29 Jul 2017

Lipstick Under My Burkha: A Necessary Revolution

This symbolic, potentially iconic poster was released soon after the film was approved by the censors after a long battle.

Post Screening Scribble: I finally caught up with Alankrita Shrivastava's Lipstick Under My Burkha yesterday evening. At the time of viewing, the film was enjoying a second week-run at cinema halls. The evening multiplex show had a sizeable audience, a majority of them young women. As it has been at Pune multiplexes lately, the screening commenced dozen minutes past scheduled time, after the government ads, random advertisements, and the national anthem.

Against the Tide Cinema
I deter from the usual review here, for the release of Lipstick Under My Burkha is a landmark against-the-tide event in Indian cinema. Here is a movie that was crying out to be made. Four women living in the same locality in Bhopal are guilty of the same crime, of living life on their terms. Yes, after 70 years of independence, in our populous conservative sex-taboo society - the women are guilty as hell.

The set boundaries for Indian women are unanimous, traditional and obvious. That the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) refused a certification to the film because "The story is lady oriented, their fantasy above life," is itself a reaffirming teaser trailer to the film's intent.

Winged Dreams  
Ratna Pathak plays the older, sexually repressed Usha, a reader of steamy Hindi adult novels, lonesome for a male companion. Konkona Sen Sharma as Shireen is a successful door-to-door saleswoman, married and a mother to three kids. Rehana's Saudi-working husband Rahim (Sushant Singh) savagely dominates his wife with brutal sexual subjugation.

Leela (Aahana Kumra) struggles to convince her wedding photographer lover Arshad (Vikrant Massey) to elope. Her sexual drive and a looming forced arranged marriage drives her to chaos. For college going, Miley Cyrus fan Rehana (Plabita Borthakur), the burkha is a refuge from her conservative, strict household. She uses it as cover to steal lipsticks, expensive attire, and footwear from malls. The burkha also allows her a double life, the college bathroom is where she emerges in her t-shirt and jeans, like a proverbial, everyday superwoman. A woman who has to struggle, scamper and hide to just be herself.

Shades, Colours, Celebrations  
Lipstick Under My Burkha plays out as a hilarious, laugh-out-loud (not just silent keypad LOL, real laughs) black comedy. It swerves from falling into a feminist, protest-ridden commentary. The takeaways are memorable and infectious.

The cheap sex novel narrative gets a tad repetitive after an hour, but Shrivastava gives a purposeful screenplay end to it.

Like, when did a girl last threaten her boyfriend that she would share their lovemaking MMS if he doesn't marry her? Never in an Indian film, N-E-V-E-R by a long distance. How about an older woman anonymously indulging in phone sex with her swimming instructor? The scenes of marital rape are harrowing, uncomfortable revelations. Perhaps, a girl condemned to stitch burkhas as punishment is the most damning of the story threads.

The Cigarette Bonding Finale  
All male characters end up as shallow, judgemental and prejudiced. There is no salvaging there. But it's not a notorious, partial take either.

When the film resorts to pathos in its culmination, it loses some steam. Reinforcing the comic, satirical take would have topped this remarkable film. That said, the climax doesn't mess it up. Four women bonding over cigarettes is at once rebellious, even if mildly misdirected. Each yearned for a sky, but are now against a formidable wall, probably shut out for life. End credits. Excellent. Nothing more is to be told. Amazing how a sharp touch of edit makes/breaks a movie.

Enough Said
Lipstick Under My Burkha is not merely the pick of the week. It stands out, pulls the revolutionary trigger and makes itself heard. It is oh so totally justified and true. Here readers is a brave, undeterred film of our times. Not to be missed.

The main cast give astounding performances

28 Jul 2017

Valerian and The City of A Thousand Planets: A Slow, Dull Crawl

I had to etch out entertainment and urge for even a strain of thrill during the entire running time of Valerian and The City of A Thousand Planets. Based on a French comic book series, Valerian is a sci-fi/adventure movie that is way off the mark.

Oh Yeah, The Story
It's the 28th century and Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevingne) are the human police force's special agents out on a mission. They are out to retrieve a 'converter', a rare animal that duplicates energy-containing pearls. Even as the duo braves dangers to accomplish the task, a new threat lurks on their return to Space Station Alpha. Commander Filitt (Clive Owen) is to be protected from unknown forces and possible attack.

Alpha is home to millions of citizens from different planets, co-existing in peace, indulging in knowledge and culture sharing. As Valerian and Laureline dive deeper into the intrigue, nothing is what it seems.

Wanted: A Rocking Villian 
Director Luc Besson gets the CGI part, his strong point, absolutely right. The art design borders on the visionary. A Star Wars and Guardians of the Galaxy deja vu looms here. But there is no bite, no danger, sleepwalking action and bland attempts at humor. That the lead pair's chemistry is nil further dampens proceedings. The damning part - no menacing villain.

Good Bits, Some   
Popular pop singer Rihanna dazzles in a brief cameo as the shape-shifter. Clive Owen and Ethan Hawke are competent too. A monologue on love grazes the heart momentarily, and that's it for engagement. The dullest first half I have watched this year. The second is an inch better. A remote sense of danger grows and fades. Something vaguely resembling a coherent story begins to take shape. Then the end credits come up.

Redeeming Factor, Nay!
A hell lot of editing could have made Valerian a lot breezier and fun. The editing is a shocker, most scenes are lengthy, from the strange, ineffective dream sequence opening to the kid-stuff action parts. A lot needed to be trimmed for the film to have any sort of impact.

What Happened Here?   
Go for the colorful art design and costumes that resemble delightful dessert dishes on 3D. There is just nothing else on offer here. It surprises me to say this, that despite the ambition, scale, and spread, Valerian and The City of A Thousand Planets is a dull, snailish movie that seems as long as reading out the film title 100 times in one breath as a school punishment.

26 Jul 2017

Movie News: Close Encounters of the Third Kind: Set for 40th Anniversary Re-Release

Steven Spielberg's path-breaking 1977 sci-fi alien movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind is set for a Sep 1 re-release at select US theaters. The trailer promises 4K picture quality and upgraded special effects.

My take, as an ardent admirer of the film, is to miss the full-length trailer and just watch the film. The teaser trailer above is an adequate surprise, without giving much away. The less you know the more you will enjoy this exceptional, unexpectedly moving motion picture.

Spielberg's Indian Following
Re-releases are not a trend in India. But I do hope that the film somehow finds its way to select Indian theaters too. Among Indian audiences, Close Encounters of the Third Kind is the least known of Spielberg's classic movies. Spielberg's fame in India can be attributed to the monster universal success of Jurassic Park (1993) and subsequent releases Saving Private Ryan (1998), Minority Report (2002), Catch Me If You Can (2002) and The Adventures of Tintin (2011).

But few here in India have seen the director's early works, notably the much-acclaimed road thriller Duel (1971), his first blockbuster Jaws (1975), arguably the best Indiana Jones movie Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) and that wonderfully endearing sci-fi/kids adventure E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982).

Re-releases and India
India did have a culture of re-releases in the 70's and 80's. But the coming of VHS tapes, CD's and advanced digital mediums, lead to rampant piracy. Unchecked piracy continues to affect footfalls at theaters across the country. Superior quality movie files are now downloaded into pen drives and watched at most households. Apart from satellite TV, legitimate online streaming services and mass availability of free Internet has further dampened movies-on-the-big-screen culture.

There's nothing like re-releases to bring genuine movie lovers to the cinema halls. At that note, hoping against hope to catch Close Encounters of the Third Kind at a theater near by or affordably far far away.

23 Jul 2017

Movie Talk: The Case of the Smiling Dunkirk Extra

In these torrid times of cell phone addiction, HD picture quality and streaming content, nothing escapes the PAUSE button. So for someone of Christopher Nolan's stature to have overlooked a split-second smiling extra in a key Dunkirk bombing scene is almost cinematically criminal. But is that really a hiccup in a sharply edited film? Are we reading too much into the case of the smiling extra in Dunkirk?

Stand out of the gathering in a crowd scene, disobey the director's instructions, escape the editing scissors and bingo. Fame!    

To be fair, if you play out the scene, the smile can be interpreted as a concerned leer, or a resigned 'here we go again' expression. But it certainly sticks out in a film so painstakingly real.

Theory two: This was an intentional Nolan touch. There is always a joker in the pack who sees the funny side of things. "We are gonna get bombed and die anyway. Let's put a smile on that face."

Exaggerating it a bit more, probably this was a tribute to Heath Ledger's Joker in The Dark Knight. Why so serious? Eh? Life is fleeting.

Ironically, the scene featured prominently in Dunkirk's first teaser trailer. Now that the case of the smiling Dunkirk extra is going viral on the Internet, two things can alternately happen. An unemployed extra or 15 minutes of fame on a late night show. So much for celebrity status.

Dunkirk: Restrained, Throbbing War Movie

A Christopher Nolan movie you can fully understand at first viewing. Boy!Is that a relief!

Dunkirk is Christopher Nolan's most life-relatable film. After all, just how much psychic bend can Nolan do with true World War II events? Wait for it.

While I love Memento (2000) for its masterly nonlinear mind-bombing and the darker, rocking  Batman trilogy, Nolan's Inception (2010) and Interstellar (2014) were boggling and unforgivingly incoherent in their final take. Yes, keeping box office takings and popular opinion aside. So when the shroud-white-over-black-background Dunkirk film title appeared, I wished only for an easily understandable film.

The State of Affairs at Dunkirk 
It's 1940 and Germany is all over World War II. They have conquered Poland, Denmark, Norway and are weeks away from taking over France. The English, French, Belgian and Canadian Allied Forces now find themselves cornered by advancing German troops, U boats and deadly air strikes at the seaside French town of Dunkirk. Over 4 lakh soldiers face certain death, with British shores agonisingly visible to them from the shore.

Non-Linear Storytelling Virtues 
Nolan skillfully refrains from an epic, heavy, marathon take. He instead goes where most Hollywood war movies don't. A big budget military retreat movie. No gory blood, no bullet-ridden bodies, no epic battles or heroic, sentimental stuff.Undoubtedly, a standout, box-office endangering premise.

The director delves into moments, despair, defeat, death and unlikely saviours. He harks on man's basic instinct to live. Not blood-drowned killing on screen, just the primitive instinct of running when you are hunted. The universal truth conveyed here - in victory or defeat, it is damn good to be breathing and that is always enough.

Comfortingly, the nonlinear narrative results in clear multiple perspectives and heart-stopping suspense. After a held-back first hour, Nolan's reveals his unseen strands by going back-forth and delivers a heart-rending second act.

Taut Screenplay, Sparse Dialogues 
Dunkirk's writing (Nolan again) hinges on less-spoken moments, firing the story in three distinct threads, selective events unfolding on land, sea and air. He picks individuals to make the experience personal, and through their eyes, the gravity of the situation sinks in deep. When a soldier swims between two aflame, sinking ships, you share his panic. We understand that long conversations would not have occurred in such a hopeless scenario.

That Germans are unseen all through the film makes it ultra-spooky. Like the soldiers, I didn't know where the bullets, torpedos and bombs were raining from. This screenplay gamble works big time for Dunkirk.

Nervy Background Score
Hans Zimmer picks up the nerve-rattling violin from the Joker's theme in The Dark Knight and adds layers of tension and edge. The simple tick-tock of a pocket watch conveys the alarming truth - time is running out. Another classy, nervy background score from the Zimmer-Nolan combo.

Great Cast Connects in Silences  
Fionn Whitehead and Aneurin Barnard simmer as the fleeing soldiers. Harry Styles is a surprise as a British Army Private.Mark Rylance gets another meaty role as a rescuing mariner. Tom Hardy dazzles as an RAF pilot, though we largely get only his eyes, muffled voice and plane manoeuvring hands. Everything seems real and up close, thanks to Nolan's rejection of CGI and Hoyte van Hoytema's cinematography.

Weak Points
When the film delves into dialogue, the spell breaks a little. Trivia on fighter plane engines and talk of young men dying to old men's orders is tad routine stuff. But this is a minor niggle.

Don't Miss It   
I can't wait to catch Dunkirk again at the theatres. There is so much to read in a second viewing, and comprehension is not a factor, thankfully. A master is at work and in a superbly trimmed 106 minutes, Dunkirk is a modern war movie classic in the making.

14 Jul 2017

Jagga Jasoos: What Brings Down a Potential Masterpiece?

Make no mistake Jagga Jasoos is a rare achievement, combining age-old human emotions with an intriguing real-life arms drop incident. But there are several stumbles to what could have been a more structured masterpiece.

The Duration Issue 
The film doesn't actually drag but stretches out into a series of comic action gags, without contributing to the story. Three hours of running time, too much for a whirlwind, round-the-world non-stop romp. Easier said than done, for Basu paints a huge canvas here, combining a children's stage musical, travel adventure and the sore weak links - thrills, suspense, and action.

Many Loose Ends 
By the looks of it, the three-year torrid filmmaking period of the movie has its effects on the story. A lot of it stands out half-baked and propped up as gimmicks. For instance, the stumbling similarities that Shruti and Jagga's father share has no explanation. Jagga and Shruti escaping bullets, blasts and entire packs of gun-wielding baddies, there is just too much of it, for disbelief and disconnect to set in.

Wanted: Merciless, Clever Editing
Sharper, merciless editing would have worked wonders here. With so many elements and subplots and genres served on a platter, the film needed a master editor to take over proceedings.A two-hour running time would have worked wonders. The movie needed sweet slices of everything. An epic saga like the Lord of the Rings trilogy justifies the marathon length, not an ambitious comic caper like Jagga Jasoos.

A Dizzy Mix of Genres   
Even in Basu's Barfi (2012), the murder mystery angle off-tracked the film, before if found sure-footing again. There is no such salvaging in Jagga Jasoos. On hindsight, just narrating episodic adventures of Jagga's detective tales as the core story could have worked for the film's comic/mystery genre. Instead, the film is a wild mix comic musical adventure thriller, a tightrope walk in storytelling. The most glaring casualty: The two-headed international rogue and his supposedly dreaded syndicate are skimmed through rather than explained. So is the Pope air-dropping gifts angle, what was that about?

Ambition Versus Balance   
Truth be told, Anurag Basu almost pulls this through, his effort has nothing short in inventiveness, imagination, and spunk. It is in bringing all the madness together into a cohesiveness that most of the damage is done.

That said... 
Jagga Jasoos may seem more enjoyable in subsequent viewings. Often, a new take takes its time to settle down in a cinema-goers consciousness. We are so used to the usual, linear pattern in popular Hindi cinema. Anything out of line is so often rejected at first. So will Jagga Jasoos find its following in its theatrical run or later? This is a tough one for even the most hardened detective.


Jagga Jasoos: Part Masterpiece, In No Way Ordinary!

It was worth the wait! Anurag Basu's long-time-in-waiting Jagga Jasoos is a comic, musical drama the likes of which you haven't seen in a cinema theater in a long time.

Ironically, Jagga Jasoos could well be the Andaz Apna Apna of our times, a film that will slowly burn into mass audience hearts. There are a lot of elements undermining the film though.

Simple-Complex Story Mixtape
Jagga (Ranbir Kapoor), an orphan kid growing up in a hospital, sulks through life in stammers and silences. Then the 1995 Purulia arms drop incident happens. On a quiet, bright day, Jagga saves 'Tutti Futti' (broken bones, rotten luck), a mysterious middle-aged man. As Tutti Futti recovers, he also instills in Jagga a confidence and curiosity for life, asking him to sing his words.

Soon Tutti and Jagga are a happy pair, living together. Their clumsy foster father-curious son chemistry is the film's best part. But the shadow of the arms drop case forces Tutti to wish a broken-hearted Jagga goodbye.

Jagga now infuses his lonely, boarding school loneliness into the art of detection. How he solves two cases is convincing, creatively depicted. The coming of investigative journalist Shruti (Katrina Kaif) seems more to fill the mandatory heroine role. Soon, circumstances lead Jagga in search for his lost father.

Genuine Moments, Jumbled Final Act 
Ambitious and pioneering cinema is always a huge risk, yet Basu almost pulls off a new signature comic drama musical.This is new, daring, unchartered territory. He attempts to weave here a simple lost-found, father-son-companion mix into a serious intriguing story. But there are too many elements at play here. The thumbs down factor is making it a wannabe kids film.

The second half stumbles and rushes through much-contrived action (a huge downer), almost overdoing the film's fantasy, comic book treatment premise. The uneven rushed finale is a worry, so is the sequel-promising ending.

Ranbir Kapoor Rules 
Building up an engaging character, a variation of their Barfi (2012) partnership, Ranbir Kapoor is spot on and mercurial, the film's life and soul. The Tintin-like detective turn needed more screen time. Katrina Kaif barely passes muster, though her accent is explained off, she doesn't match up to Ranbir. Saswata Chatterjee is impressive as Jagga's dad, as is Saurabh Shukla and rest of the supporting cast.

Music Rocks!
The soundtrack drapes the film in celebration. With Jagga's dialogues set to music, Pritam is in his element here. Amitabh Bhattacharya's lyrics are a riot, so is the Neelsh Mishra penned Jhumritaliayya. Arijit Singh dazzles through the songs, showing a more complete, polished side of his vocals, steps ahead from mandatory love songs.

Ahead of its time? 
Finally, Jagga Jasoos is a light-hearted entertaining film that needs an audience. That it doesn't string back to our turbulent times and lives in its own candy-sugar world, despite the conspiracy angle, could affect the film's box-office prospects.

A rocking musical, great detective bits, undeniably funny, unimpressive sub-plots, part-masterpiece and in no way ordinary, Jagga Jasoos is a reaffirmation of Anurag Basu's passion for against-the-tide cinema. Just for cinema's sake, and the fact that I loved most of the film, I hope Jagga Jasoos does great business. My verdict, don't miss it! There is so much heart and courage here, despite the flaws.

11 Jul 2017

Spider-Man: Homecoming: Funny, Smart Teenage Flick

Spider-Man: Homecoming is everything that the web-swinging superhero movie franchise needed. First and foremost, a fresh start.

Post his antics in Captain America: Civil War (2016), Peter Parker (Tom Holland) is now an intern to Iron Man/ Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr, good as ever). Parker restlessly awaits a potential Avengers call up, while hilariously giving road directions, stopping a bicycle thief and staring at his school crush. Adrian (Michael Keaton, another 'bird' role), the illegal seller of advanced weapons scavenged from The Avengers (2012) battlefield remains, adds danger to the proceedings.

Film writers Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley infuse Peter Parker with contemporary cell phone age eagerness, awkwardness, irrelevance, randomness and erring teenage qualities, keeping us hooked all through. This is the Spider-Man we want, raw, human, bordering on buffoonery, as an under-18 teenager with superpowers will be.

Mirroring a funny, adolescent comic book version, director Jon Watts keeps it breezy and balanced. No serious talk, no world-conquering villain, just clips from a school-going kid's life who's got powers but is clueless about life and consequences. Peter's schoolmates and his Aunt May add to the mix, making this a pleasant joyride.

A funny coming of age tale with the right ingredients, Spider-Man: Homecoming is a neat, smart entertainer, a good watch at the cinemas.

Mom: Sridevi Shoulders Average Revenge Tale

Sridevi plays Devki, a biology school teacher, wife to businessman husband Anand (Adnan Siddiqui), stepmom to Anand's rebellious teenage daughter Arya (Sajal Ali), mother to a younger daughter. Arya is resentful of her stepmom. Meanwhile, Arya's porn-sharing, drug-snorting classmate Mohit (Adarsh Gaurav), disturbed by her rejection, resorts to extreme measures, leading to the film's revenge premise.

Unimaginative, Same Old Formula 
Mom is a typical Hindi film revenge tale with huge plot loopholes and a dangerous idea of mob-inspired justice. Castration, cyanide poisoning and planting evidence as revenge for rape is a lowbrow crowd puller, not a solution. Nothing holds, not how the perpetrators are released for lack of evidence or the revenge crimes. The story brushes aside eyewitnesses at the crime scene and crime-incriminating evidence, just like that. The final police-as-accomplice act is even more fluffy. The murders are easily done, as a walk in a park.

Neither a compelling drama nor a wise social comment or a heart-stopping thriller, Mom is solely salvaged by its performances. 

Sridevi and Nawazuddin Siddiqui Dazzle
Sridevi rules her scenes, Sajal Ali is very effective as the rape victim, Nawazuddin Siddiqui as a balding small-time detective almost steals the show with much-needed humor and impeccable timing. The very deserving Akshaye Khanna is saddled with a dim, one-dimensional role, so is the menacing Abhimanyu Singh. Both needed backstories for their contrasting actions.  

Performances & Little Else
Mom rides on Sridevi's amazing, enigmatic talent but fails to hold its own. The only standout scene that gave me a shudder - a black SUV going down an empty road to AR Rahman's apt background score. These are the only moments when the film stands apart from the formulaic skeletons of similar Hindi films. Finally, Mom is just a tad above disappointing.