Saturday, 4 March 2017

Lion (2017)

It's 1986 and 5-year-old Saroo lives with his mother, elder brother Guddu and little sister Shekila at Khandwa, Madhya Pradesh.Saroo's mother breaks rocks at a quarry for a living, the brother subsists on odd jobs.

One day, a stubborn Saroo insists on accompanying Guddu to work. The older sibling relents and the brothers take the evening train.Saroo is sleepy on alighting, so Guddu leaves him at the potentially safe and deserted station, promising to return in some time.
Hours later, Saroo wakes up calling out his brother's name. He boards an empty train and falls asleep.This is where Saroo's epic lost and found journey begins, spanning two continents and two decades.

Lion is a competent recreation of an amazing true story. The first half is harrowing, largely poignant thanks to Sunny Pawar's charming, astonishing take as the young Saroo. In comparison, the second half seems stretched to evade the imminent conclusion. 

Somehow, searching on Google Earth for a lost home is not as cinematic as a lost boy in a wicked city.

Dev Patel is expressive, the performance pales in comparison to the emotions Pawar evokes.Rooney Mara's girlfriend character is a story-staller. Nicole Kidman is poignant as the mother, David Wenham as the father is adequate. 

How Saroo and Manthosh get adopted by Australian parents is never clearly explained.The film's touching climax make up for the hiccups to a degree.

Lion is not without its flaws, but sincere emotions are at play here and they make Lion a necessary one-time watch.The film title origins is a nice, little tidbit at the end. 

Saturday, 25 February 2017

Split (2017)

Kevin, a man with multiple-personality disorder carjacks and kidnaps three girls from a supermarket parking lot.He locks up the girls in a room and chillingly reveals at different times, a few of his 23 distinct personalities. Even as the three girls get more desperate to escape, Kevin's psychiatrist gets ominous emails from Kevin's protective personality Barry.  

M. Night Shyamalan has the gift for compelling visuals, eerie atmospherics, and engaging dialogue.He has that uncanny knack to build suspense into a film, scene after scene.What he hasn't had for a long time is a solid, convincing storyline, ever since his debut masterpiece The Sixth Sense (1999) and the very effective, Signs (2002).

Split, despite the lack of story, and psychiatric mumbo-jumbo is still mildly engaging to an extent.But once Shyamalan gets to his oft-repeated twist climax, it merely scratches the horror/thriller genre surface.

Split finally ends up as an underwhelming film. Catch it for James McAvoy's alluring, impressive take as a dissociative identity disorder patient and some genuine Shyamalan moments. Maybe the Bruce Willis cameo will result in a better, bigger film.Until then, die-hard Shyamalan fans have to contend with The Sixth Sense reruns. Yet again.    

Monday, 10 October 2016

M.S.Dhoni:The Untold Story (2016)

The perils of real-to-reel interpretation are many, especially when you make a film on the impenetrable and probably India's greatest cricket captain ever, Mahendra Singh Dhoni.

Deserving Story
First, certainly a story waiting to be told. From the quietness and constricted ambitions of growing up in small-town Ranchi, his unconventional knack for big-hitting, frustrating time as a railway ticket collector and a tough, cliffhanger climb to cement his place in the Indian cricket team, all high voltage film material. 
Only, story & screenplay writers Neeraj Pandey (also director) and Dilip Jha could have worked out the content selection better, especially in the film's melodramatic second half. We are left with a hero-worshiping culmination, rather than an insightful study of Dhoni and cricket.

Great First Hour
M.S.Dhoni:The Untold Story sparkles in its first hour and half, seeping with the routine ordinariness and time-wrap of a sleepy town. 
An aspiring and gifted cricketer MS Dhoni (Sushant Singh Rajput, path-breaking lead role) has to convince his stubborn yet reasonable father (Anupam Kher, excellent) about his fiery, single-path ambition - cricket, cricket and cricket. 
He is supported by his elder sister (Bhumika Chawla,efficient), faithful friends, coach (Rajesh Sharma, the film's scene-stealer) and first employer (Kumud Mishra, in fine form). The love tracks are the film's weak link (Disha Patani & Kiara Advani, both adequate), bordering on cheesy, despite an unexpected tragic bit.  

Weak Links
All through the punishing running time, even in the slack second half, events occurring outside the cricket field repeatedly absorb us. Booming background music (Sanjoy Chowdhury) and a pathetic soundtrack (Amaal Mallik, Rochak Kohli) almost clean-bowl the movie. Several scenes would have worked better with minimal background score and certainly minus songs.

Cricketing Hiccups
Cricketing scenes require mentioning other cricketers and controversies. But nobody is mentioned unfavourably, reducing the match scenes to diplomatic mockery. 
A craftier, snipped screenplay would have worked wonders. From Dhoni's decisive abandon of his mundane job at Kharagpur railway station to his legendary first century at Vizag in April 2005, the film could have stuck to unraveling in daring detail two prime matches - the 2007 Twenty20 World Cup Final and the 2011 One-Day World Cup Final.

M.S.Dhoni:The Untold Story is not a lost cause for director Neeraj Pandey (Special 26). There are so many moments to indicate that the film could have hit all the balls out of the park. It is undone by lack of judgement in what to retain, how much to retain and a curbed freedom in storytelling. 
A valiant, sincere attempt, undone by its own dilemma - just how much safe do you play that BCCI and people depicted on screen don't sue or raise objection to the content?

M.S.Dhoni:The Untold Story is stumped by its own defiant safety, a feeling of 'missed opportunity' lingers big. Watch it for the wonderful performances and some real charming bits. If only it could have come together cohesively, like a MS Dhoni innings.  

Sunday, 2 October 2016

Pink (2016)

Three boys and three girls meet each other through a common friend at a rock show in Delhi. The girls are then persuaded by the guys to join them at a resort for dinner. Even these basic facts trickle into audience knowledge over a series of tense, gripping scenes. The film opens with one of the guys profusely bleeding with a deep cut in the skull, even as his panicky friends rush him to hospital. Meanwhile, the girls return to their rented apartment, stunned and disturbed. 

Deft Screenplay 
Pink kept me riveted thanks to a killer screenplay (Ritesh Shah) that tersely, harrowing reveals the details of 'the incident' in bits and pieces. A visual depiction of what actually happened unveils only at the end credits. By then, you are knocked out cold and numb, by the horror, starkness and fierceness of it all.

Truth & Dare
The brutal truth of how women are perceived in Indian society at large, how stereotypes and the idea of male domination persists, down to a animalist level, is expressed in balanced, original and searing storytelling. The emotionally draining and depressing experience of defending one's case in an Indian court, is effectively depicted. Insensitivity and police indifference is craftily rendered into proceedings.  

Amitabh Bachchan's characterization as a retired lawyer, begins in a mitigating, all-knowing Hindi film hero mould. This despite the bipolar disorder background and a bed-ridden wife. The court proceedings redeem Bachchan the actor to a great extent though.
Tapasee Pannu, Kirti Kulhari and Andrea Tairang are the showstoppers here. Tapasee, her character the eye of the storm and story, deserves special mention. Piyush Mishra comes across as the stereotypical prosecution lawyer. Angad Bedi makes a believable, ominous antagonist. Dhritiman Chatterjee adds nuances to an otherwise mundane role of a judge, adding to his reputation as a legendary Bengali actor. 

Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury's calculated, sensible direction and co-writers Ritesh Shah and Shoojit Sircar make Pink a triumph. A subject that could so easily be judgmental and dipped in rhetoric, escapes most overdone film-making pitfalls.  
Despite A Few Good Men (1992) inspired witness-provoking climax, leading to a propped-up and unconvincing happy ending, Pink is a story that is rarely told in a largely dream-selling Hindi film world and seldom, very seldom, told so well. Don't miss it on the big screen.