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Category — Film Reviews

PHD The Movie

All those individuals who have already or are planning to trade their souls and brains to undertake the masochistic journey of a PhD (that should already put you off) here’s something to make your day just a little bit more depressing. The folks at PhD comics have released the movie, PHD (Piled Higher and Deeper). Watch it. What do you think?

[vimeo 24506038 w=425&h=238]

March 17, 2013   No Comments  

The madness of Ram Gopal Varma?

Image of RGV with Surya

Ram Gopal Varma with Surya (Image from Wikimedia)

Ram Gopal Varma has been panned and flamed by critics for his mediocrity (here), being hysterical and gimmicky (here), and like the prodigal son who has lost his way (here). There is also the reported trading of insults between Karan Johar and RGV (here). The proverbial dirt from the laundry is all over the web for interested voyeurs to unravel. This post is not about what are considered RGV’s failures. While we are aware of his abilities to make thrillers and cult characters (Shiva, Satya, Company), his abilities in directing films that subtly poke fun at the “Indian film” without upsetting the “average viewer” are perhaps under-explored and with good reason. The background noise from his many films with the B conventions obscure his record in making some interesting comedy films that do not reduce filmmaking to a series of skits. Three films that come to my mind are Kshana Kshanam (Dir, Telugu) and Rangeela (Dir, Hindi) and Money (Prod, Telugu).

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March 17, 2013   No Comments  

Lemon Tree, five years hence

As some might remember, I had written a review of Eran Riklis’s 2008 film Etz Limon (Lemon Tree) for the inaugural issue of Wide Screen (1.1). I recently re-watched the film when I screened it at the University of Pittsburgh which is currently my home. I was surprised by the differences in my response to the film was this time around.

Here’s a link to the very short response piece I wrote recently: http://www.fsgso.pitt.edu/2013/02/fiver-years-lemon-tree/

Here’s a link to the original review in WS: http://widescreenjournal.org/index.php/journal/article/view/23/28

February 22, 2013   No Comments  

Gangs of Wasseypur

Anurag Kashyap: Talking at and talking with cinema.

Films are texts that become subjects of acrimony between reviewers and fan girls and boys. The former, most often sitting in the periphery of the film world, are borderline narcissists and somewhere off centre lie the fangirls and boys. In this universe, it is almost impossible to have a meaningful conversation unless we are generally in agreement, for example Shah Rukh Khan is the best (replace Shah Rukh Khan with any actor you zealously follow). My review of Gangs… is not aimed to pander to either the Anurag Kashyap fan girls and boys and of course, it is an exercise in narcissism. [Read more →]

September 26, 2012   No Comments  

Gangs of Wasseypur – review

Butcher’s cut

As much as I would have loved to review Anurag Kashyap’s epic Gangs of Wasseypur, I have decided not to. Not only because of paucity of time, but also because I have some vested interests in this film and am not really in a position to be unbiased about it!! But I did find a review that says a lot of things that are reeling in my mind about this sprawling, gritty, beautiful magnum opus. I will say that this film is definitely worth watching, for more details, read this wonderfully written review. Click here to read.

June 23, 2012   No Comments  

Shyam Benegal at the British Film Institute

Smita Patil in Bhumika

Over the weekend of the 9th-10th June, the BFI is honouring Shyam Benegal, one of India’s leading directors. Considered one of the founders of India’s ‘New Wave’, Benegal began his film career in the 1970s. From then to this day, his work has successfully trod the line between Bollywood and art cinema. [Read more →]

June 9, 2012   No Comments  

My Week With Marilyn

This serves mostly as a postscript to my entry on Meryl Streep and the Oscar she won. After watching Simon Curtis’s My Week With Marilyn with Michelle Williams playing the impossible role of Ms Monroe, I feel more than ever that the award was given to the wrong individual.

The film itself is a simple tale of a young man who met the enigma that was Marilyn Monroe in 1957 when she went to England to star in Laurence Olivier’s The Prince and the Showgirl. Like most young men, heck like most women too, Colin Clark, the third assistant to the director, was awestruck by this woman. The two struck a friendship that was short-lived, but clearly served as a turning point in young Colin’s life (unlike the picture of innocence that is Eddie Redmayne who plays the role, the real Colin Clark went on to tell the tale of these little rendezvous in more than one form).

The film relies heavily on the nostalgia of Marilyn Monroe, a figure drowned in aura, mystery and indeed tragedy. This is what makes the role of Marilyn Monroe nearly impossible to play. Mostly because it is too overwhelming, for too many emotions, and a lot of sympathy continues to lie with this beautiful young woman who was destroyed by this cruel world (as most weeping secretaries on Mad Men tell us upon hearing the news of Monroe’s death). [Read more →]

March 30, 2012   No Comments  

Kahaani: When Bollywood left Bombay

I watched Sujoy Ghosh’s latest film Kahaani last night, and to my utter surprise, I was absolutely hooked to every second of the film. Ghosh who has previously made films like Jhankaar Beats (2003), Aladin (2009) and Home Delivery (2005) has always aimed to make a space for himself in the visibly formulaic atmosphere of Bollywood. And while his something like Jhankaar Beats was indeed genre bending, it was also a somewhat contrived effort that was hopelessly devoted to its western inspirations. This is perhaps the reason I was so pleasantly surprised with the incredible maturity of Kahaani. A film made by someone who is at home in the space that his film unfolds, and is able to take his audience through the crowded lanes of Calcutta, painting the picture of a city that is stuck in a moment with its history and its stagnation written on its surfaces. Now that we have seen an overkill of the labyrinthine lanes of Bombay, the time was right to move to another city, that has its own brand of mystery, as potent but visibly different.

I can think of a lot of things to say about Kahaani, but I think this review by Trisha Gupta will do the film much more justice. Click here to read it.

March 10, 2012   1 Comment  

Melodrama of Melancholia

by Priyaa Ghosh

Freeze the time and slow down its passage, I am mourning my own death;  I am afraid to meet with the moment…cripplingly alone. This is what I took home from Melancholia,


From Terminator to Day after Tomorrow, Hollywood had already churned out a gamut of “end of the world” films playing out the threat of natural disasters and invasion of the aliens on our planet. Lars von Trier takes off from that legacy, but does he really propose a trajectory to the great threat to human existence, advancing the  American obsessive fear  of being wiped out, the fear of the limitations in putting things under control.  Perhaps for the film, the approach of the planet melancholia, only partly emanates from this discourse and the rest of the deeply entrenched nihilism emanates from a shadow of the self, looming large and threatening. It is  a disintegration of the Nietzschean figure of the all controlling superman.  Melancholia is in us, a part of us, which is sent to retreat in the unconscious depths of the mind, by the exuberance of an assurance of rationally generated happiness, wholesomeness and a well being predicated on visibility and control. The impossibility of sharing the suffering of death is the primary predicament which sows the seeds of futility and decay in the film. The impossibility of meaningful communication aggravates the suffering to a state of paranoia and neurosis. [Read more →]

January 4, 2012   No Comments  

The Dirty Picture vs a dirty picture: Quick thoughts

from bollywoodhungama.com

The following could arguably be the most crucial scene of Milan Luthria’s The Dirty Picture: a beautiful actress, the object of every man’s desire is sitting in a bathing tub, covered with nothing but some strategically placed foam. The tub itself is placed like a centerpiece of the tiny room. A flustered journalist is barely able to hold his camera still as he frantically takes pictures of Silk (Vidya Balan). Within seconds, what would have been a sensational expose of Silk’s humble home, turns into a feat in seduction as the journalist was all but forced to ignore the humble surroundings and focus on the star in the most thrilling, inviting pose. Silk’s plan to overshadow the shortcomings of her house by putting herself on display worked wonderfully. Something similar happens with the film, The Dirty Picture, which is somewhat patchy, plastic and awkward, but no one cares because Vidya Balan’s stunning performance overshadows the failings of this film.

In the first instance, it is a conventional story about the tragic life of a film actress who decided to make her way up in the industry by using her sexuality. However, despite a less than spectacular story, the film deftly positions itself in complex ways. Consider this: in the run up to the release of the film, producer Ekta Kapoor said in an interview to The Indian Express, “The Dirty Picture is about female sexuality and about a woman who created her own niche.” This sanitized, even progressive view of what the film wants to achieve was in contradiction, to say the least, on ground zero as a packed house of audiences clapped, whistled, hooted and even passed comments each time Balan licked her lips, bent provocatively to show her cleavage and moaned loudly as the couple next door tried to have sex. Even as it plays itself out as a biopic of the mysterious, exploited and tragic figure of Silk Smitha, it simultaneously uses the very tropes a number of Silk films used back in the late seventies and eighties, making it impossible to draw clear, moral distinctions between ‘celebrating’ female sexuality and ‘exploiting’ it.

The key player in complicating the politics of this film is the promotion. While talk of National Awards has gone viral (particularly with Ekta Kapoor saying she would be surprised if Balan didn’t get a National Award), the Web is still flooded with reports that emphasize what is constantly being referred to as the ‘boldness’ of the film. A sampler: “Simpleton to sexy siren: Vidya Balan goes ooh la la!” (Mid-Day), “The Dirty Picture: Breast Wishes” (blogpost), “Lots of Oomph, Sex in this Vidya Balan starrer (koimoi.com) and most importantly, Luthria’s quote that made headlines, “I have used sex to market The Dirty Picture” (Rediff). And this is not counting the sea of videos on YouTube that are on similar lines.

The most interesting bit of news in this regard was reported by The Economic Times, that said, “Readers of popular Hindi magazine Manohar Kahaniyan will get more than their dose of pulp fiction when they pick up its latest issue, the cover of which promises the raunchy story of a “sexy heroine”. The magazine with actress Vidya Balan on its cover is an enticement for an upcoming movie, The Dirty Picture, offering more than its staple fare.” It goes on to explicate that the production house has enlisted the services of a marketing agency called Spice Bhasha that was helping them promote the film in “non-metropolitan India…B-Towns”. Sidestepping the narratives of freedom and progression, the film is being promoted here in a way that is eerily reminiscent of how a Silk Smitha film would probably have been promoted a few decades ago.

It isn’t surprising therefore that the cover of the magazine has an image that is used as a magazine cover about Silk in the film as well. In other words, what serves as an image of Silk in the film, is being used as an image of Vidya Balan. To put it crudely, the unstated but ubiquitously understood distinctions between an award-winning actress of Balan’s caliber and Silk Smitha, who occupied the space between B-grade and soft-porn, are blurred. The very idea of representation, as something that is distanced from “what is” becomes shaky as these distinctions become unclear, underscoring the film’s confrontation with the moral hypocrisy of the film-making and viewing community, particularly in India.

Occupying multiple categories The Dirty Picture ensures that it manages to play to the gallery in diverse economic and cultural spaces. As action films return with a vengeance with films like Bodyguard, Ready and Singham breaking Box Office records in 2011, the only other film that successfully played a tongue-in-cheek game of now-an-action-film-now-a-parody, was Abhinav Kashyap’s Dabangg (2010).


December 7, 2011   1 Comment