Monday, October 7, 2013

J K Rowling's Harvard Speech

'Rock Bottom was the foundation on which I built my life.' unforgettable words by Rowling :) 

Neil Gaiman's Speech

I stumbled upon this little gem of a speech one of those afternoons in office when I was supposed to be 'working'. It was the most amazing thing ever and coming from a fantasy author like Neil- incredibly motivating.

Project READ: Take Two

Back on the burner with a fresh lease of life. Almost finished reading Jeet Thayil's Narcopolis. This is my first book about an opium junkie and I have no idea what to make of this novel. Anyway, a review is due so that's coming up soon. I need to swallow to recall that this book won the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature 2013 and I wonder what the other books on the shortlist were like.When Thayil said in an interview that this novel was the opposite of catharsis, he certainly meant it. He said: "Catharsis gets stuff out of you. But this put bad feelings into me." It sure put bad feelings into me too. 

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Satyagraha: A Letdown

Director: Prakash Jha
Cast: Amitabh Bachchan, Ajay Devgn, Kareena Kapoor Khan, Manoj Bajpayee, Arjun Rampal, Amrita Rao

Prakash Jha’s much anticipated Satyagraha with its multi-starrer cast slumps in critical circles creating only a minor cinematic splash. While the performances of Amitabh Bachchan and Ajay Devgn are commendable, a half baked script and unexploited potential present a string of vapid scenes and at best trophy supporting actors.
Dwarka Anand (Bachchan), a school teacher begins a Satyagraha movement when he lands in jail for slapping the collector. Manav (Devgn), an opportunistic businessman, has a change of heart when his friend and Anand’s son Akhilesh dies in a brutal accident. Along with Arjun (Rampal), a student leader, Akhilesh’s wife Sumitra (Rao) and Yasmin (Kapoor Khan), a journalist, he becomes the brain of the movement.
In a movie in which events tumble one after another like rolling pins, moments of stillness add an element of grace to the pace of the hurtling narrative. After his son is brutally killed, Dwarka Anand finds Sumitra, his daughter-in law, sobbing in the dead of the night and consoles her in silence. Another surprising non Prakash Jha-esque scene sees an emotional Anand reluctant to let Manav go after he has already lost a son.
The muddled depiction of private and public space has openly carried out dialogues cut in medias res and continued in private over a cup of tea. The mob appears and disappears like a poor magic trick just to provide numbers.  Balram (Bajpayee) the corrupt minister becomes the single point of evil and a uni-dimensional character.
One can equally disparage the portrayal of the media when Yasmin interviews villagers with her shades on and repeatedly instructs the cameraman on how to do his job. To add insult to injury, she announces her decision to give up the President’s entourage to cover the movement as if there are no bosses and deadlines in the world of journalism.

In the end, it becomes a game of spotting every headline-making piece of news and identifying characters with real life figures such as Anna Hazare and Arvind Kejriwal. Yet, that recognition does not add anything to film which is neither a poignant reflection of reality nor a bold narrative taking off from it. It is at best a recapitulation of all that has occurred in the public space so far. 

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Planes: Delightful for kids

Director: Klay Hall                                                                                       
Cast: Dane Cook, Stacy Keach, Carlos Alazraqui, Priyanka Chopra

Disney’s new 3D animation Planes has everything to entertain the kids right from colourful planes, to swanky races and aerial action over swirling oceans and impressive landscapes. Although the plot is predictable and involves the triumph of the protagonist against all odds, the animation is replete with the message that a fair and just competition can also be friendly competition and need not involve jealousy and sabotage.
While Planes seems to fall short of Disney’s previous venture Cars and has been hailed as a rip off by many, it does not fail to entertain. Comedian Dane Cook infuses life into the lead character of Dusty, a crop duster plane that dreams of being in the big league and racing across the globe in spite of his fear of heights. With help from a WW2 veteran plane Skipper and friends Chug (Brad Garrett) and mechanic Dottie (Teri Hatcher), Dusty participates in the international flying race Wings around the Globe to compete against planes from all over the world.
While the more powerful planes fly high, Dusty flies low over the ocean and takes the railway route instead of taking on the Himalayas because of his fear of heights. With breathtaking visuals and Dusty’s unrelenting spirit, this film is sure to win the hearts of the young audiences although it does not entirely capitalize on 3D.
The addition of international planes brings a motley group of characters to the film from the British Bulldog (John Cleese) to the smitten Mexican El Chupacabra (Carlos Alazraqui) and our very own Priyanka Chopra as the Indian Ishani among others. While Priyanka’s accent is not stereotypically Indian, the film strategically uses a repetitive sitar strain to mark her entry and also regales the Indian audience with an aerial scene over the Taj Mahal with Rehman’s Tere Bina from Guru in the background. Incidentally, Priyanka has also lent her voice for the song ‘Fly High’.

In the end, Dusty is not just the farm boy or the underdog who triumphs against all odds and cunning, but also the plane that achieves more than what ‘he is built for’. While the film encourages its viewers to not be deterred by skepticism in following their dreams, it also emphasizes the importance of empathy over a selfish victory.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Chennai Express

Director: Rohit Shetty
Cast: Deepika Padukone, Shahrukh Khan

Touted to be an action comedy, Rohit Shetty of Golmaal fame brings to screen the much speculated about Chennai express. While the trailer doing the rounds of social networking sites received a lukewarm response especially when it came to the representation of Tamil culture and Deepika’s accent, the film as such has fared much better with the first half outshining the second.
Registering an opening record of Rs. 33 crore, Shahrukh has shown that his fan base is still intact and silenced skeptics who perceived him as the aging romantic hero. While Shahrukh Khan believes in having his female co-star’s name before his in the credits, Deepika seems to have taken that lead rather seriously by giving a delightful performance that brazenly eclipses the King Khan on several occasions.

In a tongue in cheek reference to many of his earlier films, SRK’s character is again called Rahul while Deepika plays Meenamma a South Indian belle and daughter of a village don in Tamil Nadu. Rahul, a 40 year old Punjabi bachelor is entrusted with the duty of immersing his late grandfather’s ashes at Rameswaram although he is more interested in a vacation at Goa with his friends. En route the Chennai Express, he meets Meena who is on the run from her cousins who want her to get married to another don.  

While the plot is a no brainer, the film’s success rests entirely on the comedy arising from the North South clash factor. Rahul constantly tries to outsmart the South Indian mob and sometimes even does an over-the-top act to regale his audience. The vehicle chase sequences, cars and people flying in the air and muscled goons are inspired largely from South Indian celluloid violence. Although your patience wears thin in the second half, other cinematic elements bolster the film. Music by Vishal-Shekhar boasts of a couple of good tracks like ‘Titli’ and ‘1 2 3 4 Get On The Dance Floor’ while cinematographer Dudley’s picturesque scenes of the South Indian landscape are a visual feast.

If you ignore the clich├ęs and the predictability factor, this film is the perfect Bollywood potboiler and a masala flick with all the right doses of comedy, romance and action.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Lootera: A Bollywood Miracle

I just saw Vikramaditya Motwane's Lootera this morning. This was one Sunday morning well spent :)
Partly based on O Henry's short story 'The Last Leaf', Vikram Motwane's Lootera is a poignant story about love, fate and sacrifice. While O Henry's story dwells on the idea of death and the affirmation of life, creating characters and a story foregrounded in Bengal at the end of the colonial era and feudalism was a narrative decision that displayed pure genius on the part of the film's writers. Scripted by  Bhavani Iyer and Motwane, Lootera recreates the mixture of aristocratic decay, nostalgia followed by the emergence of a new class and the proliferation of the popular that marked the years around the Independence. What the film excels at is not just  the portrayal of a beautiful love story but  also the invocation of an entire historical age in a few celluloid frames that do not take away from the theme.

Barun Chanda, a wealthy zamindar fails to see, even on the repeated counsels of his Majumdar, how the Government's Zamindar Act will strip him of his lands. He is further taken advantage of by Varun,(Singh) who poses as an archaeologist and robs him and leaves his daughter Pakhi (Sonakshi) in the lurch on the wedding day. In the second half, the film portrays Pakhi living out her days after the death of her father until fate brings Varun back to her. The ensuing story unfolds as the two lovers face each other and the law catches up with Varun.

 The first half of the film is as much about class differences as it about two robbers clandestinely  robbing a wealthy Zamindar.  The film itself opens to the pomp and gusto of Durga Puja followed by a drama during which the Majumdar advises the Zamindar to establish a trust with his money. The debate between the naive Zamindar and the practical Majumdar is taken up later in the film between  Pakhi and the Majumdar's daughter. But Pakhi also seems to live in the same oblivious haze as her father as she does not try to find out more. Her driving escapade sees her bullying the driver into taking the blame for the accident.
Even the 'archeologists' Dev and Varun make fun of the Zamindar with his English interjections like 'Of course.' At the same time, Dev and Varun have to deceive the Zamindar's labourers and find themselves trying to explain why they want to dig. 'We are digging because there is earth!'  tells Dev comically to the villagers squatting in front of him. While the Zamindar clings on to the remnants of colonialism through his English and his Western music, the very next scene has a Bollywood song playing on the radio. The juxtaposition of two Indias and two classes becomes strikingly clear with Dev's obsession with Dev Anand and the latest Bollywood films that represent the emergence of the popular and the middle class.

The Zamindar, a 'Romantic' product of the Bengali Renaissance, tells his daughter the story of the Bheel Raja who kept his life 'locked' in a pigeon. Although the Zamindar is afraid of his daughter's wheezing attacks and says that his life is 'locked' in her, it is eventually being robbed and betrayed by an imposter that kills him. Motwane skillfully weaves in this O Henry idea of investing life in an external object and negates it. Varun, who reciprocates Pakhi's feelings but cannot leave his old way of life because of his debt to his uncle, is forced to deceive Pakhi. 'You  have always lived opulently in these four walls. You cannot know what it is like to have a debt' he explains his actions to her. In the end, we suspect the love story is as much about circumstances as about ways of life and class differences. The villain in this story is not the unrelenting orthodox family that opposes the lovers but the law. The lovers are doomed to stay apart from the very start not because they come from different circumstances or classes but because the law can never overlook Varun's deeds. In that sense, the theme resonates with Les Miserables. The only thing that redeems Varun is his supreme sacrifice for Pakhi, making amends for her condition and giving her a reason to continue to live. This is certainly a most brilliant adaption in parts of O Henry's story.

 Sonakshi has matured from Dabbang's trophy wife into an actress skillfully capable of portraying feminine frivolousness as well as intense anguish and pain. Her futile attempts at writing in to the Dalhousie scenes speak for her ability to portray depth of emotion and it is a pity directors make more use of her 'traditional' face instead of these skills. Ranveer Singh's performance is commendable and is brilliantly supported by the inimitable Vikrant Massey who is already a small screen legend. From elements of Bhansali's celluloid master strokes, to Anurag Kashyap's insightful characterization and Dibakar Bannerjee's new-humanist style, this film has bits and pieces of all that comprises Bollywood today and yet stands in a league of its own which promises to be unmistakably Vikram Motwane.