Bromance (2015) #SherylPuthur

Directed By: Chen Rong Hui

Written By: Fang Xiao Ren; Chen Bi Zhen; Shao Hui Ting; Lin Pei Yu and Zheng Han Wen

Cast:

Megan Lai – Pi Ya Nuo

Baron Chen – Du Zi Feng

Bii – Wei Qing Yang

Sean Lee – Chu Zhe Rui

Katie Chen – Yang Na Na

Mandy Tao – Du Zi Han

Amanda Chou – Fan Xiao Jing

Yang Ming Wei – Liao Guang Chao

Edison Wang – Wu Han Sheng

Linda Liu – Sister Feng

Joseph Hsia – Nan Xing Tian

Chen Wei Min – Wu Wan Hao

Tou Chung Hua – Du Guang Zhu

Language: Mandarin                                  Genre: Romantic-Comedy; Action Drama

Number of Episodes: 30                            Run Time: 45 minutes

 

Bromance is a Taiwanese gender-bender romantic comedy drama with elements of action. It shares some similarities with the Japanese manga Tokyo Crazy Paradise by Yoshiki Nakamura.

Due to an astrologer’s ominous prediction, Pi Ya Nuo (Megan Lai) has to live the first 25 years of her life as a man to avert the calamity to befall her. On her 26th birthday, her fate would change and then she would be able to live openly as a woman. But 100 days before her 26th birthday, fate intervenes and entwines her destiny with that a mafia leader Du Zi Feng (Baron Chen).

He feels indebted to her and finds himself drawn to Ya Nuo. Even his sister Zi Han (Mandy Tao) falls in love with her. Their mother Sister Feng (Linda Liu), to ensure that Zi Feng has someone around him that he can trust and become friends with, and to further Zi Han’s romantic attachment, requests Ya Nuo to become Zi Feng’s sworn brother.

The main problem lies in the fact that Ya Nuo is a woman. But she agrees when she realises Zi Feng has always been alone. He was an orphan who was adopted by the Du family and so he owes everything to them. His family’s mafia past also haunts him because people judge him based on that. They forget that his father moved away from that and decided to start a legitimate business – amusement parks. So except for his two sworn brothers, Wei Qing Yang (Bii) and Wu Han Sheng (Edison Wang), he’s had no friends.

The latter in fact emerges as the antagonist of the series of because of his ambition. He wants to become the clan leader and replace Zi Feng. He chooses to undermine Zi Feng by using media to tarnish his image. That sequence leads to an emotionally charged moment between Ya Nuo and Zi Feng because they risk their lives for each other.

Zi Feng has quite a bit of emotional baggage; his father has been missing for years post a shipwreck. Not having found a body means the family has not experienced closure. Even Qing Yang feels similarly because his parents were travelling with Du Guang Zu (Tou Chung Hua) on that very ship. Zi Feng is constantly attacked for being a mafia leader and also various plots abound to overthrow him. Some of these plots are intentionally or unintentionally done by those near him.

Things get comical when Zi Feng feels he is falling in love with Ya Nuo and then begins to question his sexual orientation because of that. For Ya Nuo, it is about whether she should keep her vow or not since she finds herself falling in love and unwilling to hide the truth. There is also an interesting reference to Cinderella made in the series when Zi Feng, unwittingly comments on Ya Nuo when he says that Cinderella is a pitiable character because “she had to bear the loneliness of keeping a secret” – a line that sums up Ya Nuo in the series.

The side plots are equally interesting. Qing Yang meets with a young girl Na Na (Katie Chen) on a cruise. She has cancer and yet is lively and curious about things around her. She breaks through Qing Yang’s reserve when she forces him to make coffee for her (he runs a cafe at the amusement park). His coffee makes her happy and she wants him to make it the way her mother used to make it for her. This connection with the coffee brings them closer.

Unexpectedly, Na Na turns out to have a significant connection to Qing Yang. It seems to be a feature of Taiwanese dramas that all plotlines tie up and feed into each other. It’s like the line from Kung Fu Panda, “there are no coincidences” and destiny plays a huge role in the narratives. For instance, Ya Nuo may have an older connection with Zi Feng, and her childhood friend and veterinarian Zhe Rui (Sean Lee) plays a vital role in keeping her identity secret, just like Xiao Jing (Amanda Chou), her cousin.

Liao Guang Chao (Yang Ming Wei), Ya Nuo’s friend develops an interesting relationship with Zi Han when he becomes her bodyguard/chauffeur. They both feel the other is too unlikeable but it becomes interesting to see the development in their character arc. In fact, Guang Chao/ A-chao displays a range of emotions, going from the comical sidekick to being deeply mature to lovelorn and so on.

As a viewer, one might feel what more could be left once all the plotlines are tied up but right in the last episode, there is a revelation that manages to keep the viewer hooked.

Bromance has a host of interesting characters, by turns emotional, funny and melodramatic, it’s quite a ride. With the past tying up with the present and satisfying conclusions, it gives a sense of catharsis. It even attempts a sympathetic reading of characters that seem quite awful in the beginning. And essentially, it gives a very different reading of a mafia clan.

 

 

 

 

 

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Man to Man (2017) #SherylPuthur

Directed By: Lee Chang-min

Written By: Kim Won-suk

Cast:

Park Hae-jin– Kim Seol-woo

Park Sung-woong – Yeo Woon-gwang

Kim Min-jung – Cha Do-ha

Yeon Jung-hoon – Mo Seung-jae

Chae Jung-an – Song Mi-eun

Jeong Man-sik – Lee Dong-hyun

Jang Hyun-sung – Jang Tae-ho

Cheon Ho-jin – Lawmaker Baek

Tae In-ho – Seo Ki-chul

Oh Na-ra – Sharon Kim

Language: Korean                                        Genre: Spy; Action-thriller; Melodrama

Number of Episodes: 16                                             Run Time: 60 – 70 minutes

 

Man to Man is a South-Korean series that has been recently released on Netflix. It is a Spy action-thriller with elements of romance and comedy.

The series is about ghost agent K (Park Hae-jin) who uses all skills at his disposal to get the mission done. Be it getting romantically involved with a woman who might be integral to finding information/ providing a cover or directly contravening an order as seen in the pilot episode where as a sniper, he ignores the officer-in charge’s order to stand down and takes out a criminal who had hijacked a school bus and was threatening a young girl.

His satisfaction lies in the look of relief on the girl’s face or in the case of other missions, knowing he has done something to right a situation. So while cold-blooded about his work and detached from human concerns he has a larger concern of social-wellbeing. Which is why he frequently voices out that his role is to be faceless while upholding peace in society by undertaking missions of national importance.

In the beginning, K seems to be taking each case mechanically and hence his personality seems at odds with that of his handler Lee Dong-hyun (Jeong Man-sik), a jovial prosecutor who was a former NIS agent but continues to assist them (without letting his wife know). Dong-hyun and his friend Jang Tae-ho (Jang Hyun-sung) an NIS officer want K to take over a new mission. It would require tracing three wooden carvings which hide the key to the slush fund stashed away by the previous chairman of the large conglomerate Songsan. There are many players interested in the whereabouts of the carvings and as a result the slush fund. Some of these players are revealed only towards the last few episodes and the violence and thrill factor ups when these revelations are close on hand.

What is interesting is the cover story K has to adopt to achieve his mission. The first wooden carving is at the private collection of a Russian mafia lord Victor who is hyper-vigilant about his security and hence they have no access. Their only option is by making K a bodyguard to the Korean action star Yeo Woon-gwang (Park Sung-woong) who is now an upcoming Hollywood star. Victor is a huge fan of his film Dark Death and hence issued a private invite to him.

This mission has all the potential to try K’s patience because Woon-gwang is temperamental and has starry tantrums designed to get rid of K, a deal he made with his manager Cha Do-ah (Kim Min-jung) who dislikes K. If K needs Do-ah to fall in love with him so as to ease his operations, it goes exactly against his wishes. She not only dislikes him but also spies on him. For someone who has been a member of Woon-gwang’s Fan club and has eyes only for him and calls him ‘oppa’, she thwarts K’s plans.

Since she tries his patience as well, he is more revealing of his emotions and begins to notice chinks in his armour that worries him and he can’t wait for his mission to be over, but the story throws up twists that embroil him further and further into her life.

There are multiple sub-plots and they slowly start merging together, for instance, the current head of Songsan, Mo Seung-jae (Yeon Jung-hoon) is not only trying to find the carvings, but he has a corrupt politician Lawmaker Baek (Cheon Ho-jin) use his sources and people in the intelligence service to acquire it for him. He is married to a former actress Song Mi-eun (Chae Jung-an) who is incidentally Woon-gwang’s ex-girlfriend. He is jealous of her past especially since she is funding Woon-gwang’s film. He in fact tries to sabotage him and his career. He also tries to manipulate Mi-eun by using their son as leverage.

The interesting thing however, is that she has a double life of sorts in that she is friends with Sharon (Oh Na-ra), a designer who is seeing Mr Jang and hence she does him the favour of hiring K as Woon-gwang’s bodyguard.

It is when K’s two worlds start to collide that the plots start to merge and there is a scene, which is very imitative of Taken that reveals his Achilles heel as an agent to rogue ghost agent Seo Ki-chul (Tae In-ho) who works with Lawmaker Baek.

The series is realistic in how it tries to portray the lives of secret agents – fraught with danger, they live with betrayal, possibility of being discarded and double-crossed by their handlers and how romance is not really an option.

The romantic plotlines of K and Do-ha, and Woon-gwang -Mi-eun-Seung-jae, lend poignancy to the story because of the vulnerabilities it reveals and the improbability of fairy-tale resolutions.

All the characters are well-constructed. They start of as being two-dimensional but as the narrative progresses there are other sides that are revealed. Thanks to the layering of the narrative and the characters’ personalities and backgrounds, Woon-gwang being an action star becomes significant later on.

The actors are also spot-on with their performances. Park Hae-jin’s subtle changes in expression go well with his role as a poker-faced bodyguard. Especially, since most comic moments involve him being thwarted by the other characters. The fact that he shouldn’t reveal any emotions but feel deeply about certain things add to the amusement of the viewer. K’s bromance with Woon-gwang and Dong-hyun becomes one of the highlights of the series.

With Hungary as a location for the foreign sequences and an international feel to the series, it can become very popular. It after all manages to fuse romance and comedy into a spy action thriller that by no means tones down on its thrill moments or violence that would necessarily be part of such a package. It also has instances of psychological abuse.

The series however, does leave things a little ambiguous which is probably realistic given that the protagonist is a black ops agent. Finally, the soundtrack for the series is upbeat, fun and the lyrics for the songs go well with the emotions of the characters and the plot changes. It features popular K-artists including Far-East Movement.

Weekend (2011) #SherylPuthur

Directed By: Andrew Haigh

Written By: Andrew Haigh

Cast:

Tom Cullen – Russell

Chris New – Glen

Jonathan Race – Jamie

Language: English                                                             Genre: Drama; Slice of Life

 

Weekend is the story of a one-night stand between two men Russell (Tom Cullen) and Glen (Chris New), that leads to something more. The story opens with Russell at his flat, smoking up. He seems to be dressing up to go somewhere but he ends up giving an impression that he wants to delay it, till it’s inevitable.  He ends up at his best friend Jamie’s (Jonathan Race) place for dinner. They are very close but he feels out of place either because he’s alone and they are all couples or that they are heterosexual and he has never truly accepted his place in the scheme of things.

He leaves early after making excuses and heads out to a gay bar where he checks out Glen but ends up chatting up someone else. Next day when they awake and Glen foists this art project that he has wherein he asks gay people who hook up for one-night stands to talk about the experience. To him, being homosexual is an identity gay people don’t acknowledge. This becomes rather apparent with the way Russell interacts with people. Interestingly, he too records his sexual encounters with people but does so privately, unlike Glen.

Their conversation, which crosses to the next day, becomes deeply political with its questions on identity, debates on relationships and open acknowledgment. It’s soon apparent that Russell lives non-confrontationally whereas Glen likes to sarcastically and belligerently, bring up his identity as a homosexual forward.

The relationship between Russell and Glen is for the weekend, like an extended one-night stand and this weekend could very well change things for them. The weekend takes them through an intensely emotional experience that gives some insight into how much harder a relationship could be for someone homosexual when society does not recognise or sanction it.

The relationship helps bring out Russell’s ambivalence about discussing his homosexuality with his friend Jamie. It helps bring them closer, because Russell has always closed off that side of his life from his closest friend, who knows that he is homosexual, but it is Russell’s discomfort that stops them from making a normal conversation about it. This becomes quite an interesting tangent to the narrative, for it points out that the general lack of acceptance as well as fascination/disgust from people around them, colours their friendships with heterosexual people.

It also overturns age-old stereotypes about homosexual relationships of who is ‘male’ and who is ‘female’ in it. The fact is that the power dynamics of being male and female (with its associated qualities) are constantly shifting in a homosexual relationship. The shifts occur in heterosexual relationships as well; just that no one acknowledges it.

Since the film with its brief canvas conveys the intensity of a relationship (because at the heart of it, it boils down to the human dynamics of a non-platonic relationship; sex and gender notwithstanding) as well as breaks stereotypes, it is a beautiful film to watch to normalise a relationship that has been needlessly politicised, romanticised and even more frequently, demonised.

Ae Dil Hai Mushkil (2016) #SherylPuthur

ae-dil-hai-mushkilDirected By: Karan Johar

Written By: Karan Johar

Cast:

Ranbir Kapoor – Ayan Sangar

Anushka Sharma – Alizeh Khan

Aishwarya Rai Bachchan – Saba Taliyar Khan

Fawad Khan – DJ Ali

Lisa Haydon – Lisa D’souza

Imran Abbas – Dr. Faisal

Shahrukh Khan – Tahir Taliyah Khan

Alia Bhatt – DJ Alia

Language: Hindi; Urdu                                                    Genre: Drama; Romance

 

Karan Johar’s Ae Dil Hai Mushkil is a story about relationships and heartbreak. The film opens with an interview of Ayan Sangar (Ranbir Kapoor), a London-based singer who has gone from being a YouTube sensation to a popular singer whose music intrigues his audience for its poetry and pathos.

Ayan opens up about the relationships that made him and probably broke him. Alizeh Khan (Anushka Sharma) is a girl he meets at a bar. After a failed hook-up, they become good friends. It is a friendship characterised by straight talking and witty one-liners. They also bond on their shared love for Bollywood which is something that connects them to the subcontinent. They are two people who have learnt to deal with loneliness and distant parents in their own ‘carpe diem’ fashion. Their friendly chemistry leads Ayan to assume that there is more to their relationship. He falls in love with her and she loves him too, but platonically.

Alizeh is wary of relationships because of her previous turbulent relationship with the popular DJ Ali (Fawad Khan), whom she met at Lucknow while she was a student. She is not over him and his return into her life cause cracks to appear in her friendship with Ayan because he cannot take the rejection.

Ayan, in his desperation to forget or deal with his heartbreak becomes involved with an intelligent, sensual older woman Saba Taliyar Khan (Aishwarya Rai Bachchan). She is a shayara (poet) and she is as intrigued by him as he is by her. Ayan has a pattern to his relationships which are largely about sexual satisfaction. If his earlier relationship with Lisa (Lisa Haydon) was marked by shallow physical needs on his side and gold-digging on hers, his relationship with Saba is on a more equal footing.

Conceptually, the film is great. It is about being ‘friendzoned’ by a lover. Literally every character in the film is friendzoned at some point or other. The film explores the complexity of modern relationships and points out the flaws in relationships that don’t have very solid grounding. It speaks about falling out of love with someone and growing steadily intolerant about certain aspects of your partner’s personality. And how, conversely, to protect a valued connection, one would turn the proverbially Nelson’s eye to the true dynamics of the alliance.

But, the treatment of the narrative is poorly handled. It abounds in clichés which get a tad bit irritating. Even the fact that the movie is narrated through an interview is implausible. That is an overlong interview and if it was reality, one could empathise with the plight of the interviewer.

That the screenwriting is lazy is obvious in the manner in which the denouement was reached. Another film that pretty much handled the same theme but in a far more mature fashion was Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu. Ironically, it is a Dharma Production.

Even the lead actors, who have obviously performed brilliantly, have taken recourse in roles they have essayed before. There is then nothing to look forward in their interpretation. Kapoor has reprised the pathos and confusion of his movies Rockstar and Tamasha (in fact, even the narrative borrows heavily from these two features). Anushka Sharma is mature in how she plays Alizeh but it’s still nothing new. However, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan has truly pushed herself out of a performative comfort zone. Even Lisa Haydon is hilarious.

Now the elephant in the room is the political controversy that this motion picture got embroiled in because it cast a Pakistani actor. Fawad Khan is barely there in the movie and it might make an audience member feel ‘oh a storm in a teapot’ but it is my assumption that the film may have been re-edited post controversy and would have chopped out much of his role. It is rather sad that he leaves Indian cinema not with a bang but a fizzle.

Also, I suspect all the characters, except for Ayan, were Pakistani in origin. Even the scenes that were later dubbed as Lucknow may have originally been Lahore. This is more plausible because the punjabiness of the wedding preparation and music would be out of place in a Lucknowi wedding. This may have then implied that the narrative was heading towards the idea that we are so much more similar than we give credit for. It also did not seem a narrative that harped on the India-Pakistan past but side-stepped it and moved into a ‘this is how South Asians are’. It would have challenged the viewpoint that Indians in India have about Pakistanis when contrasted with that of Indians abroad. This very fact would have made this a mature take on the tense kinship we share.

Even the fact that Sangars are supposed to Brahmin, Ayan however, plays a very un-Brahmin role. If the above was how Karan Johar intended it, it is truly unfortunate that he had to pare down and remove all those subtle nuances that may have made the clichés more bearable.

So he has broken or tried to break community and nation stereotypes. But he hasn’t stepped out of the traditional Bollywood ending of tragic catharsis or truly reconciled himself to ambiguous or incomplete endings. The ending, therefore, is unexpected, incredulous and unintentionally funny.

On a side note, the cinematography and art design were aesthetic. The music of the film is brilliant. Moving, poetic and catchy – a double thumbs up.

Kes (1969) #SherylPuthur

kes-film-images-fd152e6d-6609-4e4e-bd96-7df64a76159Directed By: Ken Loach

Written By: Barry Hines; Ken Loach; Tony Garnett

Cast:

David Bradley– Billy Casper

Freddie Fletcher – Jud

Lynne Perrie– Mrs. Casper

Colin Welland– Mr. Farthing

Brian Glover– Mr. Sudgen

Bob Bowes– Mr. Gryce

Language: English                                                                   Genre: Drama

Kes is a 1969 film by Ken Loach based on the novel A Kestrel for a Knave by Barry Hines. Set in a mining town in Yorkshire, it tells the story of Billy (David Bradley), a working class boy. A fifteen year old who has nothing to look forward to in life. The only possible career option for him is to join his brother Jud (Freddie Fletcher) in the mining pits or some other similar blue collar job.

His daily struggles have to do with either combating or knuckling under abuse. It’s both his abusive older brother who uses him as his help, or his teachers and classmates who pick on him.

The teachers are jaded because none of the students show any involvement. It is after all understood that they will, in terms of profession, follow in their parents’ footsteps and end up in menial jobs. So the principal, Mr. Gryce (Bob Bowes), who was once passionate about his job is now an automaton who doles out advice and punishment in a mechanical fashion. Even his ‘lectures’ on discipline has an element of rote learning.

The school tries to instil values of mercy and compassion through religious passages but they are mere words that mean nothing. For instance, the morning assembly reading of the Parable of the Lost Sheep is immediately followed by the principal calling the students who were day-dreaming or yawning or coughing during the reading (including Billy) to his office for punishment. The narrative then abounds in such ironies.

Even the sadistic coach, Mr. Sudgen (Brian Glover), who uses Billy as a scapegoat for his failings and tortures him in the name of discipline in the shower room, by making him stand under a cold shower.

The truly uplifting moments in the film are when Billy takes up falconry and trains a kestrel that he names ‘Kes’. His concern for animals and his understanding of their behaviour patterns, belies the usual opinion that he is useless. An opinion his mother (Lynne Perrie) also holds.

Billy doesn’t see his kestrel as a pet but as someone with autonomy. The kestrel in fact, is a symbol of Billy and as an extension, the working class. They are free, untamed, proud yet fragile, they need to be protected, fed when hungry, taken outdoors away from controls and trusted to return.

The film gives no easy, quick fix solution. There is an English teacher who does attempt to draw out Billy but this isn’t a narrative of a teacher triumphing a student’s odds because they both come from a similar setting.

Kes is an unvarnished, darkly comic take on the English working class life.

What drew me to watch this movie was David Morrissey’s comment that this film made him hopeful to know that working class life could be the focus of a film. What kept me involved was the poignancy of Billy’s relationship with Kes.

Parched (2016) #SherylPuthur

parched_xlg

Directed By: Leena Yadav

Written By: Leena Yadav

Cast:

Tannishtha Chatterjee – Rani

Radhika Apte – Lajjo

Surveen Chawla – Bijli

Riddhi Sen – Gulab, Rani’s son

Lehar Khan – Janki, Gulab’s wife

Sumeet Vyas – Kishen

Mahesh Balraj – Manoj

Chandan Anand – Rajesh (Raju)

Sayani Gupta – Champa

Adil Hussain – Mystic lover

Language: Hindi; Gujarati                                                          Genre: Drama

 

Leena Yadav’s Parched is a women-centric film but unlike how it is represented, it isn’t just a movie about the abuse faced by rural women. In fact, abuse is one of the themes taken for granted throughout the narrative. Almost every female character faces it or is assumed to have faced it in the past.

Instead, the film is more about thirst. Sexual thirst – the act of being parched for pleasure, kindness, appreciation and recognition. Most Indian women, according to Sudhir and Katharina Kakar’s book The Indians have never experienced sexual pleasure. Sex for them is painful and a duty. And pleasure – a myth. Parched, then details what women talk about amongst themselves – how they wish to discover pleasure or try to find happiness in other things so that they can brush aside the glaring need for human intimacy that they have.

The three main women that the narrative revolves around are Rani (Tannishtha Chatterjee), Lajjo (Radhika Apte) and Bijli (Surveen Chawla).

Rani is the respectable widow who is getting her son married to Janki (Lehar Khan) from another village. In flashbacks and through the one-sided conversations with her invalid mother in-law we see that she has never truly known happiness and had to put aside her books because a well-read woman cannot run a house. The irony is, she uses the same lines on Janki who wishes to study. More than anything, it tells the viewers what her mother in-law may have faced and how she too may have knuckled under societal pressure to follow norms.

Lajjo is known as the barren woman who is however, a skilled handloom worker. She is frequently seen sporting bruise marks – the handiwork of her husband Manoj (Mahesh Balraj). She is an innocent character who has romantic notions and jokes about being barren, though no one laughs. Rani is who she runs to for comfort when her husband’s abuse gets out of hand.

Bijli, on the other hand, is an erotic dancer who also satisfies the needs of the village men whenever she is asked to. She occasionally refuses and plays the diva but is frequently told that as a whore she should know her place. For Rani and Lajjo, she is the breath of fresh air and brings news from the outside world that they have never seen. She is also the only one among them who has experienced some pleasure in sex. They scoff at her stories of a man who treated her body as a temple because such a man does not exist in their opinion.

Women have no autonomy over their bodies and a pivotal scene that occurs in the beginning of the film is before the panchayat. A woman, Champa (Sayani Gupta) walked out on her marriage because of the abuse she faced but the sarpanch decrees that she must return because otherwise it will bring dishonour on the village. She loudly proclaims that she is being raped and abused by her in-laws but instead she is herded into the vehicle and the sarpanch is seen consoling the father that she will come to understand and accept it.

However, mirroring this scene is that of the women’s representative at the panchayat asking for the television to be brought in. The panchayat feel that there is no need for it, plus the mobile phones they asked for has been nuisance enough. They also claim that the expenses for the cable connection can’t be borne. But the women offer to pay for it from their savings through the handloom work.

So the changes that do come in are because of the women and this frightens some of the men who feel it emasculates them. Such as Gulab (Riddhi Sen) and his friends, who feels Kishen (Sumeet Vyas), a local entrepreneur, has brainwashed the women into believing that their handloom work can make them independent and self-sufficient. Kishen’s ‘foreign’ wife, as they refer to the Manipuri lady who is a teacher at the neighbouring village, is also to blame because she stands for unacceptable modern practises.

Alongside the abuse is the agency these women possess. They support each other and many of these women rebel unobtrusively. In fact, the frequent motif of travel such as in the beginning of the film when Rani  and Lajjo are travelling by bus is one such rebellion because Lajjo lets the wind blow away her pallu (long cloth covering the hair and sometimes face – a societal norm expected of women in public in many communities as a sign of submission). The wind blowing the hair that is so often covered is a running motif in the film because it is a forbidden pleasure.

The film is about them choosing for themselves within their own constraints, be it Janki choosing to study as well as help Rani with housework, even if she has to do it secretly. The film also has elements of homoeroticism especially in Rani and Lajjo’s relationship but it isn’t the simplistic reading that Deepa Mehta’s Fire gave to lesbianism which was, neglectful husbands = lesbian relationship. It is rather that, in a world where women do not experience intimacy, their female friends fill that void. Considering no one really questions the homoeroticism in Fight Club between Edward Norton’s character and Tyler (Brad Pitt), I suppose this could be met with similar nonchalance.

The film is a truly positive experience despite the startlingly real violence in it as it also about the agency of women. It has humour and poignancy in its portrayal of women’s experiences.

Crimson Peak (2015) #SherylPuthur

Directed By: Guillermo del Toro

Written By: Guillermo del Toro and Matthew Robbins

Cast:

Mia Wasikowska – Edith Cushing

Jessica Chastain – Lady Lucille Sharpe

 Tom Hiddleston – Sir Thomas Sharpe

Charlie Hunnam – Dr. Alan McMichael

Jim Beaver – Carter Cushing

Burn Gorman – Mr. Holly

Language: English                                        Genre: Gothic Romance; Horror

 

Crimson Peak is a gothic horror romance by Guillermo del Toro. The film is not the usual horror as most would assume, instead also possesses all the stock elements of a gothic romance such as Jane Eyre.

The film begins with Edith (Mia Wasikowska) bloodied and shaken and then slowly slips back in time. She explains that since her mother’s death, she has seen ghosts and while frightened of them, she believes they have a purpose. In fact, her mother’s ghost comes to warn her about ‘Crimson Peak’ – a place, that when time comes, she should avoid.

Fast forward a few years, and we see Edith as an aspiring novelist and an eccentric heiress. Her father Carter Cushing (Jim Beaver) is worried she won’t settle down to a sensible marriage and tries to foist her old friend Alan (Charlie Hunnam) as a possible suitor.

Things change when two strangers from England come into her town – Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston) and Lady Lucille Sharpe (Jessica Chastain), his sister. Sir Thomas approaches Mr. Cushing, with a business proposition. His lands on which his mansion Allerdale Hall stands is known for the finest red clay. He comes with a model for a clay mining machine that he believes will revolutionise clay mining.

He fails to make an impression on Mr. Cushing but he does, however, make Edith aware of him as a man. She finds herself attracted to him and her father tries to dissuade her from her fonder inclinations for him. They however, eventually marry but not before the mysteries that surround his home in England begin to envelope her and supernatural instances become more common. The house in fact, is known as Crimson Peak.

When they move to England, the claustrophobic fear of the old mansion, Allerdale Hall makes Edith uneasy. She slowly tries to uncover the secrets of the house and finds herself battling life and death.

While the narrative has, the usual trapping of a gothic story – a threatening mystery, looming curse over a doddering mansion, supernatural elements, hidden passages, it like Jane Eyre subverts binaries of male and female. Edith is not the typical damsel in distress rather she is strong-willed and knows her own mind. As a budding novelist, her figure of aspiration, as she mentions it, is Mary Shelley rather than Jane Austen; so a controversial figure as opposed to a respectable one.

The similarities between Crimson Peak and Jane Eyre don’t end there. Both Thornfield Hall and Allerdale Hall hide terrible secrets. And even when the two women suspect that there may be an unpleasant secret that the male protagonists are hiding, they continue to love them. It is rather like the old legend, Bluebeard’s Castle – a macabre story of warning.

There is an interesting scene when Lucille and Edith are in a park and looking at butterflies and Lucille’s conclusion is that beautiful things are fragile when Edith observes that they are dying. The scene isn’t openly menacing but conveys a lot of beliefs of the times that are subverted by the female leads themselves.

The story does have quite a few clichés, but at the same time it has a very interesting plot twist. The characterisation is very interesting as well, with well sketched out individuals. A lot has been said about the sex scene in the film. It is as egalitarian as spoken about (to read further check http://www.bustle.com/articles/117413-tom-hiddlestons-crimson-peak-sex-scene-is-ruled-by-mia-wasikowska-thats-a-big-deal).

The film cinematically retains an old world feel by using irises as a fade out almost episodically, quite like chapter ending in a book. This adds to the charm of the film.

Only Lovers Left Alive (2013) #SherylPuthur

OnlyLoversLeftAlive 1

Directed By: Jim Jarmusch

Written By: Jim Jarmusch

Cast:

Tilda Swinton – Eve

Tom Hiddleston – Adam

Mia Wasikowska – Ava

John Hurt – Christopher Marlowe

Anton Yelchin – Ian

Jeffrey Wright – Dr. Watson

Slimane Dazi – Bilal

Yasmine Hamdan – Yasmine

Language: English                                                                 Genre: Drama

 

Only Lovers Left Alive opens with an image of the night sky which slowly revolves into a gramophone record. The camera slowly spins, taking in Eve’s room (Tilda Swinton) in a circular fashion, and then Adam’s (Tom Hiddleston). The camera moves closer and as the song ends, they open their eyes because their day (our night) has begun.

The slow measured and lyrical pace of the opening sequence sets the stage for the film’s ambience. It reiterates the theme that they are vampires who have seen worlds come and go.

Jarmusch’s poetic tale of love tells the story of two vampires Adam and Eve, who have been married for centuries and hence believe in giving each other their space. Eve lives in Tangier and Adam in Detroit. They stay in touch in their own quaint way, which is telling of how they see the world. Eve is open to technology and hence uses an I-Phone whereas Adam has built his own communication system through outdated equipment.

Eve is adventurous and open to experiences. Her close friend is Kit (John Hurt), otherwise known as Christopher Marlowe who centuries ago staged his death and chose to continue writing. Some of his plays were attributed to his then contemporary Shakespeare. Kit considers Adam to be the prototype of Hamlet and tells Eve that if he had known him when he was writing it, it would have been perfect.

Adam, in contrast to Eve, is a recluse. He is an underground musician who influenced the careers of many artistes such as Schubert, whom he gave an adagio for a string quartet. He is a pack rat who collects instruments, creates music and conducts various experiments à la Tesla. He doesn’t like his music released and has a horror of crowds and too many people. So he procures his instruments through Ian (Anton Yelchin), a human who idolises him. He rarely steps out unless he needs to collect ‘good’ blood from Dr. Watson (Jeffrey Wright), who he meets dressed as a doctor with a face mask styling himself as Dr. Faust or Dr. Caligari (two interesting references).

Adam and Eve’s relationship is marked by old world charm, silent companionship and a fluidity of movements and thought that is beautiful. Their idea of small talk is philosophical conversations.

Adam’s despair at the ‘zombies’ or humans, is matched by Eve’s optimism. She has seen too much and for too long to be very depressed. But Adam’s tirade is a telling commentary on present society which he contrasts with his friends and the people he admires – Kafka, Tesla, Einstein, Schubert, Billie Holiday etc., who showed passion and involvement.

The dissonance in their relationship comes with the entry of Ava (Mia Wasikowska). Ava doesn’t understand their old world concerns and she is a threat to their carefully ordered world. Adam despises her for things she has done in the past and these are hinted upon.

The film is littered with literary puns and inter-textual references of music, film, philosophy, science and literature. It contemplates on the human race, art aesthetics, morality and the paradox of not wanting to live and living.

Beauty fades, but we want to possess it. Does living mean, loving too much and too fast because it cannot be held? Should we live in the moment and consider the consequences? Or should we be cautious about life? And most importantly, is morality and principles really important in the face of survival?

The film is a rich text that the viewer can luxuriate in. However, it will appeal most to someone who understands all the references. It is a postmodern film. After all, it makes Einstein’s Theory of Entanglement seem romantic –

“When you separate an entwined particle and you move both parts away from the other, even at opposite ends of the universe, if you alter or affect one, the other will be identically altered or affected.”

Five Minutes of Heaven (2009) #SherylPuthur

Five_Minutes_Of_Heaven_(2009)Directed By: Oliver Hirschbiegel

Written By: Guy Hibbert

Cast:

Mark Davison – Young Alistair

Kevin O’Neill – Young Joe

James Nesbitt – Adult Joe

Liam Neeson –Adult Alistair

Richard Dormer –Michael

Anamaria Marinca – Vika

Barry McEvoy – Joe’s Chauffeur

Richard Orr – Alistair’s Chauffeur

Language: English                                                          Genre: Drama; Thriller

Five Minutes of Heaven is a fictional account of what would happen if two people, whose only connection was an act of violence, were thrown together.

Alistair Little (Mark Davison) is a seventeen year old lad who has been influenced by the UVF (Ulster Volunteer Force) to do something drastic that will right the wrongs done to the Protestants of Ireland, by the Catholics.

The UVF is loyal to the British Crown and believes in the idea of the United Kingdom. The IRA (Irish Republican Army), which is manned by Irish Catholics, believes in an independent status for Ireland. Both groups have been responsible for much violence in Northern Ireland, which is referred to as ‘The Troubles’.

Under Little’s leadership, his friends plan to kill a young Catholic man James Griffen, who the UVF intends as a warning to the IRA. Little shoots him down while he’s at home and this is viewed by his 8 year old brother Joe Griffen (Kevin O’Neill). Joe is shell-shocked by the violence and Little is sentenced to twelve years in prison.

Fast forward many years, a reconciliation project attempts to facilitate a conversation between the two. Little (Liam Neeson) has been working at rehabilitating children who have been pushed into violence and seems self-possessed. Joe (James Nesbitt) on the other hand, is fidgety and nervous.

The car journey the two make separately are very telling. Joe’s Chauffeur (Barry McEvoy) is unsure of his passenger’s mental state. Joe makes him stop so that he can smoke a cigarette and he keeps making disjointed conversation, attempting to be jovial. He frequently steps back into unwanted memories related to the aftermath of his brother’s murder. Alistair’s Chauffeur (Richard Orr) makes polite and general conversation with Alistair who seems strangely emptied out. There is blankness to his features. It is like he has been deadened by all the violence he has seen.

Alistair consented to the meeting because he understands that he has no right to ask for forgiveness but that Joe has every right to want to personally confront him. However, Joe does not want reconciliation with someone who destroyed his life and family. He wants to kill Alistair and experience his “five minutes of heaven”. Both want closure. It’s just that they want it differently. Alistair probably wants retribution or some kind of understanding that the past has changed his present and he is now a different person. Joe, on the other hand, hasn’t left the past because the memory of his mother cursing him for not having done anything haunts him.

Is reconciliation really a possibility post such traumatic experiences? Does a perpetrator really have the right to ask for forgiveness? And what is the price of vengeance? The film throws up very importantly, how far we are willing to be swept away by ideals and beliefs and, how one can be seemingly sane at the face of such an event.

The deliberate movements of the camera, the editing and the pared down, raw acting throws up in relief all these emotions.

It is a brief film with quiet yet tense action broken by intense moments. A tightly wound script, it is an important take on the turbulence in Northern Ireland.

Kapoor and Sons (2016) #SherylPuthur

kapoor-sons

Directed By : Shakun Batra

Written By: Shakun Batra and Ayesha Devitre Dhillon

Cast:

Rishi Kapoor – Amarjeet Kapoor (Dadu)

Fawad Khan – Rahul Kapoor

Siddharth Malhotra – Arjun Kapoor

Ratna Pathak Shah – Sunita Kapoor

Rajat Kapoor – Harsh Kapoor

Alia Bhatt – Tia Malik

Sukant Goel – Wasim

Amarjeet – Plumber

Language: Hindi                                        Genre: Drama; Comedy; Romance

 

At the heart of Kapoor and Sons is the idea of family. The need for acceptance, validation and consolation, you require from your immediate family members. The Kapoor family is certainly dysfunctional but then every family is. It’s just a question of degree.

The characters may seem callous but it is the kind of indifference that sets into any kind of long-term relationship. Which is why when the characters see themselves at the receiving end of such indifference, they act out to gain attention. Be it Dadu (Rishi Kapoor) playing dead, Sunita (Ratna Pathak Shah) throwing tantrums because she feels rejected or Arjun (Siddharth Malhotra) storming out after a family feud.

Harsh (Rajat Kapoor) feels persecuted by his wife’s demands and alienates her even more – adding to her need to act out. However, it is Rahul (Fawad Khan) who tries to keep the family together. He acts the responsible adult when everyone else seems to be giving in to their infantile side. But he may be the one most splintered on the inside because of the secrets he has to keep.

In fact, as the story progresses, the characters get more and more unhinged, till the lines between their public appearances and private selves come dangerously close.

What keeps the film from becoming an absurdist, dark Pinteresque drama is the humour, warmth and the Indian melodrama. Honestly, the latter isn’t a Bollywoodisation rather an inherently cultural pattern, albeit sometimes exaggerated in cinema.

The catalyst of the film’s action is Dadu, whose heart attack brings the estranged sons – Rahul and Arjun home to Coonor. The two siblings have a complex relationship. Rahul is the successful novelist while Arjun is struggling to find his space as a writer while doing odd jobs. He is jealous of Rahul’s success and the obvious preference his parents seem to have for Rahul.

There are characters who try vainly to hold on to their safety cloaks of upright behaviour. In fact, the younger characters seem to shield their inner selves more than the older ones. Sunita and Harsh openly argue, even in front of the plumber (Amarjeet) who thinks it’s perfectly alright to comment on their argument. Dadu is too old to care about public opinions and sees no point in it. Which is why, he openly expresses his displeasure, inappropriate humour and so on.

Maybe, it’s because with your family you should be able to express the unsavoury aspects of your personality. There is also an interesting cast of side characters like Tia (Alia Bhatt), Wasim (Sukant Goel), his brother and others. Tia for instance is this bubbly girl who is fond of both brothers which considering their uneasy relationship is worrisome. She however, just like the other characters has another side to her personality that is not easily apparent.

The central motif of the film is the family photo that Dadu wants to take. He wants it be titled ‘Kapoor and Sons since 1921’ probably as a reminder that the family is still together. He wants everyone to be together, to be happy and to be present. However, when all players come together for the photo, things fall apart.

Obviously watch it for the performances by seasoned actors like Rishi Kapoor, Ratna Pathak Shah and Rajat Kapoor. Yet, the performance that stands out is Fawad Khan’s sensitively handled performance of the “perfect bachcha”. He carries the film and could very well find another nomination coming his way, preferably in the Best Actor category. The sibling dynamics are well-portrayed by the lead actors. They are convincing in how they fit into the moulds of older and younger siblings.

Therefore, one could say the psychological detailing of the script and the masterful direction keeps the narrative tight.