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.

 

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.