Archive for June, 2014

With You, Without You

The Official Poster

The Official Poster

With You, Without You (Oba Nathuwa Oba Ekka)
Release date: June 20, 2014 (India)
Directed by: Prasanna Vithanage
Cast: Anjali Patil, Shyam Fernando, Maheshwari Ratnam, Wasantha Moragoda

Sri Lankan director/screenwriter’s Sinhalese adaptation of Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s novella The Meek One came out almost two years ago on the international film festival circuit, and has won a handful of awards everywhere the film has been projected. Now I know why. Shot on a unique aspect ratio with the now extinct Kodak species of equipments, With You, Without You is superlatively pleasing to watch.

Set in the post war inflicted country, Selvi (Anjali Patil) is a young Tamil girl who is separated from her family and runs dry of money to pay for her rent. She ends up selling off her jewelry to a weary pawnshop owner, Sarathsiri (Shyam Fernando) who takes an instant liking to her. He even breaks his own set of business ethics especially for her, in their very first encounter! He starts pursuing her in his own way.

Things move fast, and Selvi takes her own time to reciprocate. They don’t know each others’ backgrounds, in a country torn apart by the thick band of differences into two tribes, the majority Sinhalese populace and the minority Tamils. Even when they start living together, Sarathsiri keeps his stoic face intact and hardly gives away much of his past or his current aspirations, except just growing his business.

Their small blissful paradise faces an eruption in the form of a revelation of one of their muddy professional records. The principal characters reside in a small apartment which is lightly painted in the color blue, with the only window overlooking the hills and minimalistic furniture in sight. The protagonists wear hues of blues and not even once it appears forced. Every shot of the film is almost a specimen of brilliance and embodies the stillness and calm of their lives. The hills, the streets, or Anjali Patil’s fragile demure, M.D. Mahindapala with the director, creates a terrific mise-en-scene.

The theme touches upon a very complex ending in a comparatively foretelling approach. I wish I could talk about the intricacy of that ending, but I wouldn’t give away any major spoilers. Shyam Fernando as Sarathsiri watches professional wrestling throughout the course of the film, which I won’t necessarily like to call as an ego rush, as much as a testosterone pump-up. There is a perpetual look of restraint and grim on his face and when he makes a vital confession, you see why.

In its entirety, the film refrains from using any background score which would manipulate how you feel about any of the characters on screen, and yet maintains a constant evolution in their graphs with its limited dialogues. Prasanna Vithanage’ With You, Without You is a masterpiece in its own caliber.

My rating: ****1/2 (4.5 out of 5)

(This film is a PVR Director’s Rare release)

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The World Before Her

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The World Before Her
Release date: June 6, 2014 (India)
Directed by: Nisha Pahuja
Cast: Prachi Trivedi, Ruhi Singh, Pooja Chopra, Ankita Shorey, Marc Robinson

In two juxtaposing small towns of Jaipur and Aurangabad, two contradicting mindsets reside. Both of them are against the grain of the usual ones in their respective localities. The first is that of Durga Vahini‘s resident member, Prachi Trivedi’s anti-marriage, pro Hindutva, a  24 year old woman from Aurangabad. The other is of a beauty pageant aspirant from Jaipur, 19 year old Ruhi Singh. The two ladies, aren’t the only central interviewees in this documentary though.

Raised by a somewhat encouraging yet strong-willed set of parents, both these ladies grow up to have their own dreams to fulfill in their own worlds. Their worlds may be different, but they aren’t mutually exclusive from each other. And the ironic connection at each step is what forms for entertaining dark humor and thought-provoking sensitive questions. Prachi doesn’t like ‘weak’ girls, so much that she would bash their heads if she could. She also admits that the authority that she has makes her feel empowered and she likes people to fear her. The same taskmistress finds a mellow and softer attitude at her patriarchal house. You can see her become the proverbial ‘daddy’s little girl’ with the look in her eyes when her priest father talks about her future.

Ruhi’s parents believe that their daughter will not be able to live up to the lifestyle that she wants to in Jaipur. They send her to Mumbai to participate in the Miss India contest. Soon parallels keep emerging between the painful, yet pretty grilling practice sessions of the vanity fare and the tough love mixed with some healthy dose of brainwashing at the severely right wing Vishwa Hindu Parishad‘s Durga Vahini camp. Along the narrative, more young women are introduced. At the camp in Aurangabad, there is Chinmayee, a fourteen year old girl with a sweet voice and a naive mind with her own small story, then there’s Ankita Shorey at the pageant with her own rebellious tale.

Nisha Pahuja keeps filling in the blanks with shocking and amazing points of dichotomy between the two systems and keeps exploring the apparent hardened outward manifestation of the ladies under the gaze of the camera. There are vulnerable moments of each of these women, and a conscious attempt to put up a stoic front. These are real people, and I am sure you wouldn’t want your insecurities to paint you in a bad light. Technically, the transitions are substantial and the barely there background score strings together the entire screenplay through its various back and forths. Pahuja doesn’t stop with her questions and her insights never get vague or bring a sense of commonality.

The World Before Her doesn’t preach, it rather tries providing facts. It shows the disparities between the two worlds, and the similarities. It doesn’t wield an outright black over the right wing ideology and not a pure white over the ‘westernized’ concepts of beauty. Neither of them is holier than the other, and yet it’s about the women in these systems and what they find their life’s purpose in. The questions stay consistently foraying, but the answers fill the bones with enormous amounts of flesh.

My rating: No rating. (Mandatory viewing)

CityLights

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CityLights
Release date: May 30, 2014
Directed by: Hansal Mehta
Cast: Rajkummar Rao, Patralekhaa, Manav Kaul, Vinod Rawat

How many times have you seen a family with their luggage, asking you to hand out some money to them because they’re running dry or just new to your metropolitan city? You want to trust them but your hardened instincts advise otherwise. You aren’t a heartless asshole, it’s just your ability to trust someone on facial value has been diminished for various realistic reasons.

CityLights, adapted from Sean Ellis’ Metro Manila, presents a tale of one such family voluntarily uprooted from its humble countryside origins. Deepak (Rajkummar Rao) looks for an out to his debts and other woes by turning his dreamy gaze to the dreadly city of dreams, Mumbai. He convinces his wife Rakhee (Patralekhaa) that no one goes to sleep hungry in Mumbai, and nor will they. The two of them along with their little daughter Mahi migrate with a goal to earn big and return back to their village.

On their very first day in town, they are greeted with the coldest of welcomes. The struggle starts here. The struggle to get a job,to find a place worth living in, and trying to save themselves from getting into the endless abyss of feeding off of leftovers of the entire populace. Vishnu (Manav Kaul) shows trust in Deepak by lobbying for a job in a security company. The company provides vaults to anyone who wants to stash their fortunes and transport them to where they want.

Deepak, even after the initial betrayals, still remains a simpleton at his core. He doesn’t let go of his morals even when a convenient con job is chalked out for him. What Mumbai forces him to sacrifice forms the base of the film’s primary conflict. Rajkummar Rao talks with the sweetest of Rajasthani accent and even sings a song, making you suspend your disbelief. He presents an unabashed Deepak and never falls out of his self-created mould. Patralekhaa and Manav Kaul in their respective debuts have so much screen time which could rattle any ‘newcomer’ in their boots and every other body part. Patralekhaa brings out the best in Deepak with her Rakhee. Kaul provides the necessary fringe touch.

Hansal Mehta with his DP Dev Agarwal paint the celluloid canvas with a varied range and are in complete control of their task. Be it a paradoxical wide frame of skyscrapers and heaps of garbage with the protagonists in the foreground or handheld gauging closeups, the palette of colors and angles are tight. I could have done without the excessive background score at certain junctures though. The sound of the season, Arijit Singh delivers two engaging songs which cover the story arc through its highs and lows very well.

CityLights presents a grim authentic representation of how things can go awfully wrong in an attempt at making them better. Personal bias aside, I hope this film proves to be a beacon of hope in the heavily template-dependent approach of filmmaking at Vishesh Films.

My rating: **** (4 out of 5)

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