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.

 

Fitoor (2016) #SherylPuthur

fitoor-trailer-postersDirected By: Abhishek Kapoor

Written By: Abhishek Kapoor; Supratik Sen

Cast:

Aditya Roy Kapur – Noor

Katrina Kaif – Firdaus

Tabu – Begum Hazrat

Mohammed Abrar – young Noor

Tunisha Sharma – young Firdaus

Rahul Bhat – Bilal

Akshay Oberoi – Mufti

Talat Azmi – Salman

Lara Dutta – Leena Becker

Rayees Mohi-ud-din – Junaid

Kunal Khyaan – Aarif

Khalida Jaan – Rukhsar

Ajay Devgan – Mirza Beg

Sameer Roy – young Salman

Language: Urdu; Hindi                                               Genre: Romance; Drama

Abhishek Kapoor’s adaptation of Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations is set in Kashmir. At first, it seems a cinematographic choice but slowly certain themes emerge. The desolate beauty of the landscape, the changes in the season and the almost painful need for beauty and freedom that the characters express comes to us through the land just as it does through the narrative.

Noor (Mohammed Abrar) meets Firdaus (Tunisha Sharma) when he accompanies his brother in-law Junaid (Rayees Mohi-ud-din) to Begum Hazrat’s (Tabu) mansion. For him she seems like a dream riding a horse, free, imperious. Their relationship from their first meeting emphasises the class divide. He is eventually made her playmate and it is increasingly apparent that he is obsessed with her. Begum Hazrat soon parts them and commands him to become worthy of Firdaus.

Years later, when Noor (Aditya Roy Kapur) is busy honing his skills at art, he receives an art scholarship from an unknown benefactor and has to move to Delhi. He knows from prior information that Fridaus (Katrina Kaif) is in Delhi as well. So he sees this as an opportunity to better his lot and inhabit her world.

What becomes central to this romance is the power play between the characters. Begum Hazrat, due to an ill-fated romance tries to take revenge on fate and people by playing Noor and Firdaus against each other. Firdaus, having been trained by her mother, is unpredictable in her affections towards Noor. And it is not just the control the two of them exert on him but ‘fate’ itself seems to be controlling him and forcing him to feel obliged for any baksheesh (alms/bribe) he receives.

Does the political situation actually figure in the story? It certainly has the socio-economic concerns of Dickens’ novel and strangely enough, the political implications of the land do figure.

Firdaus is to be married to Bilal (Rahul Bhat), the next governor in Pakistan. And this is where the line from the trailer enters – “Doodh maangoge toh Kheer denge, Kashmir maangoge toh cheer denge” – If you ask for milk, we will give you pudding, if you ask for Kashmir we will give you a thrashing.

Noor sees Fridaus as Kashmir – pure and beautiful. Then if Bilal is Pakistan, is he India? Or is he also Kashmir? He after all admits to be living in the past. Firdaus for him represents a way of life in Kashmir that is open only to those who have the wealth to remain unconstrained. But there is a fallacy in this, because Begum Hazrat controls Firdaus so everything has become tainted.

Most of the people Noor meets at Delhi are Kashmiri in origin. And while he feels slightly overwhelmed in the beginning with the grandeur, he fits in. If anything, it becomes his space. Aarif (Kunal Khyaan) does not wish to return to Kashmir and neither do most of the others because for all its beauty, they would choose freedom instead. Rather than hearing stories of a Kashmir that was liberal, they would rather live liberated lives.

Most of the characters live in the past. Begum Hazrat, unable to find closure, continues to live in a past of abandonment. Salman (Talat Azmi), Bilal’s father, also never forgets Hazrat who was once his fiancée despite the fact that she left him.

Having seen a previous adaptation of Great Expectations, there was personally no element of surprise but the film is nevertheless a good screen adaptation. All the characters were well cast; in fact, the younger selves of Noor, Firdaus, Hazrat (Aditi Rao Hydari) are uncannily perfect. Tabu in fact has the done the dubbing for Aditi Rao Hydari with probably some pitch modifications to sound younger. Thus it retains authenticity in the film. However, Ajay Devgan was wasted in the film. His character of Abel Magwitch in Great Expectations had so much more to it. And yet it just wasn’t explored in this film. He was downsized to a plot device. The ending of the film, is tame to put it mildly. The whole film expects the narrative to reach a satisfying crescendo and that does not happen.

The artwork and the cinematography were stirring; and the music and dialogues – poetic. The title Fitoor means obsession/ passion/ insanity and it is most apparent in Noor and Hazrat because the others hide it better. Yet it comes out in the restrained violence of Bilal; the longing in Salman and the loss in Junaid.

Note: I was pleasantly surprised to see a friend and fellow actor Sameer Roy in the film. He plays a small role, that of the young Salman, but it was great seeing him in Fitoor.

De-Lovely (2004) #SherylPuthur

de-lovely

Directed By: Irwin Winkler

Written By: Jay Cocks

Cast:

Kevin Kline – Cole Porter

Ashley Judd – Linda Lee Thomas/Porter

Jonathan Pryce – Angel Gabriel

Kevin McNally – Gerald Murphy

Sandra Nelson – Sara Murphy

Allan Corduner – Monty Woolley

Peter Jessop – Diaghilev

Peter Polycarpou – Louis B. Mayer

Keith Allen – Irving Berlin

Language: English                                                            Genre: Musical Biopic

 

The scene opens and it looks suspiciously like a stage production, the lights slowly coming on, one after the other, to reveal an old man seated near a piano. Another person, dressed in a suit calls him out and he wheels himself out. The man now seated near the piano ready to play the music is Cole Porter and we realise that the old man in the wheelchair was Cole Porter as well.

De-Lovely is a musical biography on Cole Porter that portrays his life, marriage, other relationships both professional and personal, and his career alongside his music. We see Cole Porter (Kevin Kline) meeting Linda Lee (Ashley Judd) and deciding to marry. There’s was an advantageous marriage because Linda, much like a manager does everything to promote his career. She believes implicitly in his music and his music’s ability to move people. She also uses the trajectory of his career to take him away from relationships she does not approve.

It is a strange portrait of a marriage, the usual ups and downs but also their rather particularly different dynamics, with his interest in men and her tacit acknowledgment of it. She wants him to be discreet but he is too flamboyant in his affections. Yet he cares deeply for her and she is in many ways central to his music.

The film is like a meta-narrative with the older Cole Porter feeling the need to portray things differently or finding the act of watching his life played out before him too disturbing. The director – Angel Gabriel (Jonathan Pryce) however, categorically tells him that he cannot interfere because his story will be reinterpreted based on what others feel. Also, once a story is in the public domain (and sometimes even when it’s not) one can take artistic liberties with a narrative. This is true of the film and every biopic.

However, while making the biography a review by the older self of the real-life persona is a refreshing take, it makes it hard for the viewer to relate to the characters on the screen because of the alienating effect of seeing the older Cole Porter questioning his life. It is nevertheless, more realistic in its portrayal than his contemporaries who romanticised his story. In fact, there is a scene in the film wherein Cole and Linda watch a private screening of Night and Day and wryly comment on how sugary a portrayal it is and yet how it is flattering to have yourself immortalised as Cary Grant.

One must also remember Brecht who spoke about how the alienation effect in theatre was necessary to keep the audience from being sucked into the story. Instead, they should reason and question what they are seeing. So also here, while watching De-Lovely one can’t help but ponder over their relationship and wonder why Cole and Linda chose to be with each other. It is thus a unique portrayal of a person’s life through their own eyes and their music.

De-Lovely has Cole Porter’s music performed by contemporary singers who play the role of club singers and actors in his productions, it shows how contemporary and popular his music still is.

A special mention: the make-up. It is very realistically done and shows the aging of the characters really well.

The Danish Girl (2015) #SherylPuthur

danish girl

Directed By: Tom Hooper

Written By: David Ebershoff; Lucinda Coxon

Cast:

Eddie Redmayne – Lili Elbe/ Einar Wegener

Alicia Vikander – Gerda Wegener

Matthias Schoenaerts – Hans Axgil

Ben Whishaw – Henrik

Amber Heard – Ulla

Sebastian Koch – Dr. Warnekros

Language: English                                                   Genre: Biographical Drama

 

The film opens with the hauntingly empty yet darkly green Danish landscape. A series of lonely yet similar trees mark the spot and later feature in varying moods in the paintings of Einar Wegener (Eddie Redmayne). His wife Gerda (Alicia Vikander) on the other hand, finds it astonishing that he can paint the same landscape over and over again. She prefers painting portraits. Whatever they choose however, is revelatory of how they see; either introspective or else the female gaze.

Painting is the central motif of the film. It is also a metaphor of creation and storytelling. Just like how two colours are mixed on a palette to create a new colour and how a dab of fresh paint can be fused into a painting – the story similarly unfolds, slowly, deftly, leading to that moment of poignant awareness that you have grasped what the narrative is about.

Einar poses for his wife in stockings, holding a dress against his body because her model failed to turn up. For Einar, it is a strange sensation to watch how the clothes feel so beautiful against his skin. What starts as just a momentary experience becomes more and more the centre of their marriage. He secretly wears his wife’s nightdress and while perturbed, she encourages his exploration of sexuality by taking on a dominant and supposedly masculine role in their lovemaking. The female Einar – Lili Elbe, who Gerda introduces as Einar’s cousin begins to step into the public space more often. Then the barriers separating the private space from the public space, begin to come crashing down.

The ebb and flow of the narrative – the growing consciousness and the crashing reality is accompanied by Alexandre Desplat’s music which lends it a stirring quality like breakers on a desolate yet verdant coast.

The film portrays a different idea of marriage and poses a hard question – can you love someone so much that you would be willing to aid them in their journey of self-awareness, even it if erases you?

Alicia Vikander gives a powerfully moving portrayal of a woman who supports her husband’s need to be a woman even though as she puts it she “needs her husband…and I need to hold my husband.” Eddie Redmayne as Einar/Lili is devastatingly vulnerable in his exploration of the psyche of a person who realises that they are not living their true self. The film may seem lengthy to some and probably melodramatic in its portrayal but it is still a powerful exploration of identity and sexuality.

Sexuality is a misunderstood concept even today, though the very real possibility of being forcibly locked up because you’re a threat does not exist anymore.

The Danish Girl portrays how people are quick to classify something as abnormal and then attempt to suppress it, even harshly if required. It brings out also, the fragility of our identities. How a certain kind of realisation can change how we perceive things and how we are perceived. For instance, Einar in the beginning, dressed as a man walking out, is not noticed, but a slightly feminised version of his attire and mannerisms leads him to be assaulted on the streets. But what has been acknowledged in the narrative is the role of people like Hans (Matthias Schoenaerts), Ulla (Amber Heard) and Henrik (Ben Whishaw) who are sympathetic of another’s exploration probably out of an understanding of their frailty.

The unsettling question is how far have we chosen our own identity and how far would we take that exploration?

Related text: Kathleen Winter – Annabel

Wazir (2016) #SherylPuthur

wazir

Directed By: Bejoy Nambiar

Written By: Vidhu Vinod Chopra; Abhijat Joshi

Cast:

Farhan Akhtar – Danish Ali

Amitabh Bachchan – Pandit Omkarnath Dhar

Aditi Rao Hydari – Ruhana Ali

Manav Kaul – Yazaad Qureshi

Anjum Sharma – Sartaj

Neil Nitin Mukesh – Wazir

John Abraham – S. P.

Language: Hindi                                                                  Genre: Action Thriller

Wazir is an action thriller based on a story by Vidhu Vinod Chopra. Set in Delhi but tied up with Kashmir, the film follows an ATS officer Danish Ali (Farhan Akhtar) as he tries to uncover the links between a terrorist organisation and the politician who is secretly funding them. Things very soon spiral out of control and professional pursuits become personal vendettas when his daughter dies in the crossfire. Estranged from his wife Ruhana (Aditi Rao Hydari) and debilitated by grief, he befriends a wheelchair bound chess master Pandit Omkarnath Dhar (Amitabh Bachchan).

Chess is central to the narrative and the metaphors of chess colour every aspect of it. The scenes where the, at first detached Danish is defeated by five year olds are fun to watch. They are a pressure-valve from the rather dark narrative. While these chess games make Danish and Omkar close friends, they also create an empathetic space wherein both seek understanding and closure as fathers because they are beset by a sense of impotence due to fate’s manipulations.

The film is a meta-narrative; a story within a story or maybe many stories because every character seems to be presenting a story and strangely enough each story is like a move in a chess game – calculated. The characters then become like pieces on a chess board, some also try to be the players. A little fore knowledge of chess may make certain things apparent like how the Elephant can by castling defend the King or how the Wazir (Bishop) can take on the powers of a Queen. Deciphering this make it something to chew on.

One has to draw parallels with Suniel Shetty’s character in Main Hoon Na who says something to the effect of ‘all wars are personal’ – this is central to the film.

However, an analogy for the film is that of the soufflé that didn’t rise. It is delectable and most would devour their portions but it lacks something. A short story is a tightly packed narrative and since a film cannot be so compact, it needs to be more expansive. Yet at times the film needlessly explains itself. That makes it a little tedious to a viewer.

The cinematography is beautiful but the editing could have been tighter. John Abraham’s character is wasted in the film but Sartaj (Anjum Sharma) forms a good foil to Danish’s impetuosity. Danish is a problematic character because he charges blindly into a situation and his reaction at the penultimate moment of the film is incongruous in terms of human behaviour. This could be seen as a flaw in the narrative structure.

The characters are on the whole well-crafted with Omkarnath Dhar standing out as the showman and Yazaad Qureshi (Manav Kaul) as a pivotal character. A scene that is testament to Kaul’s abilities is when he calmly sits down and rolls up his sleeves, all the while keeping a civilised appearance and calmly questioning his daughter. It leaves a knot in the stomach that threatens to overwhelm the viewer’s composure.

Bajirao Mastani (2015) #SherylPuthur

 

Bajirao-Mastani-wallpaper-3

Directed By: Sanjay Leela Bhansali

Written By: Prakash Kapadia

Cast:

Ranveer Singh – Bajirao I

Priyanka Chopra – Kashibai

Deepika Padukone – Mastani

Tanvi Azmi – Radhabai

Vaibbhav Tatwawdi – Chimaji Apa

Milind Soman – Pant

Aditya Pancholi – Pratinidhi

Ayush Tandon – Nanasaheb/ Balaji Bajirao

Mahesh Manjrekar – Chhattrapati Shahu

Irrfan Khan – Narrator

Language: Hindi; Marathi                       Genre: Action; Romance; Drama

Bhansali’s Bajirao Mastani is a true love story of epic dimensions brought out from the shadows to which history has confined it to appease powerful yet blinkered mindsets.

Bajirao (Ranveer Singh) is a young warrior of an illustrious lineage who is elected to the office of Peshwa in the Maratha Empire despite his youth, because of his breadth of vision and intelligence. Willing to take risks and making impulsive decisions, he embarks on several successful military campaigns. While not accompanied by his wife Kashibai (Priyanka Chopra), her devotion to him is his strength.

It is the impulsive campaign to Bundelkhand that brings Bajirao face to face with Mastani (Deepika Padukone), a princess of Bundelkhand. He falls in love with her but realises that a union between them is unlikely so he returns, pushing away thoughts of her. Mastani, however, takes a particular act of his as a sign and follows him to Pune. It is here that all the subterfuge against this unacceptable union begins. It is helmed by Bajirao’s mother Radhabai (Tanvi Azmi) and her son Chimaji Apa (Vaibbhav Tatwawdi).

It is almost frightening to witness how fanatical people can be about ritual purity, religion and the ilk. It is ironical too because the people oppose the Mughal Empire and Muslims but use Urdu-influenced Hindi in official and personal contexts. A significant line in this context is by Bajirao when he said (it’s not a verbatim quote) that yes he fights against the Mughal Empire because he is against them and what they do, not their religion. This is a telling statement in the current socio-political situation as people get blindsided by belief systems that have almost hypnotic qualities. The film is thus subtly critical of the times.

However, what was a letdown is that film focuses on the interior intrigues of Shaniwar Wada (Peshwa’s house) as opposed to the Maratha Empire. The character of the Pratinidhi (Aditya Pancholi) thus becomes a little underused because there were many political intrigues that involved the Peshwa and him in opposing factions.

Strangely enough, for a movie titled Bajirao Mastani, Mastani seems to be in the shadows and Kashibai is much more prominent. The filmmaker is sympathetic to Kashibai’s plight because she is the simple-hearted woman who finds her faith in Bajirao shattered by the entry of another woman. She believed that he could never do anything wrong and was a moral, upright man. One of the opening sequences, show her in conversation with her friend whose husband was executed by Bajirao for spying against him. It is Kashibai’s vehement refusal to accept any slight against her husband that makes the scene poignant.

It is then fitting, that a woman like Mastani, whose story has frequently been the focus of erasure or sidelining by forces then and now, should still be cloaked in mystery. Bajirao-Mastani’s love story is affecting because even if the orthodox society of his times chose to see her as his mistress, he saw her as his lawfully wedded wife and did everything to give her and their son, equal rights. Their love story in the film hasn’t been given much time to develop, say unlike the romance in Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam. This could be a bit of disappointment but then again, it is a film for the 21st century audience.

Interestingly, the film posters give the first clues about the portrayals in the film – the left side of any image is seen as less eye-catching because generally humans see the right side as more dominant. So it is appropriate then that Kashibai is to the left of the viewer, however, her image is more forward-positioned. Mastani is appropriately to the right, yet her image is withdrawn from the viewer’s gaze. Bajirao’s is a centred image, very squarely placed – like someone whose position in history cannot be shaken.

Bajirao’s relationship with Kashibai is eloquently played out by the actors. Their marriage is based on friendly camaraderie and shared confidences. Nevertheless, their intimacy plays out in a rather traditional manner with Kashibai being the recipient of her husband’s desire. On the other hand, Mastani, probably because of her experiences as a warrior, is more straightforward about her feelings and passionate in her expression.

The film performance-wise and casting-wise is impeccable. The casting of Milind Soman as Pant was a refreshing change and his interactions with Bajirao have a drawing power to them. Even the interactions between Radhabai and Kashibai are noteworthy and reveal the extent of their filial devotion. All the characters hold their own in the narrative.

And it is Ranveer Singh’s finest performance to date. He is Peshwa Bajirao in every frame, though the song Malhari is a little discomfiting.  It is a great listen but if he was Bajirao in every frame, in this song he was more of a controlled Ranveer Singh. Pinga however, is actually brilliant, so pay close attention to the lyrics.

A film made for modern audiences; it may seem slightly fast-paced in terms of narrative but still possesses a well-meshed screenplay and flawless camera-work with all the grandeur of a Bhansali film.

Tamasha (2015) #SherylPuthur

tamasha_144282729100

Directed By: Imtiaz Ali

Written By: Imtiaz Ali

Cast:

Ranbir Kapoor – Ved Vardhan Sahni

Deepika Padukone – Tara Maheshwari

Javed Sheikh – Ved’s father

Vivek Mushran – Ved’s Boss

Language: Hindi                                                            Genre: Romance; Drama

Tamasha (Spectacle) refers to the local folk performances of popular oral narratives either from the epics, religious texts or popular ballads. This is a tradition by no means unique to India as every country possesses a tradition of local theatrical performances. These performances work on the fore knowledge of the audience and frequently include artistic deviations.

Imtiaz Ali’s Tamasha has these local performances strewn through the film (both Indian and foreign, such as in Corsica there is a local procession). Performance and spectacle is central to the film, interestingly, even in human relationships. What is appropriate behaviour and how should you project yourself in a socially accepted manner.

The film follows Ved (Ranbir Kapoor) who grows up with an understanding that there are two lives to live – one the socially accepted life and the secret pulsating life of dreams. As a child Ved, visits the local storyteller to be transported into a world of fantasy.

So when he meets Tara (Deepika Padukone) for the first time at Corsica, he tries to live his ‘once upon a time’ moment – an escapist fantasy, by projecting his imagined idea of himself. So they decide not to tell each other the truth of their identity, he introduces himself as Don and she is Mona Darling. They spend a few days in Corsica and decide never to meet again. Tara however, cannot get over him and eventually searches him out. But now he turns out to be the anti-thesis of everything Don was. She rejects him and everything spirals out of control.

Like Imtiaz Ali’s Rockstar, this too is a ‘finding yourself’ narrative and as in both the focus is on the male character. The female character is exuberant and holds a commanding presence on the screen but ultimately is just the muse or the catalyst that sends them on a journey which has destructive consequences but is eventually creative in expression.

The storytelling is riveting and replete with popular culture references. Such as Catch-22 – this is significant, because a catch-22 situation is what underlies Ved’s dilemma.

The performances are compelling much like the narrative with both actors giving mature performances. A special mention – Ranbir Kapoor presents with frightening intensity the cracking up of an invisible character (in fact, a very Fightclub moment does exist in the film). If he in the future chose the role of a psychopath/sociopath – it would be chilling. However, in comparison to earlier films, there is a drop in the exuberant energy that had become almost synonymous with his performance. Deepika on the other hand, has scaled heights as an actor. Coming so close on the heels of Piku, her performance has a riveting fluidity to it.

Certain sequences in the film were too contrived. The segment in Corsica for instance, was at its worst – unfunny, and the scene between Ved and his father (Javed Sheikh) – unbelievable. The song Agar Tum Saath Ho was moving, with Deepika’s performance leaving you with a tightening sensation in your chest. Strangely though, others in that space do not react to their rather vocal argument which wasn’t very logical but I would like to assume Ali crafted the scene to emphasise the alienation in society.

While absorbing, the storytelling does lose out in the editing, making the screenplay haphazard. Something I found even in Rockstar which makes the story a little scattered.

Do stay to watch the credits to the end because Imtiaz Ali gives a beautiful tribute to the various performers by having the cast list begin with the names of the dancers, musicians etc who are so central to the narrative. To me, that was outstanding.

 

Centurion (2010) #SherylPuthur

Centurion

Directed By: Neil Marshall

Written By: Neil Marshall

Cast:

Michael Fassbender – Quintas Dias

Olga Kurylenko – Etain

Dominic West – Titus Flavius Virilus

Liam Cunningham – Ubriculius

David Morrissey – Bothos

J J Feild – Thax

Ulrich Thomsen – Gorlacon

Noel Clarke – Macros

Riz Ahmed – Tarak

Dimitri Leonidas – Leonidas

Imogen Poots – Arianne

Paul Freeman – Gnaeus Julius Agricola

Language: English and Gaelic   Genre: Historical, Action-war; Thriller

Centurion is a 2010 British action thriller war movie set in Scotland during the time of the Roman occupation of the British Isles. Rome had already conquered England and Wales and was trying hard to bring Scotland under them. The film focuses on the Ninth Legion whose fate is still unknown or unclear, giving an alternative reading to the story.

Stories have circulated about the fate of the missing Ninth Legion. Some scholars believe it happened on the main continent of Europe while fighting off a warring tribe, others that it was the Jews who routed them. But most scholars feel it may have happened on the British Isles while fighting off the Picts. The Picts were the ancient inhabitants of Scotland and were called Picti (painted people) by the Romans because they painted their faces, especially before war.

The film is from the perspective of a Roman centurion Quintas Dias (Michael Fassbender) whose garrison was ambushed and destroyed by the Pictish warriors, leaving him the sole survivor. Dias is tortured for information by Gorlacon (Ulrich Thomsen) a Pictish leader because he spoke the Pictish language.  He refuses to help them and escapes captivity seeking refuge with the Ninth Legion under General Titus Flavius Virilus (Dominic West).

Governor Agricola (Paul Freeman) wants the Ninth Legion to take some decisive action against the Picts and asks Virilus to make use of the skills of Etain (Olga Kurylenko), a Celtic Brigantian who can lead them into Pictish territory. They, however, are ambushed by the Picts. The end result – Virilus is taken captive.

The seven survivors of the ambush – Dias, Ubriculius (Liam Cunningham), Bothos (David Morrissey), Thax (J J Feild), Macros (Noel Clarke), Tarak (Riz Ahmed) and Leonidas (Dimitri Leonidas) decide to sneak into the Pictish village and rescue Virilus. What adds a trying measure of responsibility and guilt on Dias is the promise that Virilus demands of him. It is this journey, of fulfilling the promise and reaching to safety, fraught with danger and sure death that dominates the rest of film.

The film shows how the ruling faction – the Romans, is reduced to being the chased and the hunted. They are shown slowly descending into unethical behaviour just to survive, breaking whatever codes of honour they were expected to follow. Yet Dias does emerge as a throwback figure to the old order of chivalry, the ‘I give you my word’ kind of honour.

Etain on the other hand, comes across as a formidable opponent – a tracker and a hunter, she inspires fear yet plays an ambiguous role in the narrative making her a character you also sympathise with.

The Picts too have their flaws. It is in the character of Arianne (Imogen Poots) that it becomes most apparent. She is branded as a witch by Gorlacon, scarred and then made an outcast.

The film does not present one side as villains and another as the heroes but tries to present both sides as violent and sometimes, justified.

The engaging aspect of the movie is that the Picts are not projected as this barbaric tribe but given a voice to express their struggle against the foreign invaders – which is an alternative view to Roman Britain.  The general opinion projected about the Roman Empire in Britain has always been about pride in its still existing symbols like the holiday spot Bath for instance. This then highlights the resentment that probably still exists in Britain about the subjugation by the Romans.

There is much violence and gore in the film – torture scenes, decapitated heads but the spurts of blood seem more video game-like and hence not very realistic. Nevertheless, the violence is a little startling.

Centurion may have taken liberties with actual history, presenting characters that may have not actually been there during the time period of the story (Agricola). Also it may have not given much of a curve to the characters but it does seem realistic as opposed to The Last Legion which fused the Arthurian legend into the fate of the Ninth Legion making it supernatural and a tad bit unbelievable.

 

Shirley Valentine (1989) #SherylPuthur

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Directed By: Lewis Gilbert

Written By: Willy Russell

Cast:

Pauline Collins – Shirley Valentine-Bradshaw

Tom Conti – Costas Dimitriades

Julia McKenzie – Gillian

Alison Steadman – Jane

Joanna Lumley – Marjorie Majors

Sylvia Syms – Headmistress

Bernard Hill – Joe Bradshaw

Tracie Bennett – Millandra Bradshaw

Gareth Jefferson – Brian Bradshaw

Gillian Kearney – young Shirley

Catherine Duncan – young Marjorie

Language: English                                   Genre: Romantic-Comedy; Drama

 

The interesting thing about Shirley Valentine is that it overturns the stock terms used to describe the genre and theme of the film – romantic comedy about a bored housewife who goes on a holiday to Greece and rediscovers herself; love and life. This description would be too simplistic.

The romance in this film isn’t about Shirley (Pauline Collins) being enamoured by the Greek bar owner Costas (Tom Conti) who helps her rediscover pleasure but it goes back to a far older and poetic meaning of romance or otherwise known as romanticism.

The Illustrated Dictionary of Essential Knowledge defines romanticism by saying it “stressed the value of personal emotion and imagination and freedom from the strict rules of form…” (72). It also laid emphasis on man’s, “innate powers of creativity, his spontaneity and his relationship with the natural world” (145).

When looked at from this lens, the film isn’t about a bored housewife (two words that carry its fair share of connotations) but about a woman who has given up on herself. Shirley is someone who has judged herself to be irrelevant or just a fixture in the house because she is in her eyes, a failure.

Her days are spent talking to the kitchen wall or ‘The Wall’ because there is no one else she can confide in. Making her husband Joe’s (Bernard Hill) routine dishes for tea is the other exciting diversion of her life.

The older Shirley also carries baggage from her high school days of not measuring up to the exacting standards of the headmistress (Sylvia Syms) who believed that the young Shirley (Gillian Kearney) was incapable of amounting to anything.  She felt unfairly compared to the school’s ‘perfect girl’ Marjorie Majors (Catherine Duncan).

However, a chance meeting with an older Marjorie Majors (Joanna Lumley) makes her realise that she does not the live the glamorous life Shirley assumed she would. And when Marjorie confesses that she envied her at school, it comes as a surprise to Shirley that a nonentity like her could be envied.  One realises that people love making assumptions about themselves, situations and others so the first step to rediscovery comes from breaking them.

The film shows that while visiting an exotic location for a holiday may be romantic, living there day-in and day-out takes some of the romance away. But the point of Shirley staying at Greece was not about an exotic experience alone but as a new take on life.  So doing even mundane activities like talking to ‘the wall’ or making chip and eggs for ‘unwilling to experiment’ British tourists are still charming.

A scene that was both hilarious and warm was when Joe begins talking to the wall. You notice a man who was once willing to experiment but responsibilities made him choose stability instead. Now when external circumstances force him to reconsider, it is with a sudden awareness that he is actually lonely and has been so for so long. So he converses with the wall to retain a connection with Shirley.

The reactions of her children add to the drama of the narrative but what takes it forward is her self-righteous neighbour Gillian’s (Julia McKenzie) open-hearted support of Shirley’s decision to take her life in her hands. It is moving to see the honest appreciation and the vicarious longing behind her action of gifting a silk robe.

By turns droll and stirring, the film is an honest and ordinary woman’s decision to fall in love with life. Not as a mother, or a wife or a lover but as Shirley Valentine. It falls within that special bracket of films about women who strike out on their own, either by choice or circumstance such as English Vinglish, Queen, Under the Tuscan Sun – to accept the changes in themselves; without guilt.

Special mention: the script – unemotional, funny yet warm it conveys a woman’s journey without the usual clichés of travel romances.