The Motorcycle Diaries (Diarios de motocicleta)

US Presidential hopefuls take RVs, Che went on a motorcycle. The point is you need to go on a road trip to become a successful leader of the people

Ee Adutha Kalathu (Recently)

Strange and familiar make an appearance together for the first time in Malayalam cinema and the pair is a hit

Ladies Vs Ricky Bahl

Four feisty ladies, upbeat music and a handsome conman. Anushka gets Ranveer. Bollywood gets Parineeti

Das Boot (The Boat)

Best WWII film ever, in fact the best war film ever. In true German fashion, restraint is applied by shooting the entire movie inside a U-boat

Neelathamara (Blue Lotus)

Blue lotus shares the same stature of blue moon in Malayalam, so do good remakes. This one bucks the trend.

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Jul 26, 2011

Gandhinagar 2nd Street

Old people are notorious for perpetuating a dreamy dewy eyed view of the past – a bygone better age. A golden era when teens listened to mellow music and respected their elders, milk came in glass bottles, mail was delivered by mail man instead of Google and NASA was still capable of putting a man on the moon. Yeah, the good old days!

For Malayalam cinema, old is gold is a truthiness a Malayali cannot deny. Things were really better for Malayalam movie industry back then and don't doubt for a moment that it is my age doing the talking. For if you ask me the same question about Hindi movies I’d say Bollywood never was half as good as it is now, their eighties were trash or travails. 

If one decade has to be chosen to represent the entire Malayalam movie industry, it has to be the period from 1985 to 1995. Or maybe we can restrict it to include, just the late eighties (85 - 90). And if there is one combo you are going to order again and again from that time period – it has to be – Sreenivasan(script writer + actor), Sathyan Anthikkad(director), Mohanlal(actor) combo.  Gandhinagar 2nd Street is one of the best flavors from this team of three at their prime.

Mohanlal living a double life to make ends meet plays one of the most unforgettable roles in Malayalam cinema as Gurkha  Bheem Singh ka beta Ram Singh (..hoom hain hoom..) at a housing colony, Gandhi Nagar in Anywhere-City, Kerala circa 1980s. Like all Sreenivasan scripts of those days, Gandhi Nagar 2nd street is a brilliant social commentary of the times. Each character however small or big, is a well thought-out, developed and executed. Its simple but succinctly humorous dialogs have stayed on in Malayalis’ shared memories ever since. 

The movie is so powerful (without flexing any visible muscles) that sometimes I wish there was a housing colony called Gandhinagar Second Street, for real. I wish, if we walk down that street we will accidently run into Ram Singh or Nirmala Teacher(Seema) or Maya(Karthika.) We can chat up how they are doing after all these years, who got married to whom and who moved away to where.

If wishes were horses there’d be a sequel, but the first major obstacle would be the man who was the life breath of Gandinagar, Ram Singh aka Mohanlal, the actor. Today’s Mohanlal would be a Godzilla to Gandhinagar’s little Tokyo – uncontainable, alien and ultimately a nightmare.  The second problem will be Harihar Nagar, the other famous housing colony from the world of Malayalam movies which has spawned a few sequels. If Harihar Nagar sequels are any indication to what lies in store for Gandhi nagar(I cannot imagine it being any different), then one Gandhinagar 2nd Street is enough – let it remain a beautiful memory in our collective consciousness.


Jul 24, 2011

Guzaarish

Sanjay Leela Bhansali School of Cinema is where you should enroll in if you are interested in perfecting set and costume design and the visual art of cinema as a whole, with emphasis on 'visual'. Every frame in a Bhansali movie is a consummate painting, to the last detail of a withered plant, out of focus in the right shade of yellowish green tucked away in a hazy corner. Like one of those Dutch masters’ works done in the medium of motion picture, four hundred years later with richer colors and crores at his disposal. If there was a court painter for Bollywood, Sanjay Leela Bhansali will hold that title for life. From Khamoshi and Hum Dil de Chuke Sanam to Guzaarish, his films have taken the meaning of visual extravaganza to new heights.

But personally I’d rather watch his movies with my fingers in full control of the fast forward button. Well, that’s me, spoiled by the fast and the furious flicks. Somewhere along the way my slow movie appreciation gene mutated, succumbing to the pressures of reality real time media. Guzaarish, despite the art appreciation class I tried to view it as, was painfully slow for me.

The magic of the story was bed-ridden along with the magician in the story – Ethan Mascarenas, played by a wide-eyed crazy Hrithik Roshan. Aishwarya Rai as home nurse Sophia, in gorgeous foreign costumes shed by the Portuguese when they first arrived on the shores of Konkan and Malabar half a millennium ago, makes an a-muse-ing distraction. Aditya Roy Kapoor was brought into add some youthful energy – a bold swash of color in a house of impending death and grays. Some Indians, who look European, like Nafisa Ali and Shernaz Patel, in spite of their six yard of saris, also made the cut.

Most of Bhansali’s movies give me the impression of a baby switched at birth. Actually it has to be more specific than a simple switch of similar looking babies, it always look like a gora or gringo baby mistakenly given to a dark-skinned couple. Everything about his movies is so nobly European – the costumes, the characters and their interactions, most of the times the core story itself. This finds Bhansali running back, time and again to the most “European” of India’s states – Goa.

In Bollywood anything goes, if it is dressed in a frock and speaks pidgin, provided it is from Goa. So in Guzaarish we have a paralyzed magician and his coterie of mismatched assistants grappling with the very un-magical concept of mercy killing in a crumbling old mansion located where else, in Goa. You watch the rest, if you’ve time to kill.

Jul 19, 2011

Tournament

Lal is one of the underestimated directors in Malayalam. His pairing with his childhood friend Siddique gave us some of the game changers of the 1990s. Majority of Malayalam movies made today for the commercial market still follow the formula perfected by Siddique-Lal duo twenty years ago.

Lal’s real name is Paul Michael? Wow! That’s a revelation to me. I did watch the Harihar Nagar sequels he directed on his second coming as a director – To Harihar Nagar and In Ghost House Inn , both were commercial successes. Although aging dudes (Mukesh and co.) in garish garbs, decorative facial hair (purported to be representative of present day youth culture) and fake hair-pieces failed to elicit any laughter or interest in me

Tournament, Lal’s latest offering evoked a different response. It was in fact interesting despite heavily borrowing cinematic techniques from world over. Malayalis were never too big on road trips, which will explain the lack of Malayalam road trip movies till now. As residents of Kerala forced to use Kerala highways to get out of the state we used to heave a sigh of relief when we finally left the pot-hole ridden Kerala section of National Highway behind and entered the smooth tarmac favored by Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. Does a road movie like Tournament mean our highways are getting better or our railways are getting worse?

Replay or rewinding the movie to explain the story for the viewers, borrowed from Run Lola Run is used in abandon. Using cricket as the binding theme also serves the purpose of using replays to unravel the inner workings of characters. I don’t mind, we live a TiVo world, after all.  Then there is a bit of Gods Must Be Crazy with Indrans and a runaway jeep. There might be other cinematic ‘tributes’ included that I am not aware of.  What pleases me is there are no tributes to mega-serials or there is no pancake –laden Revlon lipped Malayali penkodi traipsing across green fields with a  thulasi kathir in her blow-dried and straightened hair, fluttering her false eyelashes.

In Tournament we have 3 main players and a female lead. Replacing Kunchako Boban, Sudheesh and company(who have interminable no-bid contracts for playing college students in Malluwood), with fresh new actors is a bold move from Lal. That and the script which stays true to the characters are the strength of the movie. I love the way the guy from Thrissur sounds exactly like a guy from Thrissur and the Malayali cricketer brought up in Mysore sounds exactly like my cousins in Bangalore.  Details, God is in the details, usually an area Malayali film makers stay out of. Bravo, Lal!

Jul 8, 2011

Two Weeks

If you are ready to watch a serious film, a family drama which is not a concocted fake 'Hollywood-sy' version, Two Weeks is a good pick. Oh, and it is about death, if you are not in the mood for dying today, skip it.

If you do, you'll miss Sally Field - yes Forrest Gump's mother, of course. I think there is something instantly likable, motherly yet the same time peppy about Ms.Field. The dying character(Anita Bergman) she portrays deals with death like a good sport, at no point asking for audience's mercy or tears. As the mother lies dying, her four children descend upon her home she shares with her second husband, to be with her in the final part of her journey.

Steve Stockman who wrote and directed Two Weeks takes his material from his own life and his mother's death for this semi-autobiographical work. There are minor flaws in the characterization of the four children, Ben Chaplin as the eldest son Keith gets most of screen time. I didn't really get the funny parts, maybe it was my upbringing in a different culture. Despite all these the film gets many things right, like the finer aspects of care, the final farewells, the hospice situation, sibling rivalries and the life-like portrayal of a dying person (no pun intended) by Sally Field. Watch it for her.



Jul 7, 2011

Patterns

Patterns is more relevant today than it was in 1956 when it was written by Rod Serling, he of The Twilight Zone fame. This is the age of corporations, we are at that stage in the circle of economic evolution where the small and the meek gets taken over and are merged into big corporations. The corporate ruthlessness of the character Walter Ramsey(Everette Sloane) can be easily identified by majority of world’s urban population who have at some point in time worked for a conglomerate or a company.

It is a short and perspicacious film, directed by Fielder Cook and starring Van Heflin, Everette Sloane, Beatrice Straight, Ed Begeley and Elizabeth Wilson in main roles. If you want to know how it was like working in corporate America after WW2, this could be a good choice especially because it is reality and not Ayn Rand.

Jul 6, 2011

Nizhal

Nizhal probably was a low budget movie considering its choice of actors. Directed by Venu B.Nair, it is a movie that’d not make its presence known unless you accidently find yourself watching it, lacking anything better to do. It turned out to be a not-so-bad one at that.

The best thing about Nizhal is its script and dialog – which seemed natural. My peeve with it is, its lead character played by Jagan. There is nothing unbearable about his acting. But who are you trying to fool here with a man who looks old enough to have children who can enroll in engineering colleges and calling him a first year engineering student? Well, may be that’s a bit of a strectch, but still Jagan and his foot wide moustache does not look 17-18 years old from any angle, the current normal age of a freshman engineering student. Other than that it is a watchable movie, one of the few recent ones which feels less like a mega-serial and more like what is meant to be.

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