Palm Trees in the Snow (2015)

Directed By: Fernando Gonzalez Molina

Written By: Sergio G. Sanchez

Based on: Palmeras en la nieve by Luz Gabas

Cast:

Mario Casas – Killian

Adriana Ugarte – Clarence

Berta Vazquez – Bisila

Macarena Garcia – Julia

Alain Hernandez – Jacobo

Djedje Apali – Iniko

Laia Costa – Daniela

Language: Spanish                                                                

Genre: Romance; Drama; Violence

Palm Trees in the Snow is a 2015 Spanish feature film. With a backdrop of Equatorial Guinea during colonial times and the present, it follows a young woman’s search for her family’s story when they lived in Bioko, while working for the Spanish colonial enterprise. Going back and forth in time, it depicts Clarence’s (Adriana Ugarte) journey and the story of Killian (Mario Casas) and Bisila (Berta Vazquez).

Clarence is at the family estate for her father Jacobo’s funeral. With her uncle Killian suffering from dementia and her cousin Daniela (Laia Costa) taking care of him, it is left to her to sort through the family papers since they are considering selling off the family land.

In the course of looking through the papers, Clarence comes across a part of a letter that mentions a woman and child in Bioko who were receiving regular payments from her uncle. Considering the recent loss, Clarence decides to travel to Bioko to look for the people mentioned in the letter, and if they be relatives to bring them back.

The story then switches to the past, when Killian first joined his father Anton and his brother Jacobo (Alain Hernandez) at the colonial company. Naïve and idealistic, he is fascinated by everything around him but also quickly finds himself out of his depth.

Since the colonial machinery functions on violence and power, his soft attitude would be entirely useless and some in the company feel he needs to be remoulded. In fact, one of the overseers, Gregorio places a snake in Killian’s room and makes it so that one of the workers is suspected. The intention is to goad Killian into becoming a proper ‘Massa’ (master) – one who is unafraid of whipping the slaves when required. Killian does whip the slave but on realising what actually happened, he punches Gregorio. But the deed is done, and like it or not Killian gave into the idea that slaves can be whipped as punishment.

Most colonial narratives, in keeping with Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, make it seem like it is the colony’s fault that the white man becomes cruel and rapacious. However, here it is clear that it is the white man’s fear that he would be unable to maintain power unless he exercises it violently. The film, thus, does not shy away from displaying human brutality.

Killian and Bisila’s relationship is beautifully portrayed. It is obvious that they are besotted with each other and even if race comes to play in every other matter of their lives, it doesn’t colour their relationship. However, one has to wonder at her portrayal in the narrative, does it present something new about a character of colour or does it follow the general pattern? In fact, many characters of colour are reduced to physical roles and not roles of articulation.

The story also discusses the changing political landscape of Equatorial Guinea. In Killian and Bisila’s narrative there is the fight for independence from the colonial regime. Their move towards autonomy in many ways means violence against the colonial power structures. When Clarence goes to Bioko, it looks at a postcolonial space that rejects and is rather suspicious of the entry of the foreigner.

The film is realistic in its portrayal of power relations, in that the white man has authority over the plantation workers but is in many ways subjected to the rules of the colonial enterprise. Within the white system, he or she may actually access very little power. On the other hand, the workers may have positions of power in their traditional systems and yet be subservient to the white man. In this, there is an interesting character Simon, who is Killian’s houseboy and the future head of his village. When Clarence meets him, he refuses to speak the ‘colonial tongue’ because that’s an identity he has rejected. All in all, Palm Trees in the Snow much like the title looks at the dichotomies created in peoples’ lives through the brutality of colonialism.

Grimm TV Series (2011-2017)

Created By: Stephen Carpenter, Jim Kouf & David Greenwalt

Cast:

David Guintoli – Det. Nick Burkhardt

Silas Weir Mitchell – Munroe

Russell Hornsby – Det. Hank Griffin

Bitsie Tulloch – Juliette Silverton

Sasha Roiz – Captain Sean Renard

Reggie Lee – Sergeant Drew Wu

Bree Turner – Rosalee Calvert

Claire Coffee – Adalind Schade

Language: English                                                       

Genre: Fantasy; Police Procedural drama; Horror

Run Time: 43 minutes

Number of Seasons: Six (123 episodes)

The Grimm TV Series gives a new spin to the Brothers Grim fairytales. In the series, a Grimm is someone born with the ability to see Wesen (the German word for creature), even if they masquerade as humans.

As a descendant of the Grimms, Det. Nick Burkhardt (David Guintoli) not only possesses the ability to see Wesen but also enhanced strength and other abilities that set him apart from other humans. However, since he was brought up with no knowledge of his ancestry and works as a cop, he feels duty-bound to help people and has fewer of the prejudices common to his people.

His aunt’s re-entry into his life awakens his powers enabling him to see the true face of Wesen. At first he finds it disorienting and as a homicide detective begins to be suspicious of Wesen motives to strange murders.

In fact, Monroe (Silas Weir Mitchell), a Blutbad (wolf-like Wesen) whom he suspects of being a murderer, in turn accuses Nick of being one since he’s a Grimm. Interestingly, Monroe speaks of the alternate folktales Wesen tell about evil Grimms who hunt innocent Wesen children. This in many ways is a reminder that prejudices work both ways and could be dangerous.

His growing friendship with Monroe and other friendly Wesen keep him from viewing his world in the black and white manner of the Grimms. But the strange murders he and his human partner Det. Hank Griffin (Russell Hornsby) solve with the help of the cynical Sergeant Drew Wu (Reggie Lee) frequently have a Wesen angle to it, which he finds increasingly hard to keep to himself. Monroe becomes his unofficial partner because of Wesen involvement, along with occasional help from Rosalee (Bree Turner), a Wesen pharmacist.

His worlds – Human and Grimm clash more and more as the story progresses bringing the violence closer home to affect his long-term partner Juliette Silverton (Bitsie Tulloch) who gets drawn deeper and deeper into his world as seasons progress.

 What makes the series relatable is that it plays out real life concerns in this fantastical space – racial prejudice, white-supremacist attitudes, pure-blood fixations, political ambitions et cetera.

There are many enemies in the series, some join forces, some shift loyalties depending on who they are fighting. Some antagonists are closer home such as Captain Sean Renard (Sasha Roiz), Nick’s senior officer, who with the help of his hexenbiest (witch-like Wesen) partner Adalind Schade (Claire Coffee), is interested in controlling Grimm powers for his ambitions.

The series builds slowly with season 1 using familiar fairytales which midway through begins to be occasionally predictable. But if season 1 uses Red Riding Hood, Cinderella and other stories; season 2 broaden the scope by looking at fairytales from different cultures, making the episodes more complex.

What does not change however, is that the season cliff-hanger is revealed in literally the last two minutes of the final episode – every single season. So even if it seems predictable in season 1, the story takes an unimaginable turn at the penultimate moment.

There are many factions that come into play in the story and their involvement keeps building up making the threats of the story multi-faceted. There is a quest element to the story as well which adds to the suspense. With the characters classed as grey with no one being particularly good, including the main lead; the duality makes the characterisation realistic.

The final season is slightly rushed but much shorter than the previous season. It however ties up loose ends making it a compact narrative.

The Duke of Burgundy (2014)

Directed and Written By: Peter Strickland

Cast:

Sidse Babett Knudsen – Cynthia

Chiara D’Anna – Evelyn

Monica Swinn – Lorna

Eugenia Caruso – Dr.Fraxini

Fatma Mohamed – The Carpenter

Kata Bartsch – Dr. Lurida

Eszter Tompa – Dr. Viridana

Zita Kraszko – Dr. Schuller

Language: English                                                       

Genre: Drama; Romance

The Duke of Burgundy is a 2014 British romance drama. Set in an idyllic location, it opens with a long peaceful sequence of the countryside and of Evelyn (Chiara D’Anna) cycling past it leisurely. She stops by streams, observes everything around her and then makes her way to her place of work.

Evelyn works as a maid and apprentice at the house of a seemingly curt and imperious lepidopterist Cynthia (Sidse Babett Knudsen). Their interactions are discomfiting because there seems to be a very obvious attempt on Cynthia’s part to denigrate Evelyn. But, before you can give into that assumption, there is a realisation that laced into their interplay is a ritual of passion.

In fact, when the day to day sequences seem to repeat with very little change, and that Evelyn seems to be consciously getting late for work, one begins to see more into their relationship. It is with that awareness that the power dynamic shifts.

Unchanging, could be the most important motif in the film because even the title sequence freeze into darkroom photographs. Throughout the film there are similar recurring still images, such as that of butterflies and moths mounted. They are lovingly maintained but lifeless. It is the ritual of studying the species out of its environment and when it’s dead. This metaphor runs into the viewer’s understanding of Evelyn and Cynthia’s relationship.

The film has an all female cast including in the lecture segments. Strangely enough, there are female mannequins placed into that all female audience. Since it is a female only world, many beliefs about sexuality and gender are voided.

By stripping it of such assumptions, it explores the dynamics of a romantic relationship. Is control and power in the relationship easily apparent, even if plays out as dominant-submissive? What about the insecurities that seep into such an intimate spaces especially when there both different expectations as well as limitations? And, how far do you compromise to keep a connection?  

The Duke of Burgundy is a richly textured film be it sound (the haunting OST by Cat’s Eyes), or image. As a film that looks more at the emotional toll that’s probably inevitable in a non-platonic bond, it may not be the average titillating erotica some might expect.

The King: Eternal Monarch (2020)

Directed By: Baek Sang-hoon, Jung Ji-hyun, Yoo Je-won

Written By: Kim Eun-sook

Cast:

Lee Min-ho – Lee Gon

Kim Go-eun – Jeong Tae-ul/ Luna

Woo Doo-hwan – Jo Yeong/ Jo Eun-sup

Kim Kyung-nam – Kang Sin-jae

Jung Eun-chae – Koo Seo-ryung

Lee Jung-jin – Lee Lim

Language: Korean                                             

Genre: Sci-fi; thriller; romance

Number of Episodes: 16      

Run Time: 60 – 70 minutes

The King: Eternal Monarch is a 2020 South-Korean sci-fi romance drama. The story is set in two parallel worlds – the Kingdom of Correa and the Republic of Korea. There are similarities between the two worlds, enough to cause some confusion as to where the characters are, but with differences that stand out as cues to remind the viewers. Since the narrative is about parallel worlds, it goes into the convoluted region of time-travel and the paradox of time.

The doorways between the worlds open twenty-five years before the story begins, when the mythical flute Manpasikjeok is split in two. This tears the fabric of the worlds, upsetting the balance. Lee Gon (Lee Min-ho), the young king of the Kingdom of Correa possesses half the flute while the other half belongs to Lee Lim (Lee Jung-jin), the traitor who fled after his unsuccessful coup.

Armed with tangible clues as to the existence of a parallel world, Lee Gon stumbles onto the doorway in a bamboo forest, and his entry into the Republic leads him to meet Jeong Tae-ul (Kim Go-eun), the woman who might be tied to his past. Jeong Tae-ul is a no-nonsense police officer, whose life gets thrown into chaos with his entry.

The two parallel worlds are in many ways mirror images of each other with there being a doppelganger of each person in the other world. Their family names may be the same but their personalities, lives and experiences are not. The more that Lee Gon and Jeong Tae-ul learn about each other’s worlds, the more imbalanced it begins to seem – why are strange murders occurring all over the Republic of Korea? Why are certain doppelgangers being targeted? Is it possible that in this race for power, they may find their memories and their existence wiped out?

The series is tightly paced switching as required from suspense to romance to comedy especially in the encounter between the king’s bodyguard Jo Yeong (Woo Doo-hwan) and Tae-ul’s childhood friend Jo Eun-sup (Woo Doo-hwan) – who are doppelgangers with diametrically opposed personalities and who may have to step into each others’ lives.

The relationship of the two protagonists is maturely handled because they are world-weary, duty-bound and far less frivolous than the average k-drama couples. They are light-hearted too because early in their relationship they establish the possibility that time may not always be in their favour.

In keeping with the political intrigues that are a staple of every monarchy-based drama, the kingdom has its fair share of power politics especially with the presence of the shrewd and manipulative Prime Minister Koo (Jung Eun-chae), who aims to win over the king to keep herself in power. Unfortunately, most of the battles of the kingdom get fought on Republic’s soil. Many of the characters become pawns in this battle, such as Jeong Tae-ul’s senior in the Violent Crimes Division, Kang Sin-jae (Kim Kyung-nam) who finds himself increasingly forced to take sides in a fight that he got unwittingly drawn into.

The writer, in the course of the story, introduces us to the various trajectories that the time-crossed love story could take. By exploring the possible futures they could have, the viewers are brought to an alternate conclusion of the narrative.

The series has been criticised for its complicated plot but most of the plot twists fit within the framework of the time paradox. An event that occurs could be an interaction between a future self and a present self. The lack of memory of such incidents is well within time travel narratives. The similarity between the two worlds became an issue but it is the sameness and unfamiliarity that creates a space for a revisionist history. There have been other criticisms levelled some of which can be chalked to production errors and others to a lack of awareness of the current socio-political temper.

With a captivating OST that reverberates with longing, and a smart plot peppered with metaphors of time, it bridges the unexplained in science with magic.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

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.