Archive for April, 2015

Avengers: Age of Ultron


Avengers: Age of Ultron
Release date: April 24, 2015
Directed by: Joss Whedon
Cast: Robert Downey Jr, Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johansson, Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Jeremy Renner, Cobie Smulders, Don Cheadle, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany, Andy Serkis, Claudia Kim, James Spader, Julie Delpy

To rehash the opening lines of my Avengers review from 2012, a superhero film is nothing but people dying, buildings crumbling, the heroes rising and the villains falling. It is the same and will continue to remain the same. Avengers have a certain air of magnanimous extravagance around them, because you get six nine saviors in cloaks and costumes, and a few more waiting to climb the ranks.

Also, what separates this collection of superheroes from X-Men is the lack of a common lineage shared between the unearthly egos. Every Avenger has a different story to tell, and some of their respective pasts are touched upon in this installment of a most certain trilogy. These flashbacks and peeks into their psyches are assisted by the introduction of Pietro/Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Wanda/Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) as the American hating or rather Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) hating twins from Sokovia.

Joss Whedon tries to recreate either the origins–like in case of Black Widow–or a vantage point of the superhero characters’ demons and fears. Stark and Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) get their hands on the scepter which was previously wielded by Loki, and start deciphering what exactly it holds. They realize there’s an artificial AI in the scepter, and in an amusing scene, JARVIS and ULTRON, two AIs hold a conversation between them. And they are perfectly sentient and verbal, unlike C3PO and R2D2.

In an Empire Strikes Back-esque turn of events, the ULTRON raises an army of innumerable other flying androids or robot drones to cause human extinction and to neutralize the greatest force which could stop them i.e. the Avengers. What ensues is an exhilaratingly long battle and the Avengers falter, only to regroup and fight the robotic armies. Hawkeye/Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner) gets the due attention which his character was deprived of in the last film. Not just attention, he also gets a fun chemistry with another sharp and agile team member.

Age of Ultron successfully charmed me with all its wit, even in the scenes where the supposed world-saviors are getting their ass handed to them on a platter. The film retains the zany nature of the earlier film and goes on to build an unbelievably relatable universe. It’s not relatable in terms of the destruction and aerial-duels between flying harnesses, it’s relatable with respect to a feeling of familiarity where the silly one-liners never run out.

Unlike last time, the heroes have more subtext in the current film, as against requiring the viewer to be completely abreast with the individual films of Captain America, Iron Man and Thor. The premise for a dark film on the origins of Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) is finally laid in place. Again, unlike Empire Strikes Back, there is never a dearth of emerging helping hands for the floundering A-team. The suspension of disbelief hardly ever kicks in.

Avengers: Age of Ultron is an escapist’s paradise with incredible technical finesse. Every frame is almost a feat of technological wonder and sheerly spectacular. If you want to live in a dystopian universe, witness to superhumans guarding it from extraterrestrial and inhuman villains, substantial destruction and civilian deaths are minor casualties you’ll have to live with.

My rating: ***1/2 (3.5 out of 5) 

Margarita With A Straw


Margarita With A Straw
Release date: April 17, 2015
Directed by: Nilesh Maniyar, Shonali Bose
Cast: Revathy, Kuljeet Singh, Kalki Koechlin, Sayani Gupta, Hussain Dalal, Malhar Khushu, Tenzin Dalha

In a Hindi film universe, where the concept of female sexuality is mostly untouched upon, the makers of Margarita With A Straw present a tale of a physically disabled young woman wresting her sexuality from everyone around her. The free world, that cannot sanely comprehend a woman’s sexuality, now gets to witness a handicapped woman’s sexual dilemmas, and forcibly gets to gulp the uncomfortable lump of truth down its metaphorical throat.

Right on from the first few minutes, the theme of the film starts developing, forsaking the first act of the traditional three act structure. The directors jump straight to what they want to show you, and they don’t sugarcoat it overtly or try to ease it in and slip it somewhere along softly. Laila (Kalki Koechlin) is a young girl who’s fit in with the “normal” kids at a “regular” college even with her Cerebral Palsy. She has a wheelchair-bound friend Dhruv (Hussain Dalal) at the same college who she has known for 450 years, as Dhruv puts it in one scene. She has other physically able friends who don’t patronize her as well.

She has a slur in her speech and a walking disability as a result of her Cerebral Palsy, she writes lyrics for her college band and just like any other “normal” kid, slacks off on the job while lurking on her crush’s Facebook profile. She cries at her first romantic rejection. She doesn’t wanna face the world after her desired lover refuses her advances. Just like any other seemingly normal kid.

Notice how I keep ending almost all my descriptions about Laila with a “Just like any other ‘normal’ kid”? That is exactly the basic struggle of every disabled person’s life. To be treated normally and just with a little care, as Rustom Irani’s recent articles suggested in Mumbai Mirror. We get to witness the same everyday challenges of a wheelchair-bound Laila.

As every disabled person requires some assistance, Laila’s mother wears the additional hat of being her caregiver, helping her bathe, change clothes and carry out her basic routine comfortably. And as many Indian parents can’t understand the idea of privacy, that problem is further heightened here, as being her caregiver, Laila’s mother cannot bring herself to accepting certain barriers with respect to Laila’s sexuality and love life.

The conflict of the story is this simple and yet, so firmly ingrained with the characters’ lives. Thus, this is a thoroughly character-driven film and heavily benefits from the amazing performances of all its cast. Revathy as Laila’s protective and extremely affable mother shines through like a warm, and embracing ray of sunlight. The strong mother is shouldered by an equally charming Kuljeet Singh as Laila’s father. Sayani Gupta, particularly strikes a great presence as the blind activist girlfriend Khanum. She radiates a natural sensuality which brings about a metamorphosis in Laila, and will titillate something in you as well.

Lastly, it is a Kalki Koechlin film here. Present in about every scene, she renders a greatly credible performance in this mammoth of a role. She laughs at the silliest of things some times, and yet it never seems deliberated. Laila is vulnerable, and Laila is strong. Laila’s confused and she’s just trying to find her space. Kalki makes herself irreplaceable with this spirited portrayal.

If you walk in to Margarita With A Straw expecting an inspiring tale of human success where Laila transcends physical barriers of disability, her professional endeavors aren’t a major part of the case-study here, and justifiably so as the film covers a small timeline of events in her life. More than biographical, it’s beautiful slice of life cinema served with a quirky straw.

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


Release date: April 17, 2015
Directed by: Chaitanya Tamhane
Cast: Vira Sathidar, Vivek Gomber, Geetanjali Kulkarni, Pradeep Joshi, Usha Bane

Much has been written and spoken about Chaitanya Tamhane’s National Award winning debut feature film, Court, and therefore I wouldn’t waste time running through its credentials. Court is a multilingual film, which depicts a perspective on the Indian Judiciary.

The entire judiciary isn’t being commented upon here, by taking isolated headlines and newspapers cuttings and flashing them between court hearings and there are no scintillating defense/prosecution arguments to ruffle your feathers. It’s rather a take on the decrepit rotting of the archaic laws and their implications on the ordinary justice-seeker, and the justice providers.

Narayan Kamble (Vira Sathidar) is an aging folk-artiste who performs sociopolitically relevant songs, which could be conveniently classified as communist propaganda by an authoritarian government. He’s booked for motivating the suicide of a person who was present at one of his public performances in a slum of Mumbai. He doesn’t know who the person was, nor did he advocate death personally to him. It was a song that he sung, that propelled him to end his life.

As preposterous as the case may sound, it’s realistic. Every day, all over India, cases are filed under the vast bracket of ‘obscenity’ and various other subjective offenses. This is just a reflection of that. The film doesn’t make Narayan the protagonist of the film, rather he’s a symbolic scapegoat of the judiciary. The film goes on to focus on the lawyers and the judges who’re involved in Narayan’s case.

Vinay Vora (Vivek Gomber) is Narayan’s affluent, South Bombay raised attorney, who often ends up paying for his clients. He buys cheese and wine to consume them all by himself while he watches yet-another TV news debate. He’s the personification of a young, liberal and rational lawyer, often resorting to rhetoric questions to portray the frivolous nature of the charges leveled against his client.

Geetanjali Kulkarni plays the public prosecutor in this case. She reads out her arguments, verbatim, from the notes that she makes after feeding her family a dinner. She does the job that’s asked of her, and she shuttles between her different duties efficiently. Unlike Vinay, she isn’t privileged. She shows a different strata and layer within Mumbai’s social and economic hierarchy.

The judge (Pradeep Joshi) is praised by his subordinates for his ‘speed’ of hearing upto five or five and a half cases every day. He reaches this godly figure by disposing a hearing by dismissing a woman for wearing an outfit that violates the more-than-a-century old code of conduct. He’s observant and sharp. Yet, he’s naive and a personal believer in superstitions.

All of these characters form the crux of the film’s judiciary and are a representation of the classes they belong to. The film is multilingual, because the proceedings in the courtrooms of Mumbai are multilingual. Much like the streets of the city. The film also incorporates minor subthemes, such as the ever-befuddling Marathi pride and their silly hatred of the North Indians, then there’s the public lynching of a person for saying something that ‘offends’ a community’s sentiments, the stock-witness syndrome, and the strangely cordial and professional nature of the sparring lawyers in cases; strange because Hindi films can never not ostracize them to the extremes.

There are long sequences that stare hard and soft at the actor’s faces, giving away the quaint ordinary emotions of an everybody. It delivers shattering moments without a loud thud in the background score, particularly Usha Bane’s cross-examination as the “suicide victim’s” wife is perhaps the most powerfully understated one. Court silently underlines the statements that it wants to make and forces you to read between the breezily-written-lines.

It isn’t just a genre-film that thrives on scripted back-and-forth courtroom arguments, it’s a film about perspectives and takes an impartial stand towards any of the said perspectives. It does it so well, even documentaries can’t do it as much justice. No pun intended.

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


Detective Byomkesh Bakshy!


Detective Byomkesh Bakshy!
Release date: April 3, 2015
Directed by: Dibakar Banerjee
Cast: Sushant Singh Rajput, Anand Tiwari, Neeraj Kabi, Meiyang Chang, Swastika Mukherjee, Pradipto Kumar Chakraborty, Takanori Kikuchi, Mark Bennington, Divya Menon, Arindol Bagchi

Formerly recreated as Rajit Kapoor’s middle aged adaptation is a satyanweshi (seeker of truth), and now brought back as a just-out-of-college youngster Byomkesh, Sushant Singh Rajput perhaps plays a younger personification of the character, who’s probably still to become a truth seeker. This same undercurrent is the constant throughout the film.

The young Byomkesh is approached by Ajit (Anand Tiwari) to solve the case of his missing father. He displays the socially inept mannerisms of the BBC’s Sherlock, and ends up coming across as a complete tool. Byomkesh’s charm isn’t as beguiling as that of a classic noir’s private detective. He isn’t even super-smart at picking up clues, yet he figures out there’s more foulplay to the disappearance than what appears on the surface.

Bakshy begins the search for Ajit’s father and ends up at a boarding house run by Dr. Guha (Neeraj Kabi) where an eclectic assortment of young and old Bengali men are put up. Ajit’s missing father had lived here for a healthy span of time and everyone, right from his paan-addict roommate Ashwinibabu (Arindol Bagchi) to Kanai Dao (Meiyang Chang), is a potential suspect. And similarly, every one of them is quite a quirky character. Puntiraam (Pradipto Kumar Chakraborty) is a domestic help whose hands tremble right until the gory end. Thus showing Dibakar Banerjee’s undying affinity towards detailing.

The same eye for detail, along with Nikos Anditsakis’s masterful cinematography, creates a picturesque composition of scenes and shots in the meticulously recreated Calcutta of the 1940s. The second world war is still on, and the Japanese and Chinese forces are eyeing infiltration on the eastern end of India. The foreigners don’t speak chaste Hindi, they interact in their own languages, unlike the ridiculous expatriates of the older Hindi films who were freakishly good at Hindi. Authenticity of the war period is never compromised even in this fictional universe.

The film is richly textured as almost a Hollywood film with the color palettes in use. There are hardly any real locations and thus there is an abundance of wide shots, often tracked through very long and short distances as well. The film’s dialogue is reminiscent of a bygone era, yet it doesn’t go overboard.

The pace of the film isn’t breakneck, and it is only fit for a story where the makers are going from creating a sense of mystery to making the viewers care to be seated in their chairs to patiently wait for what happened and who’s pulling the strings of a complex mob that’s probably in cahoots with Japanese forces. The mystery seems to be solving at the halfway mark, but our Bakshy, with a unibrow, isn’t the brightest detective in the world currently. There are a bazillion flashbacks to ease the putting-together of the clues for the protagonist and us, but this pattern becomes increasingly intolerable and plodding to watch.

Every suspect gets a special flashback of the clues, and the protagonist is trapped by the antagonists quite a lot more times to make the plot seem like a convoluted mess. The performances of Anand Tiwari and Neeraj Kabi shoulder the film tremendously well. Both of them put up a glowing display of their acting chops. My favorite music composer, Sneha Khanwalkar, collaborates with indie acts and renders a fresh new-age background score and theme to the film, which isn’t necessarily optimized to its complete potential.

The action sequences are limited and slickly choreographed, yet the antagonist never physically grapples with Bakshy. Hence, summing up the general apathy towards the climax of the film. The only silver lining in the survival of the villains and the constant silly pitfalls of the young detective is that this film is probably like a prequel for another film. Banerjee seems to be laying a foundation for a series of adventures and cases to be solved by Byomkesh in the future.

DBB, the film, is just like Sushant’s woefully flawed Byomkesh. Even if it doesn’t grow into another future installment, this film warrants a patient watch for its brave effort.

My rating: *** (3 out of 5)

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