Posts Tagged ‘ Hansal Mehta ’

Aligarh

Aligarh-poster

Aligarh
Release date: February 26, 2016
Directed by: Hansal Mehta
Cast: Manoj Bajpayee, Rajkummar Rao, Ashish Vidyarthi, Dilnaz Irani

Two men walk toward a building in the dark of the night in the foggy town of Aligarh. They speak in muffled voices about the character of a particular woman. It’s difficult to make sense of it, and isn’t really a pleasant conversation to be a part of. The same men walk in from a distance to Professor Siras’s house, to bust his sexual relationship with another man. Two men with questionable integrity assume the position of authority over another man’s actions.

Their self-righteous vigilantism is intended at shaming the Professor throughout the university, and in the society as a whole. In the small-town Islamic community of the university and the city, indulging in acts of passion and lust with a person of the same sex is often shown to be called an “immoral activity”. Siras (Manoj Bajpayee) is relieved of his duties as the chairman of the linguistics department. His co-employee suggests that he write a small apology letter for his “mistake”, to which Siras questions what wrong has he done.

The supposedly minor incident’s repercussions don’t stop at the firing. As he’s just a few months away from his retirement, the after-effects of the entire fiasco begin to manifest in almost every aspect of his life. His sense of loneliness is only aggravated, his state of mind worsened at this great backlash from the university to which he’s devoted more than thirty years of his life. Amidst constant chaos, Siras tries to restore some sanity by, as they say in Hindi, Maahaul Banaanaa, or turning on some sweet Lata Mangeshkar with a little marketable whiskey in his hands.

The camera stays with him, as he rhythmically taps his feet, singing along Aapki Nazaron Ne Samjhaa in a trembling voice that collapses at times to give way to wistfulness. These fixed closeups divulge only as much as you can make yourself see, refusing to break into single person monologues just for the heck of establishing what’s going on in his mind. The pace of the film is deliberated, just like the general speed of time is, in a tier-2 city that strives to be a tier-1 metropolis during the day, and falls back to its cold and misty, thoroughly tamed, dull and uneventful darkness when the sun sets. Silences are powerfully emphasized, instead of resorting to mushy, background scores.

Deepu Sebastian (Rajkummar Rao) is a young intern at a newspaper publication who wants to follow Siras’s story. The professor doesn’t warm up immediately to him and their first meeting ends up in him almost breaking down. Siras’s struggle to get reinstated at the university gains national headlines as a lawyer, who got the Delhi High Court to decriminalize homosexuality, decides to take up his case. A greater conspiracy by university officials starts to unearth as the case is actually contested in the Allahabad High Court.

Manoj Bajpayee embodies his 64 year old’s character’s mannerisms beautifully. He sinks his shoulders in, clenches on to his objects tightly, blushes cutely when someone compliments him and inculcates an effeminate Marathi accent. The writing keeps Siras sane, composed, and even lets him retain a certain sense of humor. Though, with the dialogue, the film rarely scratches below the surface of the issues at hand. Cliched statements about love, poetry, and people’s need to label relationships and sexual orientations spring up, even in perfectly relevant situations.

Rao, as the young South Indian, drops only a single “Ayyo”, and a charming Hindi diction. The makers depict a camaraderie between Siras and Deepu which is engaging, but slightly contrived, so as to keep the dynamic as non-homoerotic as they can. Their conversations throw the most light on Siras’s traits and his ideologies. Props to the guys who did the post production VFX for keeping the breaking news section on a news channel contextual to the happenings of 2010.

Mr. Shrinivas Ramchandra Siras’s moving story makes for a very strong picturization for the level of isolation the minorities, of the sexual or any other kind, can be subjected to by our prudish “collective morality”. The film rises higher than just being a character-study or a biographical drama, yet the subtlety of it all stops short of making you want to let your eyes well up. Nevertheless, it’s an extremely important film for our times, when the Supreme Court has again criminalized homosexuality.

My rating: ***1/2 (3.5 out of 5)

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)

Shahid

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Shahid
Release date: October 18, 2013
Directed by: Hansal Mehta
Cast: Raj Kumar Yadav, Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub, Baljinder Kaur, Prabhleen Sandhu, K K Menon, Prabal Panjabi, Tigmanshu Dhulia, Vipin Sharma

Every time I read a “Based on a true story” disclaimer before the film starts, or even in trailers or on posters, my interest is pined and I may even Google about the person in question. Besides, I’d anticipate a certain level of justice to be done to the person’s story to an extent. Shahid is inspired from Shahid Azmi’s life, a person who faced the wrath of injustice only to value the importance of justice.

The film has a straightforward approach in terms of its storytelling and its narration as well. Crunched in a small Dongri apartment, Shahid (Raj Kumar) lives with his three brothers and mother. Out of his three brothers, Arif (Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub) is the oldest and he is Shahid’s confidant. The timeline stretches back to the January 1993 riots to give you the instant realistic creeps as crude violence jumps into your face at the very start.

In a fit of anger, or perhaps to salvage some lost dignity in his own eyes, Shahid joins a militia training camp in the snowy mountains of Kashmir. Soon he realizes he’s not cut out to be a religiously provoked militant, but he’s punished for being “poor and defenseless”, an unclear period of six years. While serving his time he finds his calling, influenced by another inmate, taking up law as a graduation major and putting it to use for fighting for the cause of implicated poor Muslim youngsters, or other persons of interest who are inherently innocent.

His journey makes him increasingly independent, as the organizations and people backing him constantly become worried about Shahid’s own well being in the face of recurring life threats from unknown mercenaries. The “other side” or the opposition is faceless and appreciably handled with the given mystique, as the actual motivations for Azmi’s murderers were never fully looked into. He was defending Faheem Ansari in his last case. The film refuses to focus on the various conspiracy theories and instead decides to tell an inspiring tale of courage and determination.

Raj Kumar’s performance is superlative. He is the bumbling teenager, caught in a web of darkness and the spontaneous firebrand in the courtroom; both with equal ease and conviction. His exchanges with Vipin Sharma, who is the public prosecutor in a case, are gems of unlikely familiarity. The insides of the Indian judiciary are depicted with careful precision, no garish benches, no outlandish glowing coats, just plastic chairs galore.

Again, Raj Kumar’s portrayal reaches other depths by the assistance of his support characters. Shahid’s brother Arif (Ayyub) turns tired of playing the go-to guy, Mariyam (Prabhleen Sandhu) is charmed by the dynamic lawyer’s honesty and eventually weary from his erratic work hours. His mother (Baljinder Kaur) displays the unsuspectingly feisty characteristics that every Indian woman surprises us with. The characters are given a fair treatment, and the actors in return give more than just a fair effort to the task.

Shot on location in Mumbai, there are the few cliched shots of the Haji Ali and the kabootarkhaana, yet they are passable. The cinematography is extensively handheld, which simply adds to the feel of small spaces inside Mumbai cramped houses. At a runtime length of two hours, Shahid (the film) is simplistically appealing and moving. It never wanders off the path and marches on with an underlining positive message even if the result is a known grim one. Perhaps, the best biopic of this year.

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

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