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Monday, March 21, 2016

To See the World in a 10 by 10 Shed...


To see the world in a 10 by 10 shed… Five year old Jack believes that the Room is his entire world; it went in “every direction, all the way to the end.” Danny Cohen’s cinematography is scintillating; through his lense work, we see Room just as Jack does – the toilet cistern is a sea where paper boats float, the underneath of the bed is a cave where the eggshell snake resides and the wardrobe is a safe haven, where Jack sleeps. Jack believes since he and his Ma are inside, along with the sink, the toilet, the bed and wardrobe, they are real, the outside world is the outer space, inhabited by angels, aliens and Old Nick, who replenishes their food and other necessities. This is an intricate and detailed fairytale, formulated by Ma so that Jack does not realize that they have been living in captivity; Jack was born in this confinement.

Room is based on the eponymous novel by Emma Donoghue, who based the story on similar real life crimes of Jaycee Dugard and Josef Fritzl. Lenny Abrahamson brought alive the splendid script, penned by Donoghue herself and transformed it into a complex tale. It is a tale of terror, of endurance, perseverance and patience, of the resilient loving bond shared by a parent and child during the most unbearable of circumstances.


Ma is Joy Newsome played by Brie Larson who had been abducted seven years ago as a seventeen year old by Old Nick and has been kept as a sex slave ever since. Locked in his sound proof garden shed, with a combination key manning the heavy steel door, Joy subsequently gives birth to her son, Jack portrayed adorably by Jacob Tremblay.  Room has an agonizingly chilling look about it; it is crowded and grey, cramped in with a toilet, a bathtub, a TV, a tiny kitchen and bare minimum furniture. There is a skylight at the roof of the shed, which remains out of reach for both Ma and Jack, and is the only source of sunlight inside Room. It also provides Ma with a glimpse of the world that she once was a part of, the idea of which Jack grapples to accept, when Ma tries to explain of a life outside Room. The first half of the movie revolves around the bond that Ma and Jack shares. He is a bright, enthusiastic, well-spoken five year old, who is also an avid fan of Dora the Explorer. To some extent he is well versed with pieces of literature like Alice, the Count of Monte Cristo, Jack the Giant Killer and Samson, the legendary long haired hero with whom he draws comparison with himself. Ma tries to keep Jack healthy by turning fitness regimes into fun games; his well-being is the sole focus of her existence. That is how she survives the recurrent night time visits by Old Nick. It is a ritual bound by time, as we see Ma hurriedly bundle off Jack to a makeshift bed inside the wardrobe before Old Nick barges in. Jack however remains awake during most of these encounters, which are loud, but we share his limited perspective of them, which further makes them petrifying and unnerving for the audience.

Room is not a thriller or a movie about the crime, it is about the human spirit that transcends boundaries and perils to showcase the intermittent struggle between external and internal freedom. When Joy realizes that Old Nick will get more dangerous especially in the aftermath of his unemployment, she takes her young son into confidence, and formulates a plan of escape from Room. I give no spoiler alert because the trailer shows it all. But what I do say is that what follows next is best to be watched, culminating in a successful outcome. However Joy struggles to connect with the world outside, once outside Room. Her behavior in contrast to Jack’s who is blooming in the new environment, and is almost like that of a petulant child. Jack’s experiences widen as he walks down the stairs for the first time, experiences a brain freeze from having ice-cream for the first time, pats a dog for the first, but most important of all, finds a friend in the next door kid for the first time. He especially flourishes under his grandmother’s guidance, portrayed brilliantly by Joan Allen. When he finally does decide to “cut his strong”, he asks for her help and later shyly tells her that he loves her. That is one of the most Awwww moments of the movie.

Brie Larson won the Oscar in the best actress category. Together with her young co-star Jacob Tremblay, the duo creates an enchanting world that mesmerizes the audience with their powerful acting repertoire. Nine year old Tremblay does a brilliant job in expressing the tenacious resilience of childhood. He is a trusting child, with an essential sense of optimism.  Larson as the resourceful, perseverant, ever watchful mother, who struggles to cope later, presents a surreal picture of both a victim and a survivor. Room is a powerful imaging of an exceptional situation; it evokes a sense of optimism in the most unfavorable of circumstances.


Thursday, March 17, 2016

Rumination of a Fantasist

Ours have become a boisterous and insomniac world. There is always that one deadline looming large over our heads that make us go into frenzy.  The world has become so fast paced that we are now in the habit of anticipating our entire future at every moment. There is no time for politeness or niceties. You bump into someone and then scowl at that person; it’s not your fault at all. He should have turned around and seen you approach; after all you were busy on your Blackberry, the last e-mail had to be sent. But if you introspect, you will apprehend that the situation is getting scary. The world is becoming aloof and frigid till one day you wake up to a world which you do not recognize at all and realize this was not the world that your ancestors left you to preserve and safe guard.
I have discerned a little secret: it does not take much to be nice to other people, complete strangers be it may. I have seen that when I take the initiative to be polite and respectful, I get quite the warm and cordial responses in return. I remember once I met this really nice auto driver, who took it upon himself to drop me safely at my destination since I was new to the city. I handed him the fare with a smile and thanked him, and in return he gave me his biggest grins and said “Farz hai mera. Aap mehman ho.” (It was my duty since you are a guest.”)
Once I recall, I was on my way to work on a lovely, bright spring morning. I am not a morning person at all; the usual me has a scowl on her face on her way to work, but that day was different. I was humming to myself while walking down the road when I came across two middle aged ladies, who seemed a little lost. There weren’t too many people around, and those who were, were busy ogling at them, simply because they were non-Indians. I went up to them and asked them if they needed help. They looked a little relieved, probably because I look like a harmless docile soul. They told me they were invited to a school nearby, but didn’t quite know how to get there. Realising that the school was on my route to office, which was a short walk in itself, I offered to walk them to the school.  They looked reassured and followed me in silence for all the five minutes of our journey. When I left them at the gate of the school, one of them put her hands on my head and blessed me and then bade me a good day. I think I gave them a perplexed look; because where I come from no one just gives away free blessings, you have to earn it through lavish ritualistic ceremonies.
I remember the kindness of a police woman once, who caught hold of my hand and helped me inside the train compartment just as the train started moving. It was a very dramatic and film-y moment, akin to the scene ofDilwale Dulhaniya Le Jaenge. I had a late start to the day which meant that I had missed my usual train to work. I had to hurry to the platform so as not to miss the next one. I was running down the platform and even with my break-neck pace I thought I would miss the train by a fraction. As I reached the first-class compartment, I was all ready to jump in, when the train started moving, which is when a powerful hand took hold of my outstretched hand and pulled me in the compartment. I mumbled a thank you, because I was all out of breath. The police woman gave me a stern look and told me, “Iski baad wali train lene se kya job chaali jaati! Agar gir jaate toh?!” (Would you have lost your job, if you had taken the next train? What if you had fallen down?!)

Another incident that further inculcated my faith in the benevolence of strangers, once again took place in the train. It was the monsoons, which meant trains were running late all around the city. The ones that were running were hugely crowded and I barely had enough leg space to stand; I basically accomplished the perfecten pointe; any ballerina would have been jealous of my posture. It was a precarious situation for me, I had my laptop bag on me, was standing on my toes and barely hanging on; any false move and I would fall to my death from the moving train. And just when I thought the situation could not get any worse, it started raining again. There was absolutely no way that I could squeeze my way inside the compartment, so I let my fate catch hold of me; the worse that would happen was that I would be drenched even before I reached office. But then all of a sudden I realized there was a shift in the energy inside the compartment. The women who were inside, took charge of me and two others who were hanging by the door. I along with my laptop bag crowd-surfed to the interior of the compartment. Once inside I started panicking a little because I had lost sight of my bag. Sensing my panic, one of the women who helped me in, assured me in a soothing voice, “Tumhara station aane se pehle bag mil jaiga.” (You will get back your bag before you get down at your station) I got down at my usual station, only slightly damp, and with my bag intact. I stood slightly gaping at the receding train, which slowly vanished amidst the mist and the cloud and the rains.

One of my grand aunts passed away two weeks ago. And like a good, pious Brahmin family, we followed the entire strict funeral ceremonial regime that was expected of us. As was the ritual, the regime was supposed to come to an end with an extravagant banquet. Abiding with the tradition, we did the same. It was a lovely lunch; our neighbours from the society came all dressed up, completely oblivious of the fact that the occasion was probably not quite right to deck up in all the gold ornaments. After the elaborate lunch we saw that we were left with a lot of food from the banquet. Everyone started contemplating as to what should be done with the leftovers. To my horror, I even heard that throwing out the leftovers was also being discussed as an option. I finally stood up and said that whatever other things we might do, one thing that I could not let happen was, let all that food go to waste. Finally, our driver spoke up and said that there was a slum nearby, where we could go and donate the food. To my relief, everyone readily agreed and we packed up the food and headed for the slum. Once we reached, word spread quite fast that we were donating food. Kids as young as three lined up with eager faces, their eyes shining brightly at the prospect of being served an unexpected treat. The young faces, holding on to their bowls in their grubby little hands and digging in lavishly to each one of their portions broke my heart. We take a meal for granted, but that is not the case for these little children; every day is a battle, a challenge for them. And the fact that we could do this little bit, and brought smiles to their hungry, little faces was a memory that will be indelibly etched in my memory.
Recently I have realized that I smile at random strangers while on the road. It doesn’t hurt to be polite to people, right?! Some returned the smile, some scowled, while some shuffled away quickly, probably thinking that I was serial killer, trying to befriend my next kill. At the grocery store, in the cab or a bus, when I get back my change, I smile and say thank you. I know I’m owed the change, but why be so grim and foreboding about it?! Once in a while it is quintessential to get far from the maddening crowd and try to find ourselves, try to find how much we can give. All it needs is the will to care, which is the first step; because after that the rest just falls into place, like a well fitted jigsaw puzzle.


Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Ivy

As a student of Literature, I had a tough time dissecting Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”; the subtext was very difficult for me to fathom. But imagine my surprise when Turkish director Tolga Karacelik based his second feature Ivy on this very poem. Not only did it seem a daunting task, it was a mighty zealous one too. Ivy has the modern day setting of the “Ancient Mariner”, as it reveal the gradual psychosis faced by the sailors from boredom, deprivation and internal conflicts, on board the Turkish vessel as it lies stranded, off the coast of Egypt.

Ivy can be considered as a slow paced psychological thriller, with subsequent supernatural occurrences towards the end. Captain Beybaba takes in a few replacements at one port, in the hope to continue with his voyage to Egypt smoothly. The voyage is an important one for all the crew onboard since none of them have been paid for months.  But both the captain and the crew get a rude shock when they learn that the ship owner has declared himself bankrupt and is now absconding.  During such a circumstance if the ship anchors at the port, everything will be impounded. The only way out of such a clutch and ensure that they get paid their dues is that a minimum of six able sailors should stay on board the ship, for an indefinite period, until the legal morass is untangled.


The six who are left behind is an odd amalgamation. Apart from the captain who chooses to keep himself distant from the rest of the crew, there is the cook Nadir, Ismail, a religious family man, who abhors discourtesy and laziness, two dope smoking newcomers – Cenk and Alpher and finally a giant of a man – Kurd, a character of few words. The first few days pass away in easeful languor, but tempers soon begin to flare up in the face of the dwindling provisions and the vast emptiness of the ocean that the group has to face every minute of their day. The subconscious is numbed as the sailors perform their torpidly repetitive jobs; it further agitates them, and frequent fights break out between the group. While Alpher is quite harmless and usually follows Cenk’s lead, Cenk is the lax indolent provocateur, who is hankering for the keys to medicine cabinet, after his dope runs out. But things take a toll for the worse, when one from the group disappears and there are subsequent sightings of him, which is an eerie comparison to the ghost of the albatross.

What is unrevealed in the later segment is the fragmenting power dynamics of the ship. There is a sense of claustrophobia all around, as the sailors can see the shore but are unable to reach it. The shoreline feels near yet is far away and remains static. Time seems at a deadlock, thus reminding the audience every time of the ordeal of the sailors - “Water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink.” As the film navigates to its end, we sense a feeling of almost Kafaesque dread, fuelled with the paranoia encountered by the sailors. Ivy with all its efforts, moves sluggishly, but musters enough atmospheric charisma to generate as much as tension and abstruseness it can.


Saturday, November 21, 2015

The Corpse of Anna Fritz

The Corpse of Anna Fritz is not subtle, not even in its name. You know that a corpse is involved; it is the corpse of Anna Fritz. Anna Fritz is dead, the darling of the paparazzi and her fans, a renowned actress who has worked with all the celebrated names of Hollywood.  But right now her body is held in an unnamed hospital, being wheeled around to the morgue for an autopsy to be performed.  With the setting as a morgue, director Hector Hernandez Vicens begins his delightfully dark, provocative thriller, which at the same time is flavoured with a perverse dose of necrophilia.


Vicens has shown an abashed amount of audacity to portray the taboo that is necrophilia; this is the road that is very less travelled.  What begins as a bit of a celebrity obsession turns into a nightmare for Pau (Albert Carb√≥), Ivan (Cristian Valencia) and Javi (Bernat Saumell). As an orderly at the hospital where the body of Anna Fritz is being held, Pau can’t help show off to his two friends the dead face of the most famous woman in Spain as he takes a picture on his phone and sends it to them. Ivan and Javi drop in, on their way to a party. Sure, doing lines and sneaking in a drink or two is fun, but what can be better than to stare down at the naked body of the most desirable woman? Pau sneaks in his friends down to the morgue to do exactly that. A little uneasy at first, with all the dead bodies around them, Ivan and Javi are nervy and jittery; the fact that they have been doing lines does not help either. Pau removes the white sheet that covers the corpse of Anna Fritz and the trio gaze down at the nude figure of Anna, and the scene finally transitions to one of the most macabre sex acts known to mankind.

But this is not where you draw in your breath and stop breathing. That moment arrives when we see Pau thrusting away with full vigour at the presumably lifeless corpse of Anna, and she opens her eyes. Now, I urge you to tap into your willing suspension of disbelief and go with the flow of movie, instead of delving into the absurdity of her ludicrous resurrection. Having been caught at the act, the sickening and repulsive deed of necrophilia is now transpired into a full blown case of rape. The movie reaches its climax when the friends are faced with a criminal choice, whether to save the girl, who will identify them as necrophilia practicing rapists or silence her forever, since she is already dead to the world.

The horror in the movie spills over to showcase the primal instinct of protection for man. Having been faced with the prospect of rape charges, the friends discuss if they can go to the grave depth of ending a life, just to silence Anna for their earlier transgressions. Our society is celebutante obsessed, so much so that it transmutes into a provoking decision to violate a young woman’s lifeless body and the cold, helpless stare of Anna immediately catches the audience. Vicens pays a brilliant homage to Uma “The Bride” Thurman from Kill Bill as we witness Anna’s desperation to escape her predicament, without most of her motor functions.

There is a sinful nature to Vicen’s story, but it is never titillating; the visuals continue to be outside of the characters' warped and salacious perspective. There is no grotesque exploitation of the necrophilia, but at the same time, The Corpse of Anna Fritz maintains momentum of a thriller admirably.


Sunday, August 30, 2015

Dark Places

I am one of those few people who didn’t like the Gone Girl movie. It did not do any sort of justice to the brilliant book that Flynn wrote. And yet Flynn herself wrote the screenplay for the Fincher directed movie; I had trouble accepting the film. But moving on, if I thought Gone Girl was bad, then Dark Places turned out to be pathetic. With its direction, with its script, with its acting, everything about the movie screamed a box office bomb. Writer/director Gilles Paquet-Brenner succeeded only in making the already under-rated Gone Girl look more accomplished than it actually is with his Dark Places.

Dark Places is Flynn’s second novel, after Sharp Objects; it is a build up to her best work till date - Gone Girl. The story is well plotted, but it’s no Gone Girl. Based in the mid-west state of Kansas, the story revolves around the tragedy of the Day family. The matriarch of the family, Patty played by the ever brilliant Christina Hendricks, struggles to keep her farm afloat with four young kids without a husband. Her oldest child Ben (Tye Sheridan) is a typical surly teenager who finds it difficult at home with three younger sisters. But this story isn’t about the mother or the brother, this one is about the youngest girl – Libby Day, who survived the massacre of her family when she was only 8 years old. The cold blooded killings bring the little girl into the limelight and she testifies that it is her brother who had killed the entire family. Having already been accused of dabbing in Satanism and child molestation, Ben is convicted of all the murders with circumstantial evidence.


The movie opens with a grown up Libby (Charlize Theron), who is embittered and cynical with life. She is contacted by one Lyle Wirth (Nicholas Hoult) a true crime connoisseur and a member of a club fascinated by true crimes, asking her to make an appearance at their club. A broke Libby agrees to look into the past, with the promise of being paid and the audience is then taken back in time to the 8 year old Libby and that fateful day. The past and present narratives are badly synchronized and I understood what was happening only because I had read the book. The narration was hesitant, and it does not make it easy for the audience to flit in and out of the past and present.

Charlize Theron, was the worst choice for Libby day.  By no means am I doubting her acting capabilities, I mean, I love her. But Libby is supposed to be short, and in the book it is mentioned that she is a mere 5 foot 2 inches. This piece of information plays a crucial role in the climax. And yet a 5 foot 10 inches actress plays the lead. That is just bad casting. What is startling is that the movie has a talented amalgamation of actors, and yet none of them make their mark in the movie. Tye Sheridan as the young Ben is the most stoic expressionless teenager that I have ever seen. All his facial expressions are a mass of confusion. I mean I haven’t come across anyone who doesn’t even blink when slapped.  Chloe Grace Moretz as Ben’s rich spoilt girlfriend Diondra has an enjoyably off the leash portrayal as the high school girl, who does drugs, worships Satan and kills animals as part of ritualistic sacrifices.


There is no characterization in the movie; not one character build ups. Libby’s interior monologues are badly interspaced; they do not bring out the conflicts that exist within her. The narration just jumps out at you and the pacing is badly timed.  Flynn’s intention was to showcase the tough rural mid-western life of the farm owners under the garb of murder mystery, Paquet-Brenner failed on all levels to bring that out. The film almost feels lifeless and stumbles to its end with a particularly badly directed climax in spite of the revelations being hurled at the audience at quite brisk interludes. As a fan of Flynn’s writing, the film is an utter disappointment and I have not one good word to say about Dark Places.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Jenny's Wedding

June has been the month of Pride for the people in America. It should be after the Supreme Court ruled in favour of gay marriages across all the fifty states. Which is why Mary Agnes Donoghue could not have come up with a better time to release her latest movie – Jenny’s Wedding.  But I doubt even an opportune timing like this will keep it afloat at the box office. With the kind of story line it revolves around, it is already doomed to drown.
Jenny’s Wedding revolves around the eponymous Jenny and her impending wedding of course. Jenny (Katherine Heigl) comes from a loving family with a mother and father played brilliantly by Linda Emond and Tom Wilkinson, an older brother Michael (Matthew Metzger) and a sister Ann (Grace Gummer). With both of her siblings being married with kids, she comes in the line of fire from her parents, especially her mother for still being single. So, the big secret is that Jenny is gay, a fact hat she has hidden expertly from her conservative Christian family. She finally decides to come out to her parents when she decides that she too wants to get married to her beloved partner Kitty, played very meekly by Alexis Bledel. And thus begins the drama.
Linda Emond as the mother is the perfect picture of a Christian conservative who lives in a nice cul de sac while worrying too much about what the neighbours will think. Tom Wilkinson is an adorable father. He cares deeply for his daughter and her happiness, yet always skirts around the issue of her sexuality simply because he has no clue how to deal with it. The revelation of their favourite child’s sexuality is a genuine struggle of conscience for the two of them. They want Jenny to be happy but allowing her to be happy by living her life, they realize that they are unhappy.

There is one particularly emotional scene when Jenny brings Kitty along to the funeral parlour to attend a family acquaintance’s funeral between Jenny and her father. And like a man he avoids talking about the confrontation with his wife, by turning on the radio when she tries to bring up the topic.

Also I realize that the film is titled Jenny’s Wedding, but this does not justify Alexis Bledel’s remarkably short screen space. I mean Jenny is after all getting married to someone. So aren’t her perspectives important to understand how the episode can affect a couple when one has just come out of the closet?! I found Kitty to be a marvelously supportive partner; not only was she okay with her girlfriend still being in the closet with her family, she weathered through all the drama of Jenny and her family when Jenny finally did come out.

The climactic titular sequence is full of grandiose and pomp and like a story with a very predictable curve, ends with a happy ending, like most of Shakespeare’s comedies.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Masaan: A Celebration of Life & Death and Everything in Between

“Mann Kasturi re, Jag dasturi re,
 Baat hui na puri re…”

Masaan, the Cannes winner is a poignant tale of life in small town India. And it breaks my heart to say that not very many Indians are appreciative of it. While I stand in the queue to get my ticket, I see the flock heading towards Bajrangi Bhaijaan and Baahubali. But I remind myself of Richa Chadda’s words, one of the actresses in the film – “…the more people will see these movies, the more it will help someone like Neeraj to find funding for a Masaan 2.” Masaan tugs at your heart; it is both a tale of heartbreak and hope.

Masaan is set in modern day Varanasi, following two distinct story arcs, only to converge in the end. The film opens with Devi (Richa Chadda), as she prepares to leave her house. She travels a short distance, only to change her attire from salwaar kameez to a saree; we notice the hesitancy and uncertainty in her eyes. And then we see why. She meets up with her boyfriend, Piyush, and they go to a hotel. It becomes abundantly clear to the audience now, that under the guise of being a married couple, the two get ready for their first sexual counter, which is full of shyness and awkwardness. But things take a turn for the worse when they are caught by the police in the act. Thus begins the bitter tale of moral policing by the law keepers, and blackmail. They are more than willing to take advantage of the public sense of disgrace and shame that surrounds premarital sex. Devi’s father, played brilliantly by Sanjay Mishra who is a retired Sanskrit professor is called to the police station. He gets his daughter back if he pays the bail money; he will get his daughter back with her reputation untarnished if he agrees to pay an addition 3 lakhs, over the course of three months to the police.
Elsewhere, Deepak (Vicky Kaushal), a Dom (one who cremates corpses) meets Shaalu (Shweta Tripathy) and falls in love with her. Their romance blooms over Facebook chats, red balloons let lose in the sky, quiet dates at restaurants and sneaky bike rides. But underneath the innocence of first love, lies the ugly reality of caste. Deepak and Shaalu belong to two different castes; even in the 21st century it plays a very big role in the lives of all Indians.

The protagonists in both the story arcs represent the young generation who refuse to be constricted by the social barriers. They are independent, strong, defiant, and surprisingly brave for the world they belong to. Devi has no qualms of admitting to the police that she was in the room to quench her curiosity about sex; she shouts out at her father “Koi kandh main e nehin machaii!!” (I haven’t done anything wrong) And in the same way Shaalu reassures Deepak, when she gets to know of his heritage that they will run away from home to be together, if the need arises.

Masaan is uncluttered and it takes the audience back to remembering what it is like to be in love for the very first time. Debutants Vicky Kaushal and Shweta Tripathy is a spontaneous couple; their romance is a snapshot of minimalism, candour and clumsiness that only a small town romance can capture. Richa Chadda as Devi is strangely a very subdued character from her previous characters in Gangs of Wasseypur and Fukrey. But there was a sense of monotony in her acting throughout the movie; one expects a little more guts. Her emotions at times felt too controlled and stoic. However it is the silence between the father-daughter that speak volumes.

It is symbolic that the characters from the two arcs cross path at the Sangam (the confluence of the three rivers in Allahabad). Masaan is a brilliant directorial debut by Neeraj Ghaywan; it is poetic and is concerned with loss as much it is with love. Through Avinash Arun, the cinematographer we are shown what a charm Varanasi is. Several crucial moments spin around the Ganga, and is beautifully shot. They linger in our memory like the flames dying slowly in the cremation grounds where so much of Masaan unwinds.