Saturday, 18 April 2015

Film Review - Court

The Jury Is In

Film: Court (Marathi with English subtitles)
Cast: Vira Sathidar, Geetanjali Kulkarni, Vivek Gomber, Pradeep Joshi
Directed by: Chaitanya Tamhane
Duration: 1 hr 55 mins
Rating: * * * * *

Let me put this in plain English: Court is one of the finest films made in recent times, in any part of the world. When it comes to quality, mind and soul stirring cinema, it doesn’t get any better than this film, which also happens to be the debut feature of director Chaitanya Tamhane.  

And what a debut it is.

The subject of Court is something that is usually accompanied by a lot of drama and desk thumping. That legal matters move at a snail's pace, when they move at all, is well known but what happens to those who are at the receiving end of it? And what about those who are involved in the process of delivering justice?

Court deals with an enraging matter with a Zen-like calmness. Imagine an action film without stunts or a war film without gun-fire; this film tackles a strong subject but offers an alternative view.

An elderly dalit folk singer Narayan Kamble (Vira Sathidar) is charged by the police with abetting the suicide of a sewage worker. The accusation is that the dead man heard one of Kamble's songs and the lyrics drove him to commit suicide; he enters a manhole without proper safety equipment and the toxic gases kill him. The charge sounds ludicrous but the law has to take its own course, the singer is arrested and promptly remanded in custody.

A well- to-do activist lawyer (Vivek Gomber, who has also produced the film) represents Kamble in court while the public prosecutor (Geetanjali Kulkarni) fights tooth and nail to ensure he stays in jail. At one point she even cites archaic laws to claim that the elderly singer is a threat to the sovereignty of India. The defense lawyer knows very well that these laws are antiquated and irrelevant, but apart from being patient and carrying on the fight, there is precious little he can do.  

We also get a glimpse of the personal lives of those involved. The prosecutor leads a normal life - cooks food for her family, picks up her son from day care and does all the other domestic chores. There is also an exceptional scene in a train where she discusses olive oil with her friend. In another instance, with complete insouciance she says that the old man should be dumped in the prison for 20 years because she is fed up with seeing the same faces. 

The activist lawyer comes from a rich Gujarathi family, and when he is not fighting for the marginalized, he is seen buying wine and cheese in a supermarker. During a dinner table conversation, his father also accuses him of getting everything easily on a platter in life.  

And then there is the judge (Pradeep Joshi), who goes by the book. At one point he even tells a lady that her case will not be heard because she is wearing a sleeveless top and that is not permissible as per the rules. The law may be a ass but it is still the law.

Had it not been so real, Kafka would have been proud of this farce.

At the end of the day though, they are all doing their jobs to the best of their ability. But morality and the rule book don’t go hand and hand and Court makes this subtle point with great impact.

When it comes to court cases, in India, unfortunately, as many have discovered, the trial is itself the punishment, sometimes even worse. 

This is not a one track narrative, there is no good and bad here and hence there is no preaching.

All the while, the camera is an observer not a participant. In fact, in an Ozu like manner, Mrunal Desai’s frames remain fixed, the camera never moves, barring a couple of times when it pans.

There is no background music in the film, keeping it simple, and Lokshair Sambhaji Bhagat’s powada (poetry) is used to good effect.

The actors, many of them non-professional are in fine fettle. Vira Sathidar looks and plays his character to a T, Geetanjali Kulkarni as the prosecutor and Pradeep Joshi as the judge look more like real life people than actors playing a part.

Do as you please but do not miss this film.

Published  in The Navhind Times, Goa on 19th April 2015

Film Review - Margarita With a Straw

Cup of Life

Film: Margarita With a Straw
Cast: Kalki Koechlin, Sayani Gupta, Revathy
Directed by: Shonali Bose
Duration: 1 hr 40 mins
Rating: * * * 1 / 2

Directed by Shonali Bose, Margarita With a Straw is a rare film that deals talks about self discovery with sensibility and sensitivity. No wonder the film won a couple of awards at international festivals including one at Toronto.

While the story is well told, a great deal of the credit for pulling it off should also go to the lead actress Kalki Koechlin who has delivered a knockout performance in the lead role.

The film revolves around Laila (Kalki), who has cerebral palsy. While her doting mother (Revathy, reliable as always) looks after her, among other things, the young woman is also discovering her sexuality.

She has a crush on the singer of her college band but that matter doesn’t progress much. She gets a scholarship in New York where she meets Khanum (Sayani Gupta) and part of the film delves on their relationship.   

The screenplay brings out the emotions without being sloppily sentimental and that is the biggest achievement. Usually films dealing with characters that have special needs tend to go over the top but this one driven more by the character rather then what her needs are. That is not to say that it doesn’t bring out the compassion, it does.

The acting is from the top draw, along with Kalki, Sayani Gupta and Revathy fit the bill.

With a story that comes straight from the heart, Margarita With a Straw is eminently worth a watch. 

Published in The Navhind Times on 19th April 2015

Film Review - OK Kanmani

Love On The Tracks
Film: OK Kanmani (Tamil with English subtitles)
Cast: Dulquer Salmaan, Nithya Menon, Prakash Raj
Directed by: Mani Ratnam
Duration: 2 hrs 20 mins
Rating: *  *  *

Mani Ratnam’s OK Kanmani marks a return for him to the romance genre – lightweight and easy going, it provides some decent entertainment and as the case with all Mani Ratnam films, the visuals are stunning.

In terms of a plot, there isn’t a great deal happening which makes it Mani saar’s job even more difficult and hence, praiseworthy. Set in Mumbai, Adi (Dulquer Salmaan) is a gaming software developer with plans to go to the U.S. Prakash Raj plays his landlord and his wife (Leela Samson) is in the first stage of Alzheimer’s, in spite of the travails,  they are as happy a couple as can be.

Adi meets Tara (Nithya Menon, terrific) an architect, and before you can cheese, the two fall in love. But they also make a pact, they will enjoy the relationship as best as they can but never get married. These things have happened in other films before so you know exactly where it is heading and how it will end.

But in spite of the predictability of the story, Ratnam manages to hold your attention. Whether it is the city of Mumbai, his favorite train rides or the rain drenched climax, there are some remarkable scenes. And even today, no one picturizes songs with the kind of zing that Ratnam does.

It also helps that the chemistry between the lead players is terrific. Nithya Menon is quite a revelation and Dulquer Salmaan gives her good company.

The film is a bit stretched specially in the later half and some trimming was the order of the day. But the flaws not withstanding, OK Kanmani still makes the cut. 

Published  in The Navhind Times, Goa on 19th April 2015

Film Review - Mr. X

Very Hollow, Man

Film: Mr.X
Cast: Emraan Hashmi, Amyra Dastur
Directed by: Vikram Bhatt
Duration: 2 hrs 5 mins
Rating: *

Mr. X has been promoted as a science fiction and action film. Be assured, there is no science, no fiction, as for the action, you can give it a miss too.

Devoid of any logic or common sense, the screenplay treats its audience as someone who has a single digit I.Q.  It appears more like a project to test how much ludicrousness the viewers can take.

Emraan Hashmi plays Raghu, a works for the anti-terrorism department along with his fiancĂ© Siya (Amyra Dastur). He is set up and framed with the charge of killing the C.M. and the story doesn’t have plot holes, it has craters of the size than can be found on Mars.

After he is presumed dead, a rather distraught looking lady working in a lab discovers that there is some strange chemical reaction happening in his body and injects him with a serum that has not been tested and voila, he becomes invisible. He is seen though in sunlight and ultra violet light. Don’t expect any Arthur C. Clarke like explanation as to how and why that happens – this is a Bhatt production.

If you expect the script to get any sensible once he becomes the Hollow man, you are dead wrong, it only gets worse.

Towards the end, there is a memorable line which is uttered - the heroine is in the shower (she is shown there once before) when the invisible man joins her, she asks if those who cannot be seen need to have a shower, pat comes his reply – “jo log gayab hote hain unhe nahane ki nahin pyar ki zarrorat hoti hain” (Those who are invisible don’t need a shower,  they need love). 

I rest my case.

Published  in The Navhind Times, Goa on 19th April 2015

Film Review - Dharam Sankat Mein

Losing My Religion

Film: Dharam Sankat Mein
Cast: Paresh Rawal, Annu Kapoor, Nasseruddin Shah
Directed by: Fuwad Khan
Duration: 2 hrs
Rating: * * 1 / 2

What would happen if one fine day, you discover that you were born in a different religion from the one you are professing? That is the basic premise of cinematographer turned director Fuwad Khan’s Dharam Sankat Mein which is officially a remake of The Infidels (2010) where a Muslim discovers that he was born to Jewish parents.

In this case, it is Dharampal (Paresh Rawal) who is more of a cultural Hindu who constantly questions many of the rituals and specially Godmen. His family are big fans of Neelanand Baba (Nasseruddin Shah) who like the Messenger of God, makes an entry on one of those heavy duty envious bikes and lives up to his name – everything from his attire to posters are blue. “Kya who filmein bhi neeli dekhte hain?” an appropriate question is asked.

When Dharampal opens his late mother’s bank locker, he discovers that he was adopted and his biological parents were Muslims. For someone who is not particularly fond of religion, he is a bit shaken up and traces his father who is ill in an old age home. The maulvi (Murli Sharma) tells him that he has to become a Muslim in terms of knowing the basic tenets of Islam before meeting his father. The man who can help him do that is his neighbour (Annu Kapoor) a lawyer. He teaches him the nuances of pronunciations and other mannerisms and some of those scenes are quite amusing. 

Dharampal is sandwiched between the two religions – his family insists he become a part of the godmans cult while on the other hand, he has to go out oh his way to learn another religion of which he knows nothing.

He studies Islam just so that he can meet his father and that reason is not very convincing. But it is just used as a device to challenge the common notions of religion and the screenplay does a commendable job of being equal opportunity offender. At the same time, it also plays it safe in many ways and doesn’t really push the envelope although you can’t fault the film makers for that - given the heightened sensitivity on matters of religion (the film apparently suffered at the hands of the censors), it is hard to deliver the envelope forget push it, never mind if the origin of the phrase had got noting to do with a literal envelope. Questioning beliefs is possible but faith is still a no-no.

The actors are in top form – Paresh Rawal is a seasoned actor and Annu Kapoor gives him good company. Nasseruddin Shah does justice to his flamboyant character. All said and seen, Dharam Sankat Mein deals with an important subject and nevermind if it is not entirely satisfying, it is still is a positive step towards better cinema. 

Published in The Navhind Times on 12th April 2015