Fly away… Kites

July 26, 2010 at 6:15 am (Uncategorized)

Oh Anurag Basu, what have you done? Your fans are going to cry that you sold out, that you wasted such an extensive canvas and a limitless budget to come up with such an end product. Kites was supposed to be the first truly international Bollywood movie, shot extensively in English (and Spanish) and with a large motley crew of internationally reputed technicians. It is hard to come out with a clear verdict though. The movie is an out and out masala movie and it delivers enough for you to not emand your money back. But does it leave a lasting impression? Unlikely.

Kites is more like a Mexican telenovela or closer home, a K(or double K) TV series. You know it is emotional crap, but you are hooked on to it. You don’t really miss it when it’s gone, but while it is there on your screen, you are hooked. The script is nothing to write home about, it is your familiar boy-meets-girl, overcomes odds, live/die happily ever after. Basu and the Roshans play to the gallery, with an over-the top love story between the Indian J (Hrithik Roshan) and the Mexican Linda (Barbara Mori). J and Linda epitomize the American dream, looking for that quick fix way to attain the pinnacle of financial success. But when their love comes in the way, they choose love over their aspirations (of course!!!). In doing so, they acerbate a powerful casino family in Las Vegas and the rest of the movie meanders from some really tepid chase sequences to some outstanding ones.

“Love has no language barrier” is the central theme, but ironically, the language gap between the lead characters is the biggest drawback of the movie. The second half, in which J and Linda are on the run by themselves, is quite a bore, with the characters struggling to strike a chemistry. This is quite in contrast to the first half, when Hrithik and Barbara light the screen on fire, with some fluid dance numbers, some excellent cinematography by Ayananka Bose and quite frankly, the hot toned bodies of J and Linda. Not quite the oomph of Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze in Dirty Dancing or even the romantic charm of DiCaprio and Kate Winslet in Titanic, but close. Kangana Ranaut is in a completely forgettable piecemeal of a role.

Basu does show moments of brilliance – the fight sequence in the end is shot in visually captivating darkness and rain and the end is all silence, as he tries to move away from the clichéd magnanimous dialogues of Bollywood films. I think this actually captures where the filmmakers went wrong. They were torn between doing an out and out Bollywood movie and a slick Hollywood movie. The end product is somewhere in the middle and there is your problem. It is not a path breaking movie, neither an embodiment of entertainment and regalement.

The crisp photography cannot make up for the horrendous acting performances. It has to be one of the worst acting performances by Hrithik. The moment the poor guy opens his mouth in this movie, it seems his left and right cerebral hemispheres are slugging it out to decide whether he should have an Indian accent or an Indian American accent. It’s all hunky dory when he has to just show up, flex his muscles, twitch his moustache or step on the dance floor. But this is no musical, where the audience is 60 feet away from you, and you can get away with it. Mori, seems to lose her radiance whenever she launches into a Spanish tirade. I am sure the Mexicans will be offended when they see her blabber away. Yeah right, that is how we speak in daily life too.

With the majority of dialogue in English, it is unlikely that there would have been a mass audience for this movie in India, and with no elaborate wedding scenes to appeal to the American or European population, Kites shall remain limited to the metropolis in India and the NRI population. So much for an international appeal (though this does cover more than 800 million people). As for you Mr. Basu, enjoy that fat paycheck. Given the 20 million USD budget, don’t expect any bonus payments.

Genre: Romance

Rating: Yawwnnnnnnnnn

Go watch it with: Your better (or worse) half

Go watch it for: Some lessons in dance




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A Dream within a Dream

July 25, 2010 at 8:18 am (Uncategorized)

It was sometime in the late 90’s that The Tribune started a column where people’s dreams were analyzed. It ranged from the completely mundane  (“Your dream about snakes represent that you fear something”) to some more complex analysis. Soon, the column became a rage and a water cooler discussion. The human kind has been obsessed with dreams and the messages contained within them. Possibly since Inception (I, of course, refer to the inception of homo sapiens and not the Nolan classic). Not surprisingly, it has also been a favorite with the filmmakers. Though there are very few films that deal with dreams as a theme or topic, dream sequences are often used as an escape from reality.

Belle de Jour tries to explore dreams as an avenue for human fantasy. Belle de Jour was initially produced in France in 1967, but has attracted a lot of attention after Martin Scorsese promoted a DVD release in 2002. Luis Bunuel, regarded by many as the best director of his era, is in charge of the reins of the camera for this movie. There have been a slew of movies dealing with dual identity, but 40 years back, this was still a relatively unexplored theme. The 60’s would always be remembered as a decade marked with sexual rebellion, so it is not a surprise that BDJ deals with a dual sexual identity.

The opening scene itself sets the tone for the rest of the movie. Severine and her husband Pierre have a minor tiff and Pierre orders Severine to be flogged. To his horror, Severine begins to enjoy the flogging and he orders the flogging to stop. Very abruptly, the movie cuts to a scene of Severine sleeping. The audience is yet to recover from the shock of realizing that this was a dream, that they realize (Pierre and Severine, who have been married less than a year, are shown to sleep on separate beds) all is not well with the couple. Pierre is shown as a rich, caring and loving husband but despite his repeated overtures, Severine maintains a distance.

Severine is disgusted, yet fascinated, when she hears that one of her friends has joined a whorehouse. As a hesitant Severine turns into a day-time prostitute (Belle de Jour), she belies all the traditional reasons women resort to prostitution. She has money, a loving husband and no clear reason to join a whorehouse. The director risks raising the ire of the common man, to whom prostitution is a trade you are forced into. But this also forces the audience to question its own ethos. BDJ portrays some really twisted clientèle, poking fun at the morals of the bourgeois satirically.

Severine tries to find reason within herself for her actions, but ultimately rationalizing that it was the friend who was responsible for forcing her into this. Through her dreams, we see a galaxy of Severine’s emotions culminating in a scene where she sees Pierre throw mud at her just after he has seen two bulls called remorse and expiation.

Catherine Denevue, as Severine, is the standout performance of the movie. Her transformation from a nervous, classy, elegant housewife to a a questioning and catechizing woman, wonderfully depicts the strange mixture of seduction and repulsion that prostitution holds for a woman in her position. The director, by the end of the movie, makes you wonder if the entire movie was Severine’s dream, an outlet for her hidden fantasies, a description of her desire to flirt with danger, a mean to escape her solitude and loneliness?

The film lacks crisp editing and can be a bit repetitive in the middle. However, for its time, this must have broken so many glass ceilings in terms of the issues it touches upon. The society was still controlled by the upper class and the masochistic and  sexual fantasies played out by Severine in her fantasies and with her clientèle, would  have required guts to depict on the silver screen. However, the movie was clearly not made for the masses and was targeted at an art cinema festival audience.

Genre: Drama

Rating: They’ve got something here

Go watch it with: Your local film critic

Go watch it for: Catherine’s acting, Fresh perspective on prostitution

Belle de Jour

Belle de Jour

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Old Boy ushers in New Era

July 24, 2010 at 12:34 pm (Uncategorized)

Slick editing, slick editing, slick editing. Just as cricket coaches try and ingrain  “ground the bat” in batsmen, “slick editing” should be the Moolmantra for film makers. And if they ever wanted a lesson in editing ingenuity, OLDBOY, is the chef d’oeuvre in this field.

Infact, this masterful 2003 Korean cinematic piece, directed by Park Chan-wook, is much more than just a slickly edited film. Marvelous storytelling technique, that keeps you perched on the edge of your seats, even as it flips in and out of the present, great acting performances and themes that make you question the very ethos of the human kind.

The film begins with a man holding the arm of another man, who hangs precariously over the edge of a building. The man wants to tell a story, as his desperation to be heard, is hard to figure out from the emotionless face. As the man begins to tell his story, the movie cuts to 15 years back, when a drunken man (Oh Dae-su), disappears as his friend attends a call. Dae-su wakes up to find himself in a hotel room, with no exits, except a narrow slot through which he is fed fried dumplings for each meal. Every now and then, a mysterious gas enters the room and puts Dae-su to sleep.

The time spent by Dae-su inside the hotel room, is probably the most amazing sequence of the entire movie. Dae-su seems to undergo the five stages of grief- denying that this is happening to him, trying to fight his way out with the captors, trying to negotiate his way out, going silent for months together and finally indulging in rigorous physical training to prepare himself for revenge, when he is out. He learns during his stay, that his wife was murdered, he is the main culprit and his daughter has been sent to a foster home, fueling his rage. As his plan to dig his way out, using a chopstick, nears fruition, he finds himself on a roof and the movie comes back to the first scene.

And then begins the frenetic search for the answers to “who” and “why”. Keep a man in captivity for 15 years, with the same dish for every meal, and sexual stimulation through state sponsored television programs, and you are bound to see the primal behavior of homo sapiens unleashed. As he devours a raw Octopus and unleashes himself on the girl who rescued him from an accident (Mi-do), it becomes hard to make black and white distinctions between the heroic and villainous part. Dae-su and Mi-do, in the meanwhile, come closer to each other, culminating in a sexual encounter. Even though a love bond seems to develop between the two, Dae-su still looks distant and oppressive towards her.

By a series of incidents, Dae-su finally finds the perpetrator (Woo-Jin), who just tells him, that he was punished because “You talk too much” and gives him 5 days to find the answer “Why” , now that he knows “Who” did it to him. It turns out that Dae-Su had spread a rumor about the pregnancy of Woo-Jin’s sister(Soo-ah) after seeing Woo-Jin and Soo-ah make out, leading to the suicide of Soo-ah. As the film cuts to the suicide scene, where Woo-Jin has to let go of Soo-ah , the audience is thrust into this schizophrenic avatar, as they switch from sympathy to disgust for Dae-su, but still not condoning the actions of Woo-Jin.

Woo-Jin reveals that Mi-do is actually the daughter of Dae-su and he had hypnotized Dae-su and triggered a series of events to coerce him into this incestuous relationship (unbeknown to Dae-su and Mi-do), as a revenge for Dae-su outing Woo-jin’s own incestuous relationship with his sister. As Dae-su offers his tongue in return for Woo-jin keeping this a secret from Mi-do, the transformation of Woo-jin from a villain to a semi-hero is complete, as he accepts the offer. Woo-jin asks Dae-su “My sister and I actually loved each other, knowing our relationship. Can you two do the same?”, as a bloodied and teary Dae-su merely looks on. His revenge complete, Woo-jin commits suicide himself.

The director has chosen an open and ambiguous ending, as Dae-su goes to the same hypnotist, asking for help to forget the secret. We never find out if Dae-su has actually forgotten the secret. A clichéd and set ending would have belied the character of the movie. The open ending makes you think deeper about the character traits of Dae-su.

There are quite a few grotesque scenes in the movie, but I found the scenes purposeful and making a statement of their own. Special shout out to the corridor fighting scene, which reminds you of Street Fighter video game. I saw the movie as a cross between Saw, Requiem for a Dream and Matrix, in terms of the impact it leaves on the viewer’s mind.

Sanjay Gupta tried to do a reprise in Bollywood. I shudder at the very thought of how he would have handled the incest part of the story, but withstanding that too, filmmakers should learn that masterpieces are not meant to be replicated. That’s because they can’t be replicated.

Genre : Thriller, Pathbreaking

Rating : Palme d’Or material

Go watch it with : Your AOE buddies (or is there a new game making the waves today, reemphasizing how old I have become)

Go watch it for : A cinematic treat



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