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Showing posts from 2016

Ae Dil Hai Mushkil

"It's one of those Karan Johan films where I leave feeling sorry for Karan Johar," said a friend on twitter (whose account is private, so I can't link you to it). If My Name Is Khan was an angst-gasm over cultural identity and Student of the Year over sexuality, Ae Dil Hai Mushkil is one over un-mirrored love. I don't know if I'm supposed to be moved by Ayan's (Ranbir Kapoor, who is very good, as he should be, given his experience with the aspects of this role) years of pining for Alizeh (Anushka Sharma) or just sort of intellectually appreciate his devotion, but it's exhausting. There's some empathy in that exhaustion (we've all been there, no?) but it's a tricky subject to do much with because it is fundamentally kind of boring and unchanging. It's also hard to share—as a cameo character says later in the film, it's a selfish kind of thing that only the lover him/herself can participate in—and thus maybe the kind of subject bett…

catching up on 2016 Bollywood

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Ki & Ka
If you forget about the Amitabh and Jaya Bachchan part—which you immediately should, because it is bloated and self-congratulatory—this is not a bad little exploration of gender- and relationship-based expectations. The story is more often from his perspective or from within sympathies towards him, I think, but no women are particularly demonized (though the bit about Kia's jealousy over Kabir's housework-based fame could be handled better, IMO), and in fact Kia's career ambitions are supported by other women and rewarded in terms that she likes, which feels HUGE for a mainstream film. It's still vaguely maddening that socio-economically privileged men are fawned over for doing basic household work and for being friends with stay-at-home wives/moms, but it also seems quite likely that that's what would happen if these characters were real people. I like that these characters are the way they are because they've thought about issues and their own per…

Mohenjo Daro

The last problem Mohenjo Daro should have is being dull. So much is brought up in this movie—political intrigue in two generations, corruption, tragic childhoods, religious practice topped off by a Chosen One, the barter system, the indigo harvest, the domestication of animals, the arrival of horses in South Asia, crocodile hunting, international trade gatherings, civic taxes, the back story of an entirely separate city, environmental disaster, a love story (plus another that got sidelined)—yet almost none of it is interesting or adds up to much. I wish Ashutosh Gowariker, as both writer and director, had chosen a few of these and then really developed them with care.

Instead there's a weird mishmash of History 101 (No Previous Study of the Indus Valley Civilization Required) and Plot Points That Often Happen in Fillums (Orphan, Love at First Sight, Outsider Saves the Village). At the same time, that latter category is underused stylistically: Hrithik does get in some great face-…

Brahman Naman

While Brahman Naman is, on paper, very much a film Not For Me, there are several satisfying developments in it. The foremost is that finally a film gives man-children pretty much what they deserve rather than what they want or even need. The main protagonist, Naman (Titli's excellent Shashank Arora), is missing the point with sweeping strokes as badly at the end of the film as he was at the beginning. I'd feel a little bad for Naman if he weren't so single-mindedly solipsistic and lazy, refusing to assemble what he could easily learn into any kind of context or understanding. He asks no questions and he has no real or nuanced curiosity—just entitlement to a self-narrated, self-defined goal that takes no account of the other person that it requires. He doesn't even do research in helpful ways, his emphasis on trivia just as self-congratulatory as his incessant physical self-gratification. The characters are walking—well, mostly sitting on an roadside bench—advertisemen…

'cause I can play the part so well: Fan

[A vague, two-sentence spoiler is marked in situ.]

In Fan, Shahrukh Khan and Hindi cinema make an unsettling modern complement to Satyajit Ray's Nayak, that great investigation of stardom and the self in a more restrained age. Fan is very much today's dystopian world of celebrity, the ubiquitous, instant media never singled out but constantly, even sinisterly, complicit in every frame and deed. Capture an image, then replicate it, manifest it, make it accessible, promote, distort, and destroy it, only for another to come up in its place before its death throes are finished. It's the information age gone horribly wrong. Over and over, the two lead characters—the star Aryan Khanna and his junior Gaurav Chandna, or the fan and his senior, depending on how the power in their relationship shifts—hiss that they know things about the other, and it's no coincidence that Gaurav runs a cyber café, speaks better English than people expect him to, and never shows a flicker of con…

Hemlock Society

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[Vaguely spoiler-y. Also, if suicide is a trigger topic for you, I can imagine this film may come off as blasé, simplistic, or even offensive.]

I've spent a lot of time trying to understand the path of popular, mainstream Bengali movies from the Suchitra-Uttam films of the 50s to today's remakes of Telugu masala, and I wonder if Hemlock Society and its ilk—less loud and macho than the Telugu remakes, not as heavily message-driven as art films—are the most faithful descendants. The name alone indicates that this film is About an Important Aspect of the Human Condition, but it's also funny, dynamic, and at moments very sweet. Director-writer Srijit Mukherji is responsible for a few of these kinds of films; I've seen the interesting but imperfect Autograph and the maybe-good-on-paper-but-actually-eye-roll-y Baishe Srabon.*

Hemlock Society quickly develops a sense of an increasingly bizarre and slightly dream-like subculture, full of kooky minor characters, within the &quo…

Kapoor and Sons

Kapoor and Sons had a far bigger and more complicated emotional impact on me than I had anticipated while I was watching it. A day later, it's the performances that linger—all of them compelling and convincing—more than the characters. The script successfully convinces me that these are compassionate, intelligent people who have been reminded that loving each other in any meaningful way involves speaking and acting with empathy, with awareness of the responsibility of holding someone else's heart in your hands. Most of the problems the Kapoors have are due to assumptions rather than hatred or malicious wronging. I may have questions about what will happen next to all of them (and I do!), but I can trust that they will be much better off moving forward than they were when we met them.

Contrast this with Dil Dhadakne Do, which has a slightly more filmi ending but also left me much less certain about how the parents were going to do in the months ahead. Kapoor and Sons feels gent…

Kismat

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I'm on a mission to watch all of Manmohan Desai's movies before the end of this academic semester, and unless one of the remainders* turns out to be an absolute dud, Kismat is taking the prize for the worst of the 21 films he directed. It's not even the worst Hindi film of 1968 that I've seen**, but even with a ramshackle, mostly uninteresting script, it is full of missed opportunities. This is the last of only three films Desai wrote for himself, but it's a shock to see it right on the heels of Bluff Master, which I'd call basically flawless. His next film, Sachaa Jhutha, is his first with Prayag Raj, who is responsible for all but one of the rest of Desai's films (and all of my favorites)***—and those that I think of as embodying his primary values (interests?) of entertainment, inclusivity, community, family bonds, and gentle populism.

First on that list of miscalculations in this film is the casting of the lead actors: Biswajeet (Vicky), whom I find bl…

Kadambari

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Mostly because of Konkona Sen Sharma, but also out of my deep love of films with historical people being scandalous and making bad decisions among interesting and/or sumptuous settings, I've been very eagerly awaiting the opportunity to see Kadambari, a 2015 film about the relationship between Rabindranath Tagore and his sister-in-law and her struggle to have a life of her own within the Jorasanko Thakurbari. However, I know little of either contemporary Bengali movies or Tagore, so my bar was not high, having previously made my peace with the fact that Koko can be fantastic in stuff that is well beneath her. "Ignorant but forgiving" is not a bad frame of mind for this film (and many others), and as a visually beautiful story about empathetic people crashing into social conventions—especially ones that we, smug in the future, know will eventually begin to give way—it is a satisfying timepass indeed.

Kadambari is a very complicated and sad story, but I love how dedicated i…