like an updated version of her brother’s Dil Chahta Hai (2001), she has proven herself by directing two very different films in two years.
ZNMD is the story of three friends – Kabir, Arjun and Imran – who take off on a 3-week road trip in Spain, which serves as the ‘bachelor party’ before Kabir gets married in India. The trip is to include challenges that each one of them has dreamt of since college – and each challenge is a surprise to the others. With this seemingly fun-filled adventure serving as the backdrop, the trip tests relationships, strengthens some bonds, breaks others and answers questions each one of the characters has been struggling with. Love is found and love is lost – but the holiday establishes one thing for them all – life is short and has to be lived to the fullest.
There is never a dull moment in the film – the dialogue (penned by Farhan) is crisp and witty, the situations are fun, but believable, the characters are identifiable – and the film allows the viewer to go on a dream holiday with some of the coolest people ever, from the comfort of their seats. In this and so many other ways, the film reminds me of Dil Chahta Hai (just without the interminable Akshaye-Dimple love story). Farhan manages to be in and around so many films where male friendship is rendered with the loftiest of depictions – makes me think he’s either had some really great friends in his youth or he’s making up for what he doesn’t have by being in films about great friendships.
Hrithik Roshan (Arjun) plays an ambitious, money-minded, focused man and has delivered a very balanced performance – which is always a surprise when it comes to him, as he has a general tendency to try too hard and end up looking forced and annoying. Abhay Deol (Kabir) is as always a pleasure to watch – he’s relaxed, natural and absolutely comfortable in what ever character he plays – and this film is no exception. It’s good to see him in more mainstream films, as he has so much potential and it would be sad to see his career die a quiet death in unwatched off-beat films. Farhan Akhtar (Imran) doesn’t need much discussion – he’s consistently good in pretty much every film that he’s involved with. Here he plays the most flawed of the three friends and manages to be endearing all the way through. Other actors, including Katrina Kaif and Kalki Koechlin, have short roles, which they do full justice to. The film rests on the three actors though – and they’re all excellent.
Everything about this film is top-notch, including the music, visuals, editing and the general ‘feel’. The main star of the show is the script though – whether it’s the ‘bag-wati’ story or the chit-chat about Doordarshan, the underlying humour is natural and at times a bit Tarantino-like. And the end credits are definitely a homage to the You Tube sensation ‘JK Wedding Entrance Dance’. But it’s all done in a very classy manner – and that is what puts Farhan and Zoya at the forefront of this generation of Hindi film-makers.
An excellent film – and well worth a watch.
Despite being an avid Hindi film viewer, this is the first Indian film I am writing about. It deserves a ‘review’ here partly because it has managed to impress me and partly because it has made me pretty angry.
Released internationally as Mumbai Diaries, the film follows the lives of four characters in Mumbai: Munna, the washerman(dhobi)-by-day and rat-killer-by-night, who works two jobs to make ends meet and aspires to be an actor as so many others do in this city of opportunity; Arun, the acclaimed artist, who shuns his adoring audience whenever possible but lives a comfortable life thanks to that very rich audience in this city of affluence; Shai, the US-based investment banker, who is on sabbatical and spending her time photographing the dirty areas of this city of extreme poverty, which people in her social circle would not tread into; and finally, Yasmin, who comes to this city of dreams, with hope in her heart, but finds, like everyone else, that this is also the city of disappointment. Four inter-woven lives – against the backdrop of the fifth very prominent character of the story – Mumbai, the city itself.
The casting, acting and direction, throughout the film, is flawless. Kiran Rao, a first-time director and writer, has done a fantastic job. Aamir Khan (Arun), Monica Dogra (Shai) and Kriti Malhotra (Yasmin) look the characters and perform them well. But it’s Prateik Babbar (Munna), son of actor-politician Raj Babbar and late actress Smita Patil, who takes your breath away. His face manages to portray vulnerability, street-smart, shyness and jealousy without ever showing any signs of effort. Like Kunal Kapoor and Sharman Joshi before him, he can carve a nice little niche in Hindi films, if he continues to be an actor, rather than trying to become a Bollywood star.
In all this positivity, where is the anger I speak of, you probably wonder. Well, the film manages to break away from Bollywood clichés and classic narratives, by being song-and-dance-less and by not giving the audience an obvious resolution – the end – which is normally expected from Hindi films. In all this, and so much more, it has managed to bring in European sensibilities and, through that, has found respectability amongst film viewers and reviewers all over the globe. But what it has not managed to do is to break away from emulating another cinema.
Classic ‘Bollywood’ (regardless of how much that name is hated in India) was very much based on classic Hollywood narrative and over the years has developed its own identity (hence the issues with the derivative name). Hate it or love it, Bollywood speaks a different cinematic language, which is very much its own (and is shared by other South Asian cinemas). So, breaking from the convention is worth appreciating, but breaking from it to make a European film instead is not exactly heroic.
In fact, it’s not even a general language of cinema that Dhobi Ghat borrows from, which would have been very acceptable. It very specifically emulates the style of Mexican auteur Alejandro González Iñárritu, whose films are very popular in Europe (as well as, all over the world). The effects of a person’s life on other lives, the interlinks between human beings, the disparity between people belonging to different socio-economic classes and the use of cityscape images as well as shots of people going about their business in the city – used together these are such signature themes from Iñárritu’s films (Amores Perros, 21 Grams, Babel) that it’s difficult not to see the obvious ‘inspirations’ for Kiran Rao’s work. And then there’s the music…simple, but melancholic…a little haunting. As if I needed any further proof for my claims, the end credits of the film named Gustavo Santaolalla as the composer for the film. Santaolalla just happens to the Argentinian who has composed the music for almost all of Iñárritu’s films!
So, a film I would have appreciated for its ‘different’ storytelling and excellent performances – and would have criticised for the absence of an engaging story – is a little difficult for me to like, because of its very obvious borrowing from a genius director’s work.
Still, a good watch – and definitely recommended.