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Monday, 18 December 2017

Sonar Kella (1974)

Summer holidays would usually be bifurcated into when my father would pore over ICSE
Examination answer scripts and later when we would pack our bags for a vacation after he had submitted the mark sheets. Baba was the senior Mathematics teacher in Don Bosco School in Calcutta as well as the co-chief examiner of the ICSE Boards. So, during the first half of the holidays the whole house would be stuffed with cardboard boxes of scripts that would eventually decide the fate of youngsters who scribbled their knowledge of numbers on them. Or so, as we were made to believe in those gullible years by every teacher in that non-digitised world of ours!
Satyajit Ray's Feluda flick, Sonar Kella takes me back to one humid morning during summer recess when my father announced, "Let's just quickly finish today's quota and in the afternoon we will watch Sonar Kella!" My eyes lit up. I quickly made him a cup of tea (I was 15 then) and got him his specs. He sat down, brandished his red pen over the scripts, and started deciding the 'fates' of the helpless children. Intermittently, he asked me to cross check the calculations so that there were no errors later in the tally sheet. Sharp at 12 noon, he wrapped up, we both finished our ablutions, gobbled our lunch and sat down to watch the film. For the 16th time. Ignoring my mother's high-pitched, "God! How many times more..."

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Let them tell their own story (Lakhon Mein Ek, a web series)

How many of you have heard of Biswa Kalyan Rath? Or watched him perform on stage or on
For the uninitiated, Rath is a stand-up comedian who broke into the scene when he and fellow comedian Kanan Gill presented the ‘viral’ Pretentious Movie Reviews on YouTube. He then hosted his own shows, cracked the audience up at his gigs and so on and so forth.
I, myself, was unknown to this name till yesterday. Because I am not into stand-up comedy and moreover, entertainment for me is much more than what becomes ‘viral’.
But, somewhere, while watching Rath’s video clips just now, I realised I need to stay abreast of these remarkably talented young fellows. Not only was he funny, but that voice, gait, confidence and language play were traits that I haven’t seen in many youngsters of late. His self-deprecating jokes were sharp and sarcastic and I know where they come from. As Bengalis, we almost always passed snide remarks at the Oriya clan, not realising that they can be talented as hell as well. My interactions with local weavers of Odisha changed my perspective completely. And now Rath.
Anyway. I got introduced to Rath through Lakhon Mein Ek, a web-series he produced for Amazon that stars Ritvik Sahore. While ad clips familiarised me with the series a while back, yesterday I finally watched it. At 12 in the night, I pushed myself to complete the series at one go. Because, it was unputdownable. Compelling, realistic and dark to a large extent, the series revealed that sharp and sarcastic side of Rath that he often passes off with a laugh on stage.

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Swami (1977)

As teenagers, we were brought up on a steady dose of classic Bengali literature. While Rabindranath
Tagore was a constant, my mother insisted we tick off a reading list comprising Sarat Chandra Chatterjee, Bibhutibhushan Banerjee and Manik Bandopadhyay. During the interim between my graduation and masters, I voraciously read titles by all these literary greats. While each one bore a fascinating style, I found Sarat Chandra's works very easy to relate to. And understand. He was an everyman's writer portraying the plight of women in the society of the then Bengal. Interesting stories that you we heard about from our grandmas found place in his works as well. Woman were a pivotal point in his stories and often the plot revolved around the female protagonist. The ideals, conflicts and emotional quotient was so easy to relate to.

Saturday, 21 October 2017

Shaque (1976)

I had watched Aruna Vikas's Shaque as a young teenager. Considering that I am blessed with a
remarkable memory, I didn't really forget the plot and the characters but when I watched it yesterday I realised that my reaction to the film had undergone quite some change. The first viewing was accompanied by my father's incessant appreciation of Utpal Dutt, who plays a unique role in the film. With his commentary I ended up believing that it is a perfect suspense thriller with able performances not only by Dutt but also by the protagonists Vinod Khanna and Shabana Azmi. Understandably this teenager's impression was a tad coloured.
This time the commentary was absent. Hence, I watched the film from top to toe and realised that while the plot is fantastic, the music is apt to build up the suspense, Utpal Dutt is cut out for the role of Maan Singh, it is Vinod Khanna and Shabana Azmi who fail to grasp my attention. Both are so inconsistent in the film, to the extent of
being disinterested. Vinod Khanna's acting skills I'm not too sure of, but I know Shabana can own the screen. Here she does not. Maybe that's why Shaque for me isn't the perfect suspense thriller...
Meena Joshi receives an curious letter from some Maan Singh, while her husband, Vinod Joshi is away for work. The letter alleges that Vinod had murdered Kale after stealing money from his office and put the blame on the innocent Subramanium. The author also alleges that the Joshis' sudden rise to riches was because of that stolen money and that Vinod is actually a scheming fellow who has planned the misdeed. Meena's halcyon world comes crashing down. While she refuses to believe what the letter says, she keeps questioning Vinod's sudden contact with so much money. Eventually Vinod finds out that Meena is suspecting him and though he tells her that he earned all the property through his dealings in the share market, Meena takes it all in with a pinch of salt.

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Alaap (1977)

For a film that's primarily focussing on the clash of principles between an indignant father and a self-respecting son, Hrishikesh Mukherjee's Alaap takes a winding route in building up the story. It's evenAbhimaan and Jurmana. In this film a good story is somewhere let down by the circuitous execution.
more strange because Mukherjee is at the helm of affairs here. But there is so much redundancy in the beginning before the actual plot unfolds, that you wonder whether this is the same director who knit solid tales like
Advocate Triloki Prasad is a widowed man who prides himself on the position he holds in society. He's rich, venerated and hence, doesn't mince words belittling the interest in music that his younger son, Alok, has. It's a very straight-jacketed thought process. If you have studied in college and earned degree, you give up all artistic pursuits and get down to brass tacks. A knack or a yen for the arts isn't really appreciated in Triloki Prasad's universe. He forces Alok to take serious interest in work, which entails going with Ashok, his elder brother, to the court and pick up the ropes in the industry of law.

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Jurmana (1979)

Very few directors could spin an engrossing tale like Hrishikesh Mukherjee. Especially with incidents  that on hindsight appear inconsequential. Like in Jurmana (1979), a juvenile challenge between two friends changes the course of lives for so many near them. It reveals character flaws, misunderstandings and ultimately you have to wait up and see what happens in the end. This is the mark of a great story teller, which Mukherjee undoubtedly was.
He also created the most unique characters for Amitabh Bachchan. I feel Bachchan got to toy with a veritable array of personas only in Mukherjee's films. Even in Jurmana, the actor gets to portray a challenging role. He puts his heart and soul into Inder and makes him easy to hate first and eventually fit for pardon. Grey to the hilt, Inder turns out way too interesting to neglect.
Inder Saxena (Amitabh Bachchan) is a rich businessman, disillusioned with women courtesy a cruel
act by the woman who he was once supposed to marry. Treating women like commodities, when Inder first notices Rama (Rakhee) in the quiet lanes of Pratapgarh, he only wants to bed her. Despite being warned by his childhood buddy Prashant (Vinod Mehra) that she is made of sterner stuff, he tries every trick up his sleeve to melt her heart. What Inder does not realise is that the girl actually falls in love with him never suspecting his lecherously odious intention.

Monday, 9 October 2017

Bemisal (1982)

I was trekking to Gurgaon the other day from Noida, where I live. For the uninitiated, let me tell you,
that's like crossing two states!
The distance is a crawl, and a sapping one at that. Daily commuters from Noida to Gurgaon will relate to the grief I go through during such occasion arises. But, thank heavens for FM radio, which makes the journey a wee bit pleasant.
The moment I got into the car Lata Mangeshkar's Aeri pawan dhunde kise tera mann transformed me into a reverie. It's such a beautiful song. After enjoying the rendition, I quickly googled the song, traced the film and after reading the gist was piqued to watch it. All I can say is that I did not live to regret the decision.
Hrishikesh Mukherjee's Bemisal (1982) is an engaging drama of human relations bordering on greed and benevolence. But what I loved most was the character sketched for Amitabh Bachchan. While from afar he appears an affable, happy-go-lucky doctor, his personality is far more intriguing and charismatic than the others in the film. And it is laced with a deep sense of magnanimity influenced by the benevolence he was gifted with when times were far from favourable. His regard for those who helped him out never diminishes and his sense of duty is unparalleled. The crests and troughs of his journey is worth graphing. Dr Sudhir Roy's actions make the film so believable. Despite the tardy subplot of Ruby Dutt.
Dr Sudhir Roy, a child specialist, and Dr Prashant Chaturvedi (Vinod Mehra), a gynecologist, have been brought up by an advocate. Sudhir never ignores the fact that the rich advocate saved him from a deplorable life by adopting him and giving him a steady upbringing and education. For that he remains forever indebted. Hence, when it comes to abdicating the woman who he is attracted to for the sake of his foster brother, he doesn't waste a moment before making the sacrifice. Even though he can gauge that Kavita (Rakhee) might be more keen to marry him, he owns up his murky past to dissuade her. But more importantly he implores her to marry Prashant because that would make him happy.

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

A saga of ideals: Newton (2017)

I am not equipped enough to pen a critique on the dance of democracy depicted in Amit Masurkar's Newton. I agree that the sharpness and sarcasm is on point. The director has illustrated the truth with much ardour, albeit with a restraint that only veteran filmmakers showcase. The starkness of the plot, the realism is something that Masurkar should be lauded for. Absolutely riveting throughout, it's not for nothing that this effort is being applauded. As my heart lets out a silent cry of joy for the entire team of Newton, I can only wish and pray that this director's edge is never smudged. May he keep churning out such brilliance. For God knows, we need them.
But I do not want to deal with the politics in the film. The critics have done ample of that. I'll focus on human portraiture in the story. It was a rare study of the ideals constructing personalities. These beliefs are nurtured under certain circumstances, but events influence change. The film is a beautiful study of this balance of virtues and ideals and how they slowly transform with time and tide.

Friday, 22 September 2017

Mrs Scooter (2015)

While all eyes are trained on Amit Masurkar's Newton and Rajkummar Rao today, I would like to draw your attention to Shiladitya Moulik's film called Mrs Scooter that stars Anjali Patil in the pivotal role. She is the girl who supports the stellar cast of Rao and Pankaj Tripathi in Newton as Malku. Ever since I've discovered her through Mrs Scooter, I cannot not be wonder-struck at her nuanced approach to acting. She is critically acclaimed and immensely talented. This lissome dusky beauty is not just about looks. Her craft has the punches.

I don't get why critics found Mrs. Scooter depressing and devoid of hope. I thought it was an uplifting and a subtle love story that though in some parts might seem far-fetched but it's effective. Two stories, that of the new bride, and the scooter, are placed in a linear fashion so that we start identifying both as two kegs in the same wheel of things. It's as if the inaminate object is determining the path that the bride's life will take.

Shot entirely in Aligarh, the films revolves around the life of a new bride who accompanies her husband to the house where he puts up as a tenant. The day he gets married he also buys a blue scooter, signifying that he is embarking on a new journey in his life. The scooter becomes an intrinsic part of the couple's life that is drawn with minute precision by the director. Even as they reach the house, the landlady greets them and wants to know every single detail about the bride. A nosey parker of sorts, she also cracks crude jokes about intimacy that the bride finds rather strange, considering the lady hardly knows her. The couple slip into their own room and the bride immediately gets busy cleaning up the mess that the husband had left the place in. The bride is instrumental in altering the vibe of the room from a bachelor pad to a cosy home and the two settle into blissful domesticity. The scooter is also a big part of their lives, almost like a third member intertwining its life with the owners.

Thursday, 21 September 2017

Chaar (2014)

I stumbled upon Sandip Ray's Chaar yesterday night while rummaging through Amazon Prime Movies and it didn't disappoint at all. Rather it uplifted my stressed nerves to a happy state and I went to sleep satiated. You see... I am having a rough time at work not because of the work load. The
volume I can manage. But when the powers-to-be are adamant about being irrational and difficult it's then that the going gets tough. Hence my seeking solace in cinema. After Malhar...

Chaar is a Bengali anthology film that brings together four crisp stories by three brilliant writers in the history of Bengali literature. When Sandip Ray started his cinematic journey, all eyes were trained on him to check whether he would be an able successor to his father, Satyajit Ray, the name that is synonymous with brilliance, elegance, technical prowess and magic in the film world. I don't want to delve too much into the maestro's craft here because this time the spotlight is taken by the son and with a brandish. With every film Sandip is getting there; he is subtle, sure and deft with his direction. His marvellous genes are showing their true colours. He is taking these little stories and making some gems out of them. I wonder how the film did when it released but last night it made me a happy person. Four short stories, presented in a no-nonsense format, supported by a wholesome cast, Chaar was quite a pleasant surprise that I unraveled by sheer chance...

Monday, 18 September 2017

Silsila (1981)

Am I the only one who found Yash Chopra's 1981 romance, Silsila, absolutely forgettable? Must be.
For, everywhere I look and listen, there are such good things uttered about the film. It's attained this cult status amongst fans of romance. Then why did it not trigger the same emotion in me? Am I being too hard? Too difficult?
Fact is, while watching this lengthy soppy saga of a man's dithering and indiscretion, I only felt three things. The music by Shiv Kumar Sharma and Hari Prasad Chaurasia is beautiful. It has that pleasant simplicity that makes it timeless. The costume designer did a darn good job with the women's wear. Jaya Bachchan and Rekha wear the most stunning saris. Being a sari lover, I could feel the dribble in my mouth as the heroines sashayed in those six yards. Thirdly, I felt really bad for Jaya Bachchan. Not because she is treated badly by Father Fate. But because she seemed disinterested in the film, mouthing dialogues in a very non-committal way. She's projected as a helpless woman who has to depend on the men in her life no matter how wrong they have been to her. I see her spark up in one scene where she implores her husband to rethink his decision. But that's about it. Frankly, I want much, much more from an actor of Jaya's calibre. I feel let down by the role etched for her.

Poorna -- Courage Has no Limits (2017)

My best friend's husband just quit his job. Disgruntled with the work ethos and favoritism at his workplace (one of Delhi's oldest five-star hotels), he couldn't take it any more. The good part is that in about two months he'll be joining an airlines company in a senior position and he's looking forward to it (so are we; he's promised us a big treat!)
Two days back, we were talking about work conditions in corporate offices and he challenged the elitist mentality that private companies project; the red tape culture that is in no way different from government offices. He was unable to eat the tasteless mash that is doled out day-in and day-out in their office canteen and despite complaints the system is unchanged. Just to avoid further confusion he has religiously paid up his canteen fees lest the higher authorities raise a hue and cry over why this 'saab' has all the problem when the others are satisfied! That's how it is everywhere I guess. The degrees vary.

This conversation reminded me of a scene from Rahul Bose's Poorna--Courage Has No Limits
(2017), an earnest masterpiece chronicling a teenager's hopes, struggles and determination. In one of the scenes Dr Praveen Kumar, the secretary of the State Social Welfare Residential Educational Institutions Society visits the school where Poorna is a student for a check.He is a simple man with no airs and amiably expresses his wish to eat lunch with the students. The principal is skeptical but he is in no position to prevent the secretary. When the food is served the principal wriggles out saying he is on a fast. One morsel is enough for Kumar to know the true picture. He looks at the students around who are silently eating whatever has been served, pauses to clear his mouth and gives a cold stare to the principal. The message is quite clear. What makes them serve this unpalatable trash to these poor students? Just because they are poor they are being treated with utter disdain. And this, despite the funds distributed regularly to the organisation. Yet again, through this brilliant scene, we get a glimpse of the corruption rampant in our country. It has permeated to every level possible.

Sunday, 17 September 2017

Kabhi Kabhie (1976)

I'm mentally prepared to be trolled, derided and umm... maybe ostracized even. But I need to say what I need to say. Kabhi Kabhie is Yash Chopra's most overrated film ever. Period. 
Brickbats... bring it on...

The other morning I got into an interesting conversation with a
neighbour. After the sundry exchanges about child tantrums, daily chores and the usual agonies of life in Modi's India, I quickly asked her whether she loves romances of the Yash Chopra kind. She started with a gushing take on Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge and how it was her go-to film even a few years back. On correcting that the film was actually not Yash but his son's Aditya's directorial debut and perhaps his only watchable film, she revealed that it might not be as appealing today as it was earlier. Why? Because, as she put it, "Times were different then. We were different. I cannot relate to it anymore." This was my chance, my ticket to launch a tirade against a film over which I wasted three hours the previous night. Now why I did not abandon it midway? You see. I don't give up that easily. I'm a movie freak.