Posts Tagged ‘ Phantom Films ’

Masaan

masaan-poster

Masaan
Release date: July 24, 2015
Directed by: Neeraj Ghaywan
Cast: Rich Chadda, Sanjay Mishra, Shweta Tripathi, Vicky Kaushal, Pankaj Tripathi, Nikhil Sahni

Death, relocation, and even a certain kind of trauma all have one thing in common; they can be the catalysts to change. I wrote about change in my review of Killaa Marathi film directed by Avinash Arun, who is also the DP of Masaan. He shoots Neeraj Ghaywan’s film, co-incidentally themed on the similar premise of forbearing to the thrusting waves of change and shaping one’s existence in the ways circumstantial activities force themselves upon the cinematic universe.

This universe is thickly veiled in realistic dimensions, subtly trying to grapple with the major forces of caste-barriers, a narrow-minded populace in a highly idealized place of pilgrimage and plays with innocuous young love. Devi Pathak (Richa Chadda) is the well-mannered, soft spoken daughter of a high-caste Brahman, Vidyadhar Pathak (Sanjay Mishra) who manages to work the computer by the day, eventually earning much more than her father and is more ambitious than he could ever be. In the midst of harboring this ambition, she sees herself in a bad predicament. A predicament which wouldn’t make much sense to a first-world inhabitant, but is a very grave situation for a young lady who aspires to a simple life where she wants to be enabled of leading her life with not much fuss.

On another bank of the Ganges, lives Deepak Chaudhary (Vicky Kaushal) of the Dom community, which has been unceremoniously handed the duty of crushing skulls of bodies that burn in the funeral pyre at the Ghats, so the souls of the dead can leave their bodies, as a character points out. He’s a mechanical engineering student vying for an urbane job that would possibly elevate him from his surroundings into a somewhat fair world where he’ll be judged by his potential and work.

Both of the parallel protagonists are closely connected by the common chord of a form of loss. They face a certain transformation brought along by the loss and try to sail along the calm waters of the Sangam. Devi’s conflict sets in motion at the start of the film, whereas Deepak’s surfaces in the later portion. Deepak’s infatuation and adoration for Shalu (Shweta Tripathi) is perhaps the dynamic that a lot of people in small cities have in their first romantic relationship, one that Devi could have shared with the boy at her workplace, which is never shown. The young love manifests itself very cutely, filled with prized gestures and amateur kissing skills.

Debutantes Vicky Kaushal and Shweta Tripathi enact their well-etched parts with equal portions of grace and charm. Never do they let you in on the jitters or any hints of discomfort. Chadda and Mishra are restrained as the emotionally wounded daughter and father. And little Jhonta (Nikhil Sahni) and Sadhya (Pankaj Tripathi) are delightful support players.

These characters indicate the strength in the writing of the film and the execution of combating with grief and other morbid objects isn’t gravely morose as it could have been. The film doesn’t steer clear of heavy drama, unlike stereotyped ‘film-festival’ movies. Neeraj Ghaywan and Varun Grover know when to delve deeper into the confrontations and when to pull back, when there’s a requirement for a breakdown and when there’s a need to stay composed.

Masaan never lets the backdrop of its location, i.e. the town of Banaras, or the shocks of the narrative, take precedence over the entire film. As one of the film’s featured musical composition goes, “Tu kisi rail si guzarti hai, main kisi pul saa… thartharaataa hun.” the film passes by melancholically and rattles you gently.

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

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Hunterrr

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Hunterrr
Release date: March 20, 2015
Directed by: Harshvardhan Kulkarni
Cast: Gulshan Devaiah, Radhika Apte, Sai Tamhankar, Sagar Deshmukh, Veera Saxena

I never wrote about Richard Linklater’s Boyhood last year. One reason for that was I didn’t watch it firsthand in a theater. Uh, that is the only reason. Boyhood was a great experience in the natural evolution of a character and  spontaneous development of the story. Though, a common grouse raised against it was the lack of a coherent ‘plot’. I couldn’t relate my ‘boyhood’ with the film’s because I am not a white male born and brought up in the US. Hunterrr is my relatable Boyhood.

The film opens with his friends chiding him for being a constant sexual predator always on the hunt, to which Mandar (Gulshan Devaiah) responds that sex is a basic human need, just like defecation. He presents sensible and hilarious points in favor of his argument. This is six months prior to the current day, when he has voluntarily forcibly quit his promiscuous ways and has given in to the pressures of having reached a certain age in a middle-class Indian household, i.e. arranged marriage.

He starts seeing women, often making them recoil and cringe in disbelief when he comes clean about his “some” casual encounters during college. He’s told by his cousin Dilip (Sagar Deshmukh) that it’s a process where he’s required to do the opposite, because “Arranged marriages are virgin-folk’s playground.” He pulls a pretense of being a dating-rookie in front of Tripti (Radhika Apte) who tries to be truthful about her troubled past, but Mandar says it doesn’t matter. He knows it doesn’t matter, because he isn’t telling the truth about his own escapades. Soon that reluctance turns into fear, of losing Tripti. Yet, he struggles with the idea of monogamy and keeps shielding himself from the reality.

Along with the current day, there are flashes from his teenage years, how he spent his summers with his cousins in the village. How he stained his sheets for the first time, and how he got his head shaved by the cops. How he got kicked out of his college hostel, and why he left his new apartment. All of these events have an underlying element of sex and humor to them. Some are innocuously hilarious, and some heartbreaking, none of them crass.  The fact that the acts of adolescence transcend into recurring instances of betrayal and dishonesty for him, prove to be Mandar’s undoing.

Hunterrr is written and directed by Harshvardhan Kulkarni, who’d previously written last year’s Hasee Toh Phasee. He creates zany characters out of his surroundings here as he did in HTP as well. Mandar’s shirt-ripping friend, or be it the one who falls in love with a bar-dancer or even his mother’s flawed pronunciation of certain English words or his father’s grumpiness about everything; they’re all fleshed out to infuse life and wit to a story which could have turned out very different than what it has, if it weren’t for them.

This isn’t a film about a heterosexual man’s sexual emancipation, heck Mandar isn’t even portrayed as a player, or a sex-addict who has to jam his tool into every crevice and nook he spots. He does whatever other teenage boys do: he lusts for an older woman (Sai Tamhankar) more than his own girlfriend (Veera Saxena), he boasts of his adventures to be put on a pedestal by his classmates, he tries to be an ass to one of his exes when he discovers she’s moved on. He isn’t a creature of magnanimous importance, he’s just a lurker and shockingly confident at times. Or maybe that’s his ‘thirst’ that gives him the audacity to approach women, which he lacks in a different setting.

His character lacks a sexual growth which was required as he says he’s a ‘hundred not out’ at the crease of intercourse. Obviously, it would have made it even harder to get a censor certificate, but it’s the constant need of keeping the film “as clean as possible” which dilutes the content on the screen. The film relies on Khamosh Shah’s strong soundtrack to convey what it possibly can’t in grim or candid scenes, and the constant back and forth of the timeline of events is at times distracting and even unnecessary. The music is amazing and the non-linear sequence is fun, but not when it’s excessively exploited. The film resorts to some traditional contrivances and cliches to get out of certain situations, which increases the running length, yet displays the ease at which Kulkarni operates at the helm.

Like every other good film of this year so far, the casting and the performances of everyone from the main leads to the bit players simply prove to be great catalysts. Gulshan Devaiah gets to show off a varied range from his repertoire of emotions. He’s sweet and then he’s slightly deplorable. Radhika Apte turns in a natural showing of whatever she’s asked of. She isn’t hypocritical of other’s life-choices, and she’s a chick who teaches Mandar how to check out women discreetly (sad). Sai Tamhankar as the older Jyotsna is supremely imposing yet her character remains shallow in writing. They infuse more than what’s written for them. The kids playing the younger versions of the characters are as good as the adults.

Hunterrr is the perfect illustration of how a young vaasu might grow up with his imbecile infatuations intact. We’ve all heard and talked about men who are like Mandar, we just don’t care about how they end up. It isn’t how every man is, it’s how most of us fantasize of being. Not the most pleasantly relatable Indian Boyhood perhaps, after all.

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

NH10

NH10-poster

NH10
Release date: March 13, 2015
Directed by: Navdeep Singh
Cast: Anushka Sharma, Neil Bhoopalam, Darshan Kumar, Deepti Naval

In the cinematic universe, every time a conflicted couple go in for a roadtrip, things are about to get messy. In a similar setting, Navdeep Singh’s NH10 is conceived.

You know something is off, and keep fearing the worst right from the point where Meera (Anushka Sharma) is chased by masked men on an urban freeway. Arjun (Neil Bhoopalam) is her protective husband, who doesn’t see the need to argue with a police officer when he recommends Meera buy a gun for her own safety. The getting a gun advise by a cop makes us laugh in Linklater’s Before Sunset, but here it doesn’t and it doesn’t intend on either.

On their way to a weekend getaway, they are faced with an eerie troubled young girl and a boy. They’re like the last living pair of humans in a haunted house, who are trying to warn the new owners of the doomed property. Except here, they are asking for help, to elope and possibly stay out of their family members’ clutches. Darshan Kumar plays the obsessive Haryanvi brother Satbir, who’s out to right the “wrongs” of his sister. He will kill for honor and he does end up killing for way less than that.

The two disparate sets of characters cross paths when Arjun interferes after once standing up to Satbir and his other relatives’ public humiliation of the troubled young girl and boy. This crossing of paths triggers a confrontation and evolves into a constantly violent and brutal back and forth between the two sides. In the dark and blood-thirsty wild, a police officer echoes the film’s social commentary, i.e. where the malls of Gurgaon end, a land of lawlessness begins. Where every being is governed and “saved” by the caste system, and not the Constitution.

The said violence is extensive, and creates a mood for the film’s final payoff. The metamorphosis of a shriveling Meera to an iron-rod wielding steely eyed avenger is supremely brilliant. Anushka’s character grows from an ordinary ad professional to an unrelenting and an unrepentant crusader, from clean and chic outfits to walking with a limp and blood on her. Stellar performance indeed.

NH10 doesn’t deliver all its sermons in a preach-out-loud fashion, it shows more than it tells. Every woman is equated to a glorified sex-worker in a patriarchal society, where violence against its women is cheered on. The jungle back and forth between Satbir and his other blood-thirsty relatives and Meera and Arjun could be inspired, but the dystopia of life for women being bad is no more imaginary or unreal. The most telling sign of that is where a woman slaps her daughter-in-law and the abused’s own son laughs at that sight.

The detailing on the little things is immaculate here, yet sometimes the protagonist’s escapes seem a little more smart than they should be, and contrived to be a little harsh. But again, the wild goose hunt starts very soon and it’s obvious that the characters have to be sustained to tell the story. NH10’s cinematography is the surreal winner here, right down to the close shots of Meera dragging the iron rod through her numb walk up to the fallen Jats.

The background score is ample, and more than what’s needed here. Thus proving to be unnecessary at certain points, but it’s a bane you can live with. The soundtrack is a complete surprise though. Again, a tad misplaced at times, but it’s still very fresh and plot-centered in its lyrics. Not to forget, Darshan Kumar’s Haryanvi accent along with that of Deepti Naval’s sounds flawless.

NH10 is a thrilling saga with heaps of unflinching gore, and a topical story which could unravel in any part of India, or the world with a gentle tweak of the notes. If there ever were a film as synonymical with the colloquial “hard-hitting”, it is NH10.

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

Katiyabaaz

Katiyabaaz
Katiyabaaz
Release date: August 22, 2014
Directed by: Deepti Kakkar and Fahad Mustafa
Cast: Loha Singh, Ritu Maheshwari and their families, along with many more families from Kanpur.

The irregular supply of electricity through major parts of India, as we know it, is an often tucked under the carpet harsh reality that we choose to turn a blind eye to. We as Indians, even participate in the Ice Bucket Challenge, which has its concerns firmly rooted in ‘the West’ , but no electricity? It’s too common, yo!

Katiyabaaz/Powerless is half-documentary-half-enactment of Loha Singh’s constant tussle with the transformers and phase connections of Kanpur Electricity Board, which is just a metaphor for the entire city’s struggle for power. Ritu Maheshwari is the head of affairs on the other end (KESCO) and she’s out on her own middle path of bringing about a change in the proverbially inefficient system.

Owing to the city’s power deficit, the citizens start acquiring illegal connections with the much needed assistance of katiyas–who make cuts on live wires and provide for power, only it’s illegal. Maheshwari orders for fines on these cuts and thus starts a crackdown on katiyas. Her meetings with her subordinates where she iterates her stand time and again, are shown right from the conference halls. Loha’s nails are filled with dirt, yet they aren’t half as disturbing as the blemishes, burns and abrasions on his fingers show marks of his battles with the flying sparks of electric current.

There’s also a third party involved in the conflict of the system and the revolting masses, it’s that of a local representative of the people, Irfan Solanki. His election campaign and his upfront stance in favor of his people adds an interesting dimension. All three parties are depicted with a sense of balance and there ain’t no preaching done by the mama (directors)

Figures about the deteriorating condition of Kanpur’s infrastructure and its diminishing reputation in terms of its commercial output never run down the city as a whole. On the other hand, the depiction of scary mobs, and incessantly disgruntled locales with no silver lining whatsoever don’t do any favors to the city either. The line between what’s real and what’s not is blurred at moments, perhaps to extract humor and sympathy in a manner which just doesn’t harbor on continuously asking questions to the protagonists, how other documentaries do.

Your concern for Loha’s daredevilry is reflected in a scene where Loha has a bittersweet conversation with his mother. It’s unpredictably contrived, yet it’s absorbing. One piece of trivia tells you that Kanpur is one of world’s top ten dirtiest cities, even then, the photography is vivid and extremely pleasing. Majorly shot on real locations, Maria Trieb lends a very intimate vibe to the film.

Katiyabaaz is majorly informative, somehow it tells you a conventional story as well. Only with no real outright antagonists.

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

Lootera

Lootera (2013) Movie Poster
Lootera
Released date: July 5, 2013
Directed by: Vikramaditya Motwane
Cast: Ranveer Singh, Sonakshi Sinha, Adil Hussain, Arif Zakaria, Vikrant Massey, Dibyendu Bhattacharya, Shirin Guha

As one of the two on-the-run men is fallen, and the accomplice manages to escape, snowflakes start falling. A pensive autumn tree losing its leaves being looked upon from the misty windows of a house in Dalhousie. The restless fiddling with a light switch depicting a young lady’s constant reveling in the same. These are just a few from a series of charmingly beautiful visuals from Lootera.

Set in newly independent India of the 50s, in an affluent zamindaar household of bright and sunny Calcutta, Pakhi Roychoudhry (Sonakshi Sinha) is an aspiring writer with gleaming eyes and perfectly tucked in saris. She is playful yet contained, portraying an innocence of a bygone era. Cushioned by a formerly royal lineage, she makes time to cherish the smaller things.

Varun Shrivastav (Ranveer Singh) is a state archaeologist in search for ancient figures and in that pursuit lands in front of the Roychoudhry house. He starts his excavation on the property and finds a soft spot with the hospitable hosts. He creates a wooden canvas on his every assignment, and on being asked about his interest with blank canvases, he reveals he’s waiting to draw an eventual masterpiece.

From a head-on collision in a chance encounter to charring Varun’s hand deliberately; from stealing glances to sitting next to each other by the lakeside and whispering sweet nothings; from being passionately in love to forcibly injecting asthma curing drugs– it is this natural progression of Pakhi and Varun’s story that renders an intimate and uncontrived vibe to it. Abstaining from heavy declarations of feelings, Lootera thrives on situations and their power of carrying them through without unnatural dialogue.

Motwane and his cinematographer Mahendra J. Shetty elicit a vibrantly enthusiastic feel to the first half and at the same time juxtapose them with darker shades to consistently maintain a contrast that goes with the different characters. Open spaces are highlighted as diligently as the confined rooms and windowpanes. Amit Trivedi’s music and background score is more of a match tailor made for the film.

Sonakshi Sinha delivers one of her most valuable performances as she ranges between being young and chirpy, and morbid and gloomy. She is in such form that you’re often distracted by her expressions from her ethereal appearance. Ranveer Singh is not on her level here though, but even that’s enough to hold your attention. O. Henry’s short story, “The Last Leaf” is finely woven into the film’s narrative, so much that you relinquish a certain emotion and start cheering for one of the protagonists in a certain scene. (I don’t give away any spoilers.)

As much adjectives I’ve used up to this point to describe Lootera’s brilliance, I’m still left with a few more. But I’d rather not delve in the depths of its excellence again for that will simply not end. There may be a blemish or two, which I won’t tell you.

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

P.S. Excuse the shoddy rhyme in the last line and go watch Lootera with compassion and all silence.

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