Sunday, 4 October 2015

Film Review- Talvar


And Justice For All

Film: Talvar
Cast: Irrfan Khan, Konkana Sen Sharma, Neeraj Kabi, Sohum Shah
Directed by: Meghna Gulzar
Duration: 2 hrs 12 mins
Rating: * * * * 

Meghna Gulzar’s Talvar is one of those rare films where what is being said is much more than what is being shown on the screen. Based on the Aarushi Talwar murder case which was debated and dissected endlessly in the media for quite a while, Talvar tells us of what possibly could have happened on that fateful night. This is our Rashomon

As the old adage goes, truth is stranger than fiction and that is another point that Talvar proves. There are two aspects to the story. First, it is a Sherlockian mystery as to what exactly happened and how, so there is an element of suspense and mystery. Second and more importantly, it is also a telling commentary of the system and the world that we live in. Heaven help if you are caught on the wrong side of the law – except the truth, all other factors will decide your fate and that is rather ironic to say the least. 

Talvar is less of a cookie cutter film and more of an enactment of the events that keeps you gripped right from the first frame. A maid comes to the house of the Tandon’s (Neeraj Kabi and Konkona Sen Sharma) only to find that the door is locked from outside. Once that issue is sorted out, the parents discover the dead body of their daughter Shruti whose throat is slit. Khempal, their domestic help is the prime suspect and since he is missing, it appears to be an open and shut case.  But the next day, his body is found on the terrace of the same building. These basic facts are out in the public domain for a long time now but only those who have followed the case with more than casual interest will know the details about how the investigation was completely botched up by the police. For them it is a simple matter of honor killing but then there are discrepancies.

The case is then handed over to the CDI (an obvious allusion to the CBI) and one of their bright officers, Ashwin Kumar (Irrfan, terrific as usual) explores the case. “Next time you see a blood stained impression of the palm don’t forget to take a fingerprint” he reprimands the cop sarcastically.  

The screenplay offers different points of view of the people involved. They all have a different story to tell and it is only towards the end that the film makers have taken a side which actually works because they don’t push the point too hard. The possibilities are presented, a conclusion is drawn but you are also given enough fodder to draw your conclusions. The farcical manner in which the case was to be closed is comic and yet terrifying and therein lies the triumph of Talvar

The screenplay sucks you in to the extent that you forget you are watching a film – there are the odd strands like Ashwin’s marital discord or the familiar media trial which take you out of that world but not for too long. 

For a movie to be that effective the other aspects of film making also have to come together. Pankaj Kumar’s cinematography is from the top draw and Ketan Sodha’s background score is remarkable. 

The ensemble cast deserves applause. Neeraj Kabi (of ship of Theseus fame) and Konkana Sen Sharma as the distraught parents are apt. Gajraj Rao as the police officer fits the bill and ditto with Atul Kumar as the new investigation officer. Soham Shah as the cool as a cucumber deputy hits all the right notes. The film though rests on Irrfan Khan who has added yet another spectacular performance to his already impressive resumé. This actor just can’t put a foot wrong. 

All said and seen, the arm of the law maybe long but it is not long enough to do justice for all. 

Published in The Navhind Times on 4th Oct. 2015

Film Review - The Martian


Sole Man

Film: The Martian
Cast: Matt Damon, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Jeff Daniels, Jessica Chastain
Directed by: Ridley Scott
Duration: 2 hrs 21 mins
Rating: * * * * 

At 77, director Ridley Scott’s fascination with space and planets continues. He made Alien in 1979 and in circa 2015 it is The Martian. Much like George Miller earlier this year with Mad Max: Fury Road, it is impressive to see Scott so much in command of his craft, especially when back home, the career span of a director is barely ten or fifteen years. 

Based on the book by Andy Weir the story has a predictable trajectory of a man lost on another planet and then the subsequent efforts to bring him back. But it is all done in an entertaining manner and Scott keeps you engaged throughout the 140 odd minutes.

Just as they are about to leave the red planet, the crew of the NASA mission are hit by a severe storm. Mark Watney (Matt Damon) gets injured and in the following chaos he is presumed dead as the rest of the crew take off fearing the worst. 

But surprise surprise, Mark wakes up all alone as the solitary living creature on the planet and very little resources at his disposal. But not one to give up easily, he comes up with ingenious methods for survival including growing potatoes.

Meanwhile back on earth, NASA realizes that he is alive and sort of kicking but time is not on their side as it could take a while for essentials to reach him and years before a rescue mission can get there. The odds are against Mark but given the nature of the film you know that he will see it through not before he hits some major roadblocks. 

By and large the pace is consistently maintained – the focus never stays too long on Mars where he has to fight for survival and keep his sanity intact or on earth where NASA headed by their chief (Jeff Daniels) and other scientists (Chiwetel Ejiofor, Sean Bean) are trying their best to rescue him. The scene keeps cutting between these two places in the right measure. 

Even though Mark is stranded with no help in sight, there is an element of humor and positivity that runs through him – he keeps recording video logs of his day to day activities, hates disco music but since there isn’t much to choose from, he ends up listening to it.   

When things start looking good, David Bowie’s Starman makes an appearance on the soundtrack (maybe they deliberately left out Bowie’s Life on Mars that would have been too literal).

It’s hard not to think of Interstellar or Gravity, two remarkable contemporary films set in space, but the similarities end there.  This doesn’t have the complexity of the former or the intensity of the latter.

They have cast some terrific actors though, many of them, like Jessica Chastain don’t have a great deal of screen time but are effective all the same. Matt Damon is eminently likable in the lead role and contributes immensely in making The Martian worth a trip to the theatres. 

Published in The Navhind Times on 4th Oct. 2015

Film Review - Singh is Bliing

Not Again !
Film: Singh is Bliing
Cast: Akshay Kumar, Amy Jackson, Lara Dutta
Directed by: Prabhudeva
Duration: 2 hrs 20 mins
Rating: * *

Having endured Singh is Bliing, I strongly suspected that most Akshay Kumar comedies nowadays have only one line in the script – Akshay Kumar plays a ______ - fill in the blanks with an appropriate character. The rest of the scenes are worked out later. For instance Akki enters a toilet where a little boy is already urinating and AK doesn’t notice him. 

The boy angrily turns around sprays an unpleasant number of drops on him. The crowd loves it - nothing sells like pissing and farting in our country. The scene is improvised further –the director, Prabhudeva in the other urinal and he also gets a chance to micturate.

That’s Singh is Bliing for you, a film that doesn’t have a plot to begin with, so losing it is out of question.

The plot, if one can call it that, is mind numbingly dumb – Sardar Raftar Singh (Akshay) comes from Punjab to Goa to work in a casino. All roads lead to Goa as Sara (Amy Jackson) comes all the way from Romania in search of her mother. He can’t speak English and she can’t speak Hindi so a bumbling interpreter (Lara Dutta) is hired. The only silver lining in this black hole is Kay Kay Menon who plays a megalomaniac villain –“I am too good” he says in style. He actually is.  

The other factor is Prabhudeva’s approach which is not so misogynist since his last outing in Action Jackson. The heroine beats up men of all shapes and sizes to pulp. All that is fine, but where is the story?

To be fair to Akshay Kumar, he puts his best foot forward and pulls off some scenes admirably. But otherwise what can you say of a film that has songs with lyrics like “My heart says chu che chu che che.”  I’d rather hear the neighborhood dogs howl. 

Published in The Navhind Times on 4th Oct. 2015

Film Review - Puli

Stale Tale

Film: Puli (Tamil dubbed in Hindi)
Cast: Vijay, Shruthi Hassan, Sri Devi, Sudeep
Directed by: Chimbhu Deven
Duration: 2 hrs 34 mins
Rating: *

Much on the lines of Bahubali, Puli is also a fantasy, adventure drama except that this one is an ordeal to sit through. Pedestrian to the core in almost every department of film making, the good old Chandamama stories were a zillion times better than watching this story unfold. 

Once upon a time there was an evil queen (Sri Devi, making an appearance only after interval) who could teleport herself much faster than the Star trek guys but her skills seem to be restricted to one room. The hero (Vijay, as expressive as a doorknob) hails from a humble background but he can take on the army of vetals. These vetals (literally translated as spirits) have blue eyes and two of their canines grow when they get angry. Meanwhile in the audience you are struck by boredom with all this childish mumbo jumbo.
Romance is mandatory in such films and the hero proposes to his girl with this cheesy line – “Ab agla bachcha hamara hi hoga” This is taking fantasy to a different level altogether.  

For reasons not obvious here, the lead actor Vijay has a huge fan following in the South. In this film he has the same expression while facing a menacing black panther, romancing his girlfriend or fighting an army. 

Bahubali at least had the character of Katappa to keep the interest going, no such luck here. This is just a crashing bore.

Published in The Navhind Times on 4th Oct. 2015

Film Review - The Intern


Yes Boss

Film: The Intern
Cast: Robert De Niro, Anne Hathaway, Rene Russo
Directed by: Nancy Meyers
Duration: 2 hrs
Rating: * * * * 

“How is it that you always say the right, do the right thing?” asks Anne Hathaway who plays Jules the owner of a flourishing e-commerce portal, of Ben a 70 year old, who is her intern. He is punctual, dresses impeccably, never frowns and always has a smile on his face and always has something nice to say. And he always carries a handkerchief – not because he needs it but somebody else might. 

Ben is that kind of a character – he is cooler than the coolest uncle you know and could well be the most pleasant man to be around on this planet.  

Director Nancy Meyers has given us a few lightweight enjoyable films (The Parent Trap, Something’s Gotta Give, The Holiday) and with The Intern she scores once again as it has a high quotient of the feel-good factor.  It is the characters and their wonderful chemistry that make The Intern such a delight.

Ben (De Niro) is a widower who is enjoying a retired life. Out of curiosity and challenge, he applies at an e-commerce portal since they are looking for senior interns. He is assigned to the boss Jules, a self made woman who is rather quirky and private. 

You know the film will follow the predictable arc – after the initial vacillation Jules and Ben will form an endearing relationship, with his wisdom he’ll also help her sort out her problems. The enchantment of the film lies in the manner in which all of this unfolds. Plus there are the supporting characters in the office who add to the zing and Rene Russo, who plays the in-house masseuse and the romantic feeling between her and Ben is mutual.

Meyers who has also written the screenplay also touches upon the present and the past generation in a very pleasant manner. Ben for instance likes to come to work in his suit and carries a good old fashioned attaché. At the same time, he is not a technophobe like many others of his generation.  He likes to move on and there is a lesson in there for everyone.
While Jules is a remarkable lady in her own right, it is her interactions with Ben that reveal more about her. Outwardly, she is a tough cookie but deep down, she is a soft person.

We know what a fine actor Robert De Niro is but here his performance exceeded expectations. He adds a different dimension to the character to Ben. The talented Anne Hathaway also matches him at every step –in fact she has to portray a wider range of expressions which she does so well.

The Intern is as heartwarming as a modern day film can get. 

Published in The Navhind Times on 27th Sept. 2015