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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Sep 28, 2012

The Road

The road is hopeless, long and grim
But they’ve to go on, his boy and him
To South and sun on some ocean’s rim
To South and sun on some ocean’s rim

That is the whole of The Road or my pseudo Frost-ian take on it. Cormac McCarthy won’t spare you like the pithy Mr.Frost. When I read the novel some years ago its apocalyptic vision haunted me for days. It also made me feel blessed, for what we human beings have today – the gift of life on the most beautiful planet in the Solar System and the entire known universe. The Road is very different from McCarthy's previous book that was also turned into a movie which won the Best Picture Oscar in 2007 - No Country for Old Men.

It’s been a long time since I read the novel, The Road. As usual I’ve forgotten most of its details except its pervasive air of doom and grey and its final flicker of hope. I think the movie has captured most, if not all of the core story and the portentous mood of the novel.

If you can appropriately capture the vision of a ghastly, leaden, blown open Earth and make the right casting decision for the roles of father and son, you’ve the movie in your pocket. Director John Hillcoat finds a perfect actor pair in Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smit-McPhee and along with cinematographer Javier Aguirresarobe and script writer Joe Penhall he creates a masterful visual poem of  life after the death of Earth.

If you want a little gloom and doom with your pizza and beer this Saturday night (now, isn’t that a perfect combo), check out The Road.

Sep 27, 2012

Mayamohini

Mayamohini is all about Dileep. If you like the actor, who goes by the honorary title of "Janapriya Nayakan" (vaguely translated by me as darling hero of the crowds), this is one movie you cannot miss and you probably have already watched it. When Dileep revealed his 'Chanthupottu' act in Chanthupottu in 2005, it was established that no other actor in current Malayalam cinema can do a transgender role with the natural ease and daring of Dileep, that too without being ridiculed for the loss of masculinity. Kerala State film award committee overlooked his ground breaking performance in favor of Mohanlal’s exaggerated portrayal of an Alzheimer’s patient that year.

Since Chanthupottu was a tough act to follow, I didn’t think a story/movie would come along with the same hilarious-to-the-boot appeal anytime soon. Mayamohini was a pleasant surprise. Not only does Dileep shine in an entertaining transgender role, he (with the help of script writers Udayakrishna and Sibi K Thomas) also presents the character without causing any deja vus of the 2005 film.

In addition to Dileep, Mayamohini sees the transfiguration of Babulal, the brawny "ex-villain actor" into a full-blown comedy talent. Biju Menon, one of the other actors in a main role is also seen experimenting with comedy, progressing upwards from his slightly humorous role in the film, Ordinary. There are two female leads in the movie Lakshmi Rai and Mythili, but their roles are negligible.

Dissecting a movie into first half and second half is not a technique I enjoy, but this is one movie that begs for it. Sorry director Jose Thomas, you have given us a good entertainer, thanks to fantastic acting by the lead actor, but I regret to say the second half sucked. Same thing happened with Chanthoputtu too. As long as we get to keep Dileep in his transgender role, it is a laugh riot. But movie makers in order to give a proper ending and to reaffirm the status of hero as a man, make a 180 degree turn in the second half and in the end we have the same formulaic pot boiler with an annoying climax with stunts, car chases and villains galore.

That said, I’ll watch and re-watch it just to ruminate over Dileep’s wonderful performance as Mayamohini unlike many commenters and reviewers who are lamenting over the vulgarity, crassness and cheapness of the movie. Chill, people, relax and get into the zone, the Dileep zone that is, after all this is the first Malayalam movie with a gay kiss scene (don't take your family lest homosexuality is contagious from screen to audience), a bold move for a product of a hypocritical and conservative society such as Kerala.

Sep 26, 2012

Diamond Necklace

Joy Alukkas got a 2 hour ad, Malayalis got a box office hit of the highest quality and Lal Jose and his team proved that they can give us good films more than once in a blue lotus (Mal: neelathamara.)

Diamond Necklace has us smack down in center of Keralites ‘sankalpa rashtram’ (means ideal nation, source: Gandhinagar 2nd Street) - Dubai and it doesn’t stop there, it takes us to the most coveted address in this emirate mecca – Burj Khalifa. There are cool cars and hot chicks, that’s the way Dr.Arun(Fahad Fazil), the hero of our movie, rolls. He’s into all that, while practicing oncology for sourcing his cash flow. Somehow the money stops rolling, while Dr.Arun continues to roll downhill, demonstrating a classic example of Newton’s first law and inertia of motion.


Dr.Arun is a ladies man, but he is not portrayed as ‘despo’ as Saif Ali Khan is in the first scenes of a recent Bollywood movie, Cocktail. In fact he is equally devoted to curvaceous four wheelers as he is to lithe two legged human females, no partiality there. He must have had a colorful history, but we meet the hero while he is working his charms and non-native language skills on a beautiful nurse from our neighboring state, Tamilnadu. That goes on for a while before his credit cards max out and he has to resort to extreme measures (read marriage) to save his future.



You cannot make a movie about Dr.Arun without a a bevy of belles, thus we have Gautami Nair, Samvruta Sunil and Anushree Nair crossing paths with our leading man. Dr.Arun has a support network outside his girl friends and colleagues, a group of hard working blue collar Malayalis led by Sreenivasan. The story is believable and  all the different angles are explored to the right extent. I couldn’t find any lose ends hanging or the captivating cinematography hid all the unwanted threads from my view.

The casting is perfect and all the actors have contributed their due share in making this movie a success. Fahad Fazil’s name has become synonymous as the thinking (wo)man’s actor. Anushree Nair, winner of the reality contest Vivel Big Break gets her big break and uses it to the hilt as one the three female protagonists.

The film has captured the changing ethos of Malayali society where the financial elite are going for diamonds over gold, for gold is so yesterday. If you don’t believe me, watch the segment where Joy Alukka pops in to affirm the value and the resale ability of a Joy Alukkas diamond necklace. But I am willing to overlook the diamonds in a movie named Diamond Necklace because it is all about people, really. 

For people who just can't get enough of Diamond Necklace, try these links...
  1. Lal Jose's own blog has a series of posts on the movie.
  2. If you really want to buy a diamond necklace, but don't want to pay for it, visit Alibaba in China (where else will you find Alibaba?)
  3. Or else satiate your diamond craving by buying a Diamond Necklace DVD from these places if you live in the United States. 
 

Aug 22, 2012

Vicky Donor

It is the season of wonderful word play in Indian cinema. I see this trend of superior screenplays picking up steam both in Bollywood and South Indian movies. Subramaniapuram and Ee Adutha Kalathu are representative of this change in Tamil and Malayalam. Vicky Donor penned by Juhi Chaturvedi and directed by Shoojit Sarcar is one of the best scripts that has come out in Hindi in the recent times. Well done, John Abraham, you chose an cheeky subject for the first film you produced and your gamble paid off ! I'd have never suspected you had that in you with all that brawn.

The subject of (!!!spoilers!!!) sperm donation is such a progressive and unconventional topic for a traditional society as India. Juhi Chaturvedi - a woman writer with a flair for local humor and an astute observer of human character has taken Hindi movies to a place where no man has gone before. With two new faces in lead and majority of the cast comprising of no name actors the success of the movie proves the merit of the film.

Anu Kapoor - the multi talented character actor is the backbone of the movie as the irresistible Dr. Chadha. Credit should also go to the debutante hero, Ayushmaan Khurana. The casting is excellent with the traits of Delhi Panjus and Bongs captured to a T.

Aug 21, 2012

District 9

It was a chance encounter. I was at the neighborhood public library scrounging for DVDs. As expected of a person with low expectations all my movie requirement filters were turned off. I'd have taken any movie which looked remotely like Independence Day. That is, any movie that could afford the same adrenaline rush, the tumult of emotions, the invigoration that comes after listening to an impassioned speech of a US president, the CGI and the final triumph of mankind offered by an Independence Day. I felt like I hit the target when I saw District 9. On the cover loooming over a not so innocent looking metropolis was an alien aircraft, what could I ask for more, I grabbed the DVD and left.

When I started watching the movie, I realized that for some unknown reason best known only to aliens, aliens had skipped dazzling cities like NY, LA or Paris and had decided to hover over Johannesburg. WTH? Not only that, when humans finally had a peek at aliens they turned out to be in worse shape than refugees from civil war torn African republics. At this point I was certain that there would be no Will Smith to save humanity.

Instead what we have in District 9 is very un-Hollywoodsy take on aliens alighting upon Earth from a uniquely South African perspective. Directed by Neill Blomkamp who finds an amazing lead actor in Sharlto Copley in his debut role(what?!) District 9 is like an alien sighting in the world of alien movies. The realism of the real, magical and news footage kind is bound to blow you away. A very human film about aliens, don't miss this sighting.

Aug 20, 2012

Ishaqzaade

Ishaqzaade was an unexpected treat. I had seen its posters before the film came out and was baffled what made Parineeti Chopra chose such a film after her amazing debut performance in Ladies vs Ricky Behl. And Arjun Kapoor was nothing more than yet another star spawn who zipped up the fast track thanks to his genes, squashing the chance of many struggling, aspiring Bollywood wannabes.

The first half of Ishaqzaade proved me wrong. It also affirmed the age old adage that you can never judge a film by its poster, even if it looked twenty years too late or Ek Duje Ke Liye-ish. The second half of the movie was mostly directionless in terms of story but I could excuse that considering its beautiful frames, audacious tunes and a genuine lead couple.

Arjun Kapoor's movie collection has stood the actor in good stead, it has definitely helped him learn acting. Parineeti is so honest and natural it is hard not to like her ebullient spirit. Habib Faisal, the director of Isqzaade has his finger on the pulse of North India. Or to be more precise New Delhi and the towns and villages surrounding the capital city forms the geography and the language of his films.The dusty cow belt city of Almore where this Hindu-Muslim love story is set is your everyday North Indian town and the dialogs and the characters are just what you'd hear and see if you happen to land in such a town. Amit Trivedi's defiant and upbeat music sets the tone for the story. Another low cost-high returns hit from Yashraj films.

Aug 4, 2012

Best story in a Malayalam movie, ever

 അപരാഹ്നത്തിന്റെ   അനന്തപഥങ്ങളില്‍ ആകാശ നീലിമയില്‍  അവന്‍ നടന്നകന്നു. ഭീമനും യുധിഷടിരനും ബീഡി വലിച്ചു. സീതയുടെ മാറ് പിളര്‍ന്നു ചോര കുടിച്ചു ദുര്യോധനന്‍. ഗുരുവായൂരപ്പന് ജല്ദോഷ മായിരുന്നു അന്ന് . അമ്പലത്തിന്റെ അകാല്‍ വിളക്കുകള്‍ തെളിയുന്ന സന്ധ്യയില്‍ അവള്‍ അവനോടു ചോദിച്ചു "ഇനിയും നീ ഇത് വഴി വരില്ലേ ആനകളെയും തെളിച്ചു കൊണ്ട്?"



From the 1985 movie Boeing Boeing directed by Priyadarshan, dialogs by Sreenivasan and enacted by Jagathy Sreekumar as an aspiring writer presenting his story in front of news editor played by Sankaradi, IMHO this is the best story ever to have hit the silver screen in Malayalam. Take a bow, Sreenivasan!

For those people who can't read Malayalam: Aprahnathinte ananthapathangalil aakashaneelimayil avan nadannakannu.Bheemanum Yudhishtiranum beedi valichu. Seetayude maaru pilarnnu raktham kudichu Duryodhanan. Guruvayoorappanu jaladoshamayirunnu annu.Ambalathinte akaal vilakkukal theliyunna sandhyayil aval avanodu chodichu, "eniyum nee ithu vazhi varille aanakaleyum thelichu kondu?"

Aug 3, 2012

Live Streaming Malayalam TV channel site


Malayali’s tendency to emigrate is well known. From chayakkada (tea shop) on the moon jokes to meeting a Malayali in Alaska(that would be me), we Keralites think that we have a monopoly in the category. The problem is the Chinese, the Punjabis, the Gujaratis , the Philippinos and the Koreans, to name a few, also claim that they are in the driver seat when it comes to driving away from their home countries. Just look at all the China towns in all major cities across the globe, you’ll see that the Chinese have a strong case.


The emigration competition can wait, that was not I came here to write about. As usual, meandering thoughts took control of my keyboard. What I wanted to post about is a  website I chanced upon recently – turbotv.in, that brings live streaming of major South Indian TV channels and a few Hindi channels to your home anywhere on the planet, provided you have an internet connection. Goes without saying, it should preferably be broadband.

For Indians like us who live in places where the scarcity of sub-continental Indians(South or North) have failed to entice satellite TV providers to generously beam down our desi TV channels, turbotv.in is quite a find. Reception is fabulous, even in this remote niche of the world called Alaska. It is almost like I never left home more than a decade and a half ago. 

Some observations after watching a few hours of Malayalam TV:
  • Move over prescription medicine ads, make way for gold jewelers. Both items promise to make us better than we are, through different approaches. Clearly a Malayali prefers wearing a three stone (precious of course) gold bracelet specially anointed and blessed by his astrologer to ward off his Pharmacophobia. 
  • Politicians continue to bicker and reconcile over power, liquor, women and prayer.
  • TV presenters still can’t enunciate Malayalam properly and insist on speaking in some version of English undecipherable outside Kerala . Along the lines of Lou Gehrig Disease this affliction can hitherto be called the Ranjini Haridas Disease after its most famous proponent and propagator.
  • Reality television has become a reality. ‘Inspirations’ of Judge Judy, The Amazing Race, Maury and Survivor are all over the place bringing the traditionalist Malayali to bare and give all in front of a television audience for fifteen minutes of fame.  

Jul 23, 2012

Ee Adutha Kalathu

Ee Adutha Kalathu (Recently or In recent time) is one of the best movies which has come out in Malayalam recently. In the years to come it will be heralded as one of the key players who introduced a paradigm shift in Malayalam cinema that started in the second decade of twenty first century.

The old power house institutions of Malayalam cinema like the mighty M&Ms, the stories guaranteed to unleash a deluge of tears(sthreejanangale onnadakkam kanneeraniyikkunna katha), the scripts which pamper to the whims of the State's morality police and the teetotaler women are all on their way out. Thank goodness we are finally ready for a dose of reality and there are people bold enough to show us just that.  

 
Its posters by OldMonk were the talk of the town before the movie was released. There was also quite a buzz about the story by Murali Gopi – a journalist in his own right and the son of the late actor Bharath Gopi, lately trying his luck in acting. Then there was the interview the actor Nishan, who plays a significant character in the movie, where he was quoted saying, 'this movie will surprise you'. Since we Malayalis have been running really low on the above mentioned element in our films, this film with the tagline – the familiar becomes strange and the strange familiar was looked forward with anticipation.

Ee Adutha Kalathu doesn’t fail us. From detailed characterization, even for the smallest of the roles to the suspenseful hook that the movie hangs us all by till the very end, the team under Murali Gopi(story & script) and Arun Kumar Aravind(direction) has produced a winner par excellence. The strange and the familiar blend with an interesting background score to create a concoction, the tastes of which makes the audience come back for more.
 
The casting that can screw up even the movies made with the best of intentions(don't get me started on the heroine in Thattathin Marayathu) is just perfect. The movie has a couple of non Malayalis in key roles but the roles themselves justify their need and they have turned out better than if film makers had used local products. Strategically placed paperbacks with ominous titles, Rubik’s cube and Thiruvananthapuram city play important parts in this movie which also stars talented actors such as Indrajith, Tanushree Ghosh, Nishan, Murali Gopy, Lena, Anoop Menon, Baiju, Jagathy and Mythili.

Ee Adutha Kalathu is a movie that gives us hope that all is not lost yet. We, Malayalis, don’t always have to lament about the bygone golden age of Padmarajan or the endearing youthful days of Mohanlal or the humorous all perceiving pen that Sreenivasan used in the eighties and early nineties. Some of life’s truths remain - the old gives way to the new and if we are lucky the new kids on the block might turn out to be better than the old.

Jul 22, 2012

22 female Kottayam

Know what this movie reminds me of, not any of the movies the director has confessed to have served as inspirations (from Kill Bill to Ek Hasina Thi and Caberet Dancer) but an Urvashi starrer from more than twenty years ago - Varthamanakalam. Tessa K.Abraham (portrayed by Rima Kallingal) could have been Arundhati Menon in her past life. Before we were 'Banglored' and our new age directors thankfully decided to address the plight of the underdog aka the emancipated Indian female, through their lens there was this unlikely director in Malayalam who directed movies with strong woman characters. Guess who?  

None other than I.V.Sasi! IMHO Avalude Ravukal and Varthamanakalam had two of the strongest female characters in the history of Malayalam cinema, females who didn't really whimper and sob blaming everything on their fate but went on with their lives anyway with a devil may care attitude.

22 Female Kottayam also belongs to the same category. The film is essentially scripted out for Rima's role and she does a good job at it. This makes Fahad Fazil's slightly negative character even more difficult to emote and make an impact. But surprisingly Fahad uses whatever screen time he gets to his maximum advantage. The story by Abhilash Kumar and Shyam Pushkaran and Aashiq Abu's direction hit bull's eye at the box office. 

The film also showcases the talents of veteran actors like Prathap Pothen, Sathar and T.G.Ravi in a different and interesting light.The director has succeeded in bringing the best out of his crew whether it be the old timer actors or the new age music composers like Rex Vijayan & Bijibal. Good going, Aashiq Abu!


Jul 19, 2012

Kerala State Film Awards 2011


Kerala State Film Awards were announced yesterday just as food poisoning was acquiring the status of a major terrorist threat across the State and hogging 99% of the ticker tape real estate. Being a last minute entry ‘Shawarma’ – that famous Middle Eastern leaning-n-rotating street-side stunt-tower/food-item, was denied the award in the Best Villain category. Oh, they don’t have such a category yet, nevermind.

Dileep(film:Vellaripravinte Changathi) and Shwetha Menon(film: Salt n Pepper) bagged the best actor and actress trophies while the Best Movie award went to Ranjith’s Indian Rupee and Blessy’s position as the resident Director-laureate of Kerala was confirmed once again. Shwetha Menon is becoming the thinking man’s leading lady if her two best actress awards in the last five years is any indication. Aashiq Abu’s Salt n Pepper was adjudged the film with most mass appeal.

It is surprising (to me atleast) that despite being years in the industry as a leading man, this is Dileep’s first Kerala State Best Actor award. Google just revealed to me that he had lost out to Mohanlal in Thanmatra in 2005 and had to be satisfied with a Special Jury award for his path breaking and titillatingly funny performance in Chanthupottu. That was gross injustice!!! 

Lalettan’s over the top Alzhemier’s patient vs Dileep’s authenticly endearing transvestite, I’d take Dileep anyday, his role even added a new word to Malayalam’s Urban dictionary. I am glad he hit the bull’s eye this time, although he clicnched it by running over a more deserving Fahad Fazil. Jury members always seem to weigh in on the side of age and experience than really evaluating the performance of the actors. 

Although they do not have a best villain category, they do have a best comedian trophy which went to Jagathy Sreekumar this year probably as a show of crowd support to the ailing actor who is arguably one of the most talented in that category.

To me the most disappointing prize winner was the one for the best story – Manikyakallu. A story of an educator trying to uplift the downtrodden kids through education has been told many times in many languages across many landscapes and add to it the fact that it is fifty years too late. The award for this story only highlights our jury members’ frog-in-the-well existence.
There were so many interesting and orignal stories like the City of God, Traffic, Chappa Kurish and doesn’t the release date of Ee Adutha Kalathu qualify it to be reviewed for 2011 awards? Ee Adutha Kalathu has the best story/screen play for any Malayalam movie in ‘ee adutha kalathu’(recent past.) If by any chance, Ee Adutha Kalathu was indeed overlooked, we should be screaming holy murder here.

Best Actor : Dileep [Vellaripravinte Changathi]
Best Actress : Shwetha Menon[Salt N' Pepper]
Best Movie : Indian Rupee
Second Best Movie : Ivan Mekharoopan
Best Director : Blessy [Pranayam]
Most Popular Movie : Salt N’ Pepper
Best Supporting Male Actor : Fahad Fazil [Chappakurishu]
Best Supporting Female Actress : Nilambur Ayisha [Oormakkuyil Padumpol]
Best Child Artist : Malavika [Oormakkuyil Padumpol]
Best Screenwriter : Bobby-Sanjay [Traffic]
Best Comedian : Jagathy Sreekumar [Swapna Sanchari]
Best Male Singer : Sudeep Kumar [Rathinirvedam]
Best Female Singer : Shreya Ghoshal [Rathinirvedam]
Best Lyricist : Sreekumaran Thampi [Naayika]
Best Music Sirector : Sarath [Ivan Mekharoopan]
Best Background Music : Deepak Dev

Jul 2, 2012

Eat Pray Love

A film about a uniquely American predicament - finding yourself! Where there is time and money this affliction quickly starts making it rounds. I couldn't get past a few pages reading the book, Julia Roberts is a more enthralling than the book, despite the fact that I am not a fan of her as an actress. I can imagine how it could have been worse, imagine SJP traipsing across Italy, India and Bali,  'the Ms sexy in the city'  a two-legged human bird leg on stilettos. I am glad casting people made a better choice.
Julia Roberts at Eat Pray Love shooting location in India

In fact this is one of the very rare movies where the movie is really better than the book. Maybe it is because many of the over-the-top self discovery journeys in the book were edited out when they turned it into film.

The whole premise of the movie - an affluent western woman taking off on a self discovery trip to three chosen countries because she can't get along with her husband who seems to love her and want her in his life, but she is not finding herself in that marriage, is not a subject majority of viewers across the globe can relate to. In these days of recession, more than half of Americans are not privileged or rich enough to relate it to either. If you are in the mood for bitching(yes, men too) pick this DVD and it'll give plenty of material to vent your frustrations.

Jul 1, 2012

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - Hollywood vs Original

Cast: The Swedish cast is more naturally Scandinavian (of course) but on a whole I liked the Hollywood casting better. Looks-wise, Rooney Mara is a much better Lisbeth Salander than Noomi Rapace. Mara embodies the petite Ms.Salander I had visualized in my mind while reading Stieg Larsen's novels, whereas Rapace looks more like a chunkier Sporty Spice in a goth avatar and she is definitely over five feet tall.

As Mikael Blomkvist, Michael Nyqwist is more real than Daniel Craig, but if Blomkvist is irresistible to women as Larsen had portrayed him to be then Craig is the better choice. Armansky's character looks totally miscast in the Swedish one when his Armenian roots clearly show through in the Hollywood movie. On a whole the Swedish actors look a lot older than their Hollywood contemporaries.

Location: Again I've to choose the locales in the Hollywood version over the Swedish version. The bridge to Hedestad, Vanger's estate and his palatial house (which I read is the same in both versions) but the instances of weather showing up in the background make a lot of difference- all of these I believe, Hollywood shows a much better grasp. Maybe it could be attributed to a couple of facts, money at its disposal and two drafts (the novel and the Swedish original movie) to work off of.

Treatment of the story: There are sections of the novel left out by Swedish and Hollywood versions while adapting the story into motion picture format. Although these are different in both, in both versions the cuts don't affect the story telling.

Moving on to watch The Girl Who Played with Fire (Sweden).....

Jun 27, 2012

Remembering Nora Ephron


Nora Ephron died yesterday. I could’ve said 'passed away', but Nora would understand, died is ok. Who is Nora Ephron? If Google led you to this page while you were searching about some movie or the other, you probably know who she is. If you landed here searching for "Mallu movie hot bathing scene", you would skip out of here faster than a heartbeat. You and I both know there is nothing of your interest here, the hot bath is ready for you in the next site over.

Nora Ephron

Nora Ephron, for me - the unknown non-American viewer(female),  who has physically inhabited American geography and culture for a really long time, is the intelligent laughter that stirs me amidst indistinct forgettable celebrity chatter that fills up the media ether around here. I have watched many of her movies starting from Silkwood, but have to watch all the movies she did post-2000.
Although well known as a director and script writer, my personal affection for her stems from reading her essays. Smart and sassy yet relatable to every woman, her words were witty and thought provoking at the same time. I am sad I had to use past tense in the previous line.

As I drove to work this morning, I heard one of her quotes from an earlier NPR interview, "I think it's like a lot of things about getting older — you have absolutely no imagination that this is actually going to happen to you, you think for quite a while you're going to be the only person who doesn't need reading glasses, or the only person who doesn't go through menopause… and in the end, the only person who isn't going to die. And then you suddenly are faced with whichever of those things it is, and you can't believe how unimaginative you have been about what it actually consists of."

Again her words, simple yet so wise make an impression on me. Nora’s death from leukemia is one of those few celebrity deaths that actually makes me stop in my tracks and worry about my own mortality and ponder about the vacuum left by their passing in my own intellectual future, just like that of Christopher Hitchens, Randy Pausch and Carl Sagan.

Apr 23, 2012

Melancholia

In Melancholia, Lars von Trier is dealing the dope of depression as the fate of the Earth hangs in balance, under the threat of a planetary collision. Another movie where people get married for all the wrong reasons. The marriage is not the focus though the film starts with the wedding of its main character, Justine played by Kirsten Dunst and spends a fair amount of time dragging through the wedding ceremonies while adding depth to its characters. As all these events slowly proceed on the moody blue marble of ours, outside, in outer space a rogue planet Melancholia is hurtling towards the earth.

What vexes me is, why do these people have to hold a crude hand crafted loop of wire to chart Melancholia’s progress towards the earth. Don’t they have internet? We can even track Santa (a totally imaginary creature), so can’t we track Melancholia – a real planet(for the purpose of this story) in a way befitting 21st century homo sapiens rather than doing it like cavemen. The movie is not at all scientifically accurate from the inter-planetary collision perspective, which is beside the point, the planet is there to add to the magnanimity of visuals and to act as proxy for depression.

The beginning of the film with its Wager overture showcasing a tableaux of extremely slow moving images reminded me of 2001: A Space Odyssey, so does the structure of the film set in parts. The opening scenes lets you know this film is serious, it requires your hundred percent presence on the couch/ or your seat to understand it fully, not something you can watch while cooking dinner. If you are in the mood for heavy stuff and some retrospection or in the mood for art check out Melancholia.

Apr 18, 2012

Limitless

Limitless is my kind of Hollywood movie. I don’t watch Hollywood movies for intellectual stimulation or art, not to see the gritty reality of life or break my teeth on cold hard facts although every once in a while Hollywood goes above and beyond its call of duty and brings out movies like Fargo, Lost in Translation, Punch Drunk Love, Melancholia, Requiem for a Dream, Full Metal Jacket etc. That is all well and good, but I don’t want Hollywood to make it a habit.

Hollywood is at its best when money, power and technology comes together with some good looking faces and a decent script. Matrix, Gladiator, Avatar, Babel, Memento, Castaway, Kill Bill(s), Forrest Gump are all examples of unsurpassed entertainment only Hollywood can provide. Limitless might not make it to the top rung of these entertainers, but it is highly watchable.And of course it has Hollywood's the other most handsome Brad.

Apr 17, 2012

The Help

The Help is  a Civil Rights era chick flick, if ever there was one. By calling it a chick flick I don’t mean to demean it, I just mean that most of the characters are ladies, it tells the stories about the lives of women – black and white in the Deep South in the middle years of last century. Engrossing, in the way we all secretly cater to gossip without admitting and informative from a historical perspective.

It’s kind of unsettling to me that the most of pop fiction best sellers, which later got labeled as classics showcasing African American life are/were written by white people. Harriet Beecher Stowe, Sue Monk Kidd and now Kathryn Stockett (whose novel is the basis of this movie) joins the ranks of non-black writers telling the tales of oppression and struggle of the black community with black characters in their books.

Except for Alex Haley’s Roots(a phenomenal book, thank God this Bible of African American fiction was indeed written by a black man), I cannot imagine the general public making a beeline for a single book of fiction written by an African American author at airport kiosks or at the beach. Of course there is Tony Morrison, Maya Angelou, Zora Neale Hurston and many other talented African-American writers, but their impact on the general public who are hard to be enticed to read serious fiction is almost nothing outside high school English classes, compared to the ones penned by white writers I mentioned in the paragraph above.

Stove, Monk Kidd, Stockett all have produced extraordinary absorbing novels, whose movie rights were probably bought long before the books hit the stands. I wish there was an African American novelist, you know I like it straight from the horse’s mouth. That said The Help is a highly watchable film, especially for women – thus my label Civil war chick flick.

Apr 7, 2012

Shor in the City

Shor in the City a portmanteau movie about Mumbai with its eyes trained on the city’s under belly. It has a Mumbai noted by the absence of Parsis, Malabar Hill, Bollywood starlets and Lokhandwala complex. It is not quite Slumdog either, Krishna DK and Raj Nidimoru are in the right place – the slums. But there are no millionaires in this one, only people with dreams of making millions. Each trying to make it with  his own honest effort through guns, bribes, counterfeit products, bank robbery or other countless ways you can make a million in Mumbai.
 
The best reason to watch this movie is its assembly of actors. After a long while it was good to see Tusshar Kapoor in a different but good role. Somehow Ramakanth, the aspiring director in The Dirty Picture didn’t register with me. Another delectable find is Sendhil Ramamoorthy, US born Indian actor who is a perfect fit as an American of Indian descent trying to set up a business in India. Pitabash Tripathy as Mandook, a small time crook and Tusshar’s friend is a find.
 
Although the story line is tense, the script by Sita Menon and the director duo add touches of compassion and comedy that go with the flow. In the end it is a feel good movie which imparts a certain humanity and the sense of triumph of the good along with a couple of hummable songs.

Apr 5, 2012

Sangre de mi sangre (Blood of my blood)


Sangre de mi sangre (Blood of My Blood) narrates the story of two young Mexican illegal immigrants in Nueva York locked in a battle of survival. Director Christopher Zalla’s debut venture, this Mexican story of existence, endurance and identity theft in the mean streets of New York is dark and gritty.

The four main characters, which include two protagonists – Pedro(Jorge Adrian Espindola) and Juan (Armando Hernandez), the undocumented young workers who arrive in New York hidden in a truck and two supporting roles played by Jesús Ochoa and Paola Mendoza pretty much carry the film on their shoulders. It gives the audience a view of a different Brooklyn, away from the brown stones, dark, trapped spaces where souls suffocate and die, where hope is buried behind bricks only to be taken out when lives are on line. A forceful movie from a first time director, maybe a sign of things to come from him.

Mar 27, 2012

Beautiful - Malayalam Movie

Beautiful reminds me a lot of Blessy’s Pranayam albeit with a younger cast. Maybe the presence of an invalid main character, three central characters – two male and one female(female actor exported from a neighboring state) creating a sort of a triangular love story and the abuse/misuse of monsoon might be the reasons. But the film is also thankfully unBlessy by the absence of one dimensional characters and over the top sentimentality.

Anoop Menon, Jayasurya and Megna Raj play the main roles in a movie about a bed-ridden billionaire in search of companionship, music and love. I also like the way supporting roles are etched out with the right amount of detail and dialog.

It is a well-executed film, story, screenplay, direction(V.K.Prakash) and acting departments have worked together to produce a well-rounded product. Though I’d not call it a path breaker(in my world, that title goes to Chappa Kurish) I hope Beautiful will be one of the forerunners who will herald a new beginning for Malayalam cinema.

Mar 23, 2012

Rockstar

Many of today’s pop icons and stars are all style without much substance. Although their medium is music, the music industry too perfects the image first before it tests the sound. Susan Boyle – she of the incredible vocal chords had to fight and claw her way into a talent show in her late forties to make her mark in the music world when Spice Girls (no substance and all style) were picked out to form a music band based just on their looks and stage presence(if they could sing it’d be a bonus but it was optional) while still in their teens. Rockstar Janardhan Jakkar aka Jordan is a documentation of India’s version of such a pop icon, if we ever had one.

For this film, the requirements for the hero were - had to be born a star, with a silver-screen spoon in his mouth, should be able to rock a guitar, lip sync a tune and had to have incredible screen charisma. Given these conditions, in present day Bollywood it became very easy for director Imtiaz Ali and producer Dhillin Mehta to find their leading man. Not many choices really – either a Khan or a Kapoor. 

With most sellable and captivating Khans tending to look more like Steven Tyler and less like Elvis in his prime, they went for the hottest Kapoor on the block. Ranbir Kapoor works his charm and appeal into the skin of Jordan, the rock star. Counter balancing his rock star act is the impossibly beautiful New York based Pakistani–Czech model Nargis Fakri as Kashmir ki kali and college beauty – Heer Kaul. A semi-gori unattainable foreign export kudi is a must have accessory for a successful Bollywood movie.

A.R.Rahman’s music faithfully adheres to my hypothesis about a present day rock star, music is only secondary, the personal style of the star is the more important part. Therefore it’d be safe to say that I didn’t find the songs earth shattering although all the award shows (Apsara, Fimfare, Stardust – you name it) unanimously gave RockStar the best music director award.

Rahman is like Sachin Tendulkar, both are elephants in their own rooms, there is no way getting past them. If Rahman composes music for a major movie in any year, other music directors can kiss their award hopes goodbye. No matter how baffling a Rahman tune(more mysterious the better) is it just adds depth to audience’s musical experience and therefore deserves all the accolades that can be given in a given year.

The story is flimsy, but the script, the dialog and also the lyrics of the songs are the solid scaffolding that prop up the movie. Imtiaz Ali’s direction is also commendable. If you haven’t watched it yet, I’d say “czech it out,” there is more than one czech in the movie – the city of Prague and Nargis Fakri.

Mar 22, 2012

Snehaveedu

I recently saw a clip of Prithviraj’s interview where he said Malayalam’s superstar’s Mohanlal and Mammootty should choose to act in roles that reflect their age. Unlike the majority of Malayali audience and Youtube commenters of that clip I agree one hundred percent with Prithviraj. It surely might have had M&M supporters crying for Prithviraj’s blood but it is a brave statement to make in these perilous age of AMMA, Achchan and other similar career wrecking controversies.

Snehaveedu is kind of like Mohanlal’s answer to Prithviraj.(On a side note I consider Pranchiyettan and the Saint as a movie Mammootty played his age and is one of the best characters he ever emoted on screen.) The veteran actor plays almost his age as an evergreen Gulf returnee bachelor turned entrepreneur agriculturist , Ajayan in a Palakkad village. Simple life, ordinary travails, story-book village/town, neighborly neighbors, good hearted protagonists – all classic features of a Sathyan Anthikkad movie appear without fail in Snehaveedu too.

Sheela’s Ammukutty Amma looks and sounds just like her character, Kochu Thresia from her comeback movie Manasinakkare – another Sathyan Anthikkad vehicle. In fact the core of both the movies is very much the same – a mother son relationship or a relationship along those lines. The picturesque village and affable villagers repeat themselves in both movies, only the element that introduces tension differs slightly in each.

Mohanlal does exhibit caution without going overboard as the village’s favorite bachelor. There are sub stories with Lena, Biju Menon, Innocent, KPAC Lalitha and with Padma Priya who could be nurtured as a love interest at a future date. I am glad the director didn’t let the story develop too much along that path. Debutante Rahul Pillai plays his role well, considering he is acting alongside a stalwart like Mohanlal, the teenager exudes the right amount of vulnerability and rebellion.

Snehaveedu should be a win for Sathyan Anthikkad-Mohanlal team provided the crowds do not get cross at Anthikkad for not letting our 50+ year old super star frolic around the fields with his murapennu half his age.

Mar 20, 2012

Saheb Biwi aur Gangster

Old havelis where they still live out raja rani ki kahani – potent with intrigue, secrets, concubines and political games is a fascinating brew for commoners like me. Saheb, Biwi aur Gangster delivers it promise of the foibles, follies and frivolities of old money in new age of corrupt politicians and gun totting thugs somewhere from the heart of India’s cow belt.

Jimmy Shergill, Mahie Gill and Randeep Hooda give their best portraying the title characters in a film with strong performances from the supporting cast. When I first heard about this movie I thought this might be a remake of Guru Dutt’s Sahib, Biwi aur Ghulam in the lines of Shahrukh’s DevDas. But this is more like how Abhay Deol’s Dev D was to the original Devdas without making it too urbane.

IMHO the best part of the movie once you get past the film’s handsome leading men is the location. The crumbling haveli, the palace grounds, the servants quarters, the lake and the bungalow across the lake looming like a smudge. Where did they find such a beautiful location? Tigmanshu Dhulia’s direction has delivered the whole movie as one taut package. It is definitely a movie worth watching for lovers of serious cinema.

Mar 12, 2012

That Girl in Yellow Boots


A very un-Indian, un-Bollywood movie, neck deep in a subject that Indian films rarely touch. Since I don't deal with spoilers in this blog I'd refrain from mentioning the subject. If you know the theme, the movie will unravel faster than you can say "Shazam". Even without any spoiler I had it figured out(did the director intend it that way?) and thus the end was less of a shocker for me than it was to Kalki Koechlin who plays the protagonist, Ruth.

Kalki has a really meaty role for an actress. She cannot help it if the film is being directed by her boyfriend-turned husband director Anurag Kashyap. The entire movie, shot in 13 days on a borrowed wallet concentrates on Ruth's personal quest for something very near and dear to her while surviving as a young white girl in the dirty underbelly of Mumbai.

There are a lot irrelevant roles. Some of these roles like that of Ruth's junkie boyfriend and the Kannada speaking Mumbai dada Chittiappa can be taken as cinematic liberties to add texture to the plot. I do not understand what Ronit Roy, who is given a scene and a sentence to speak and Rajat Kapoor - no sentences, just gets a passing glance at Ruth, walking by her by at the entrance of an apartment, are doing in the film.

Definitely a movie for mature audience. So mature that many people who lent money to make the film asked to have their names removed from the credits as they were not liberal enough to be associated with such a progressive film. The film released in non-NRI theaters in the US the same day it had its Indian release through the same US distributor, must be a first for an Indian movie?



Mar 6, 2012

The Dirty Picture

If a movie could sell based on its title and its theme, then The Dirty Picture (hereafter called TDP) would explode cash registers. Box office reports prove that this hypothesis was right in TDP's case. Ekta Kapoor's trust in Milan Luthria bears fruit.

If Vidya Balan was going to apply for a job as Silk Smitha and if Ekta Kapoor was not on the interview team, Bipasha Basu would've been easily picked over Vidya. Ms.Basu would then be asked to do corrective surgery to her eyes to replace her North Eastern slant with big eyed South Indian sleepy seductiveness, for the rest she would have been a perfect fit.

If you don't really like Vidya Balan it'll definitely be worth your while to watch TDP and while you are it watch No one killed Jessica as well. Just these two movies are enough to demonstrate the range and sincerity of Vidya as an actress.

If you are a South Indian and have some prior exposure to Silk Smitha's work, please be considerate to Ekta Kapoor, she is only half South Indian and she did not really grow up with Silk Smitha, Disco Shanti or Anuradha nor did she make covers for her school note books with sizzling centerspreads of the aforementioned ladies from Nana or Cinema Express magazines.

If you are looking for knockout one liners, remember neither Silk Smitha nor Rajat Aroraa were/are particularly known for this talent. Some people with really low expectations when it comes to putting together words in a sentence may accuse this movie as having mind bending one liners, but if you ask me, old Chinese proverbs or Mark Twain bent my mind better.

If anyone is having real fun in this movie, it is Naseeruddin Shah and Emraan Hashmi. Shah is at is comic hamming best even though his is not a comic role and Hashmi can't believe his luck playing an intellectual again while sneaking away smooches aplenty.
If Tusshar Kapoor is not Ekta Kapoor's brother and Jeetendra's son he'd still be one of the nicest human beings or so his face says, but as an actor his familial connections are his only hope.

If anything, this movie will make you do a passionate search about Silk Smitha. I watched a few old Tamil interviews with people who introduced or worked with Silk, unearthed old newspaper snippets about the reports of her death and watched dreary old movies again just to catch her luster somewhere in the middle.

Mar 4, 2012

Biutiful



It takes a night (sometimes more) to recover from Inarritu's films. You question your humanity, mortality, chemistry, environment, biology, sociology and other root characters that define you as a human. Your mind's eye is made to rove from Barcelona to China, from Mexico to Egypt and all those far flung places and finally when the film is over you are glad that you are where you are. The immediate effect after watching an Inarritu movie is an odd mix of relief and gratitude. Thankfully, it is not you who is suffering, it is just a movie and those faces who you saw on screen are paid actors.

Biutiful takes place in Barcelona and Javier Bardem has a role of a life time as Uxbal, a small time entrepreneur, husband, divorcee and father of two young children. The acting and the casting is so good that it is hard to believe the actors, especially the children are acting, they are so true to life.

The hallmark of Inarritu films according to me is their very palpable art. Every frame is like a living painting drawn with painstaking detail, with the play of sounds, words and faces adding to its depth. With this film Inarritu has also taken a slight deviation from his usual multi-narrative style. Although there are interwening lives, for most part the film follows Uxbal without any other parallel narrative sharing the focus. With Biutiful Inarritu proves once again that to reach out and produce art with mass appeal you do not have to use pretentious prose or affect psuedo artsiness, life itself if told in simple words and painted with the right palette can produce the greatest art of them all.



Mar 1, 2012

A Better Life

The story of immigrants, displaced people searching for a better life is rich with material for making decent movie if you can find the right story. La Misma Luna and Maria Full of Grace are a couple of heart-wrenching movies where you find people South of the border giving everything up to pursue their American dream. While those two movies rode on the shoulder’s of their female protagonists, A Better Life showcases the bond between an immigrant father and his US born son.

Demian Bichir who plays the father is the life of the movie. Young Jose Julian who has the role of the son is not very far behind talented Mr.Bichir. A Better Life takes you into the slums of LA where illegal immigrants live out their own version of the City of Angels. The film also made it to the 2012 Oscar short list for the best foreign movie of 2011.

Feb 27, 2012

Pranayam

Blessy won’t be making 3D any time soon. Like we care, right? Blessy’s style of moving making is one dimensional, his stories absolutely require characters not to have any depth. But then again I can’t go on my spiteful tirade against Blessy  because he at least makes movies, I am just an armchair critic.

From my armchair, actually a couch, Pranayam is one of the better Blessy movies, the credit should go to Mohanlal and Anupam Kher. Two phenomenal actors doing a remarkable job within the set one dimensional framework. Jayaprada has done okay, then again poignant female roles in Malayalam only require expertise in various degrees and categories of crying – sobbing, weeping, sniveling, moaning, bawling, whimpering, screaming, blubbing, wailing – are like the navarasas of acting skills necessary in a Malayalam actress’s repertoire. It also helps if you are a classical dancer or a Kalathilakam. 

I was wondering whether we didn’t have any homegrown actresses who could’ve replaced Jayaprada in this role. Late Srividya and Jayabharathi come to mind. They obviously didn’t make it into Blessy’s mind while he was  doing the casting.

Although shot in color, characerization is typical Blessy – black and white with no greys. In the white corner we have the three main characters – Anupam Kher, Jayaprada and Mohanlal along with Anoop Menon as Anupam Kher’s son and there is the girl who plays Anoop Menon’s daughter. Every other significant character is in the black corner, all of them qualify as outright demons with little or no understanding of human condition besides theirs. 

While the movie tugs at the heartstrings occasionally, all that tugging was precipitated by the cinematic liberty taken by Blessy by creating the characters in black corner who are devoid of any greys. My favorite hippie era poet singer, the sounds of Leonard Cohen haunts this movie, so does Blessy’s personal philosophical injections via Mohanlal’s dialogs. Digital butterflies and birds show up at strategic scenes a la M.Mukandan Velliankalu and dragon flies (ref: The Legend of Khasak.)

Inspite of all this I am immensely glad Blessy is making progress – Kaazcha and Tanmatra were tortures, Calcutta News was forgettable, Palunku was actually watcheable, Bhramaram was okay if you take it as a pyscho-social thriller and now we have Pranayam which compared to his first two movies could be deemed a classic. Worth watching, while you are at it try those 3D glasses to get some depth.

Feb 25, 2012

The Company Men

The Company Men is like Lifetime or Hallmark movie for men. Lifetime or Hallmark movies are not what are called cinematic classics, they often showcase B-movie actors or actors-wannabes. But usually if you find yourself accidentally watching one of these movies you realize they are quite entertaining despite the lack of star power, CGI and money because they deal with  current topics like a headlining abduction or a heart wrenching tale of a mother’s fight for her son’s life. The bottom line is audience can relate to them. Same with The Company Men though it has A-list stars in its credits.

The Company Men has Ben Affleck, Tommy Lee Jones, Kevin Costner and Chris Cooper as working men facing job loss and financial insecurity. It is the only feature film that I’ve come across that showcases the 2008-2010 recession as it main theme. Every working (wo)man who held a job, lost a job or precariously held on to a job or had someone they know laid off should be able to relate to this film without much effort. Couple that with some powerful performances – esp. Chris Cooper and Tommy Lee Jones and direction that keeps everything in check – that makes a genuinely watchable movie.

Feb 22, 2012

Tokyo Sonata

All the awards it won had puffed up my expectations about Tokyo Sonata. It is an interesting, ordinary film, about the life of a nuclear family in Japan. It can viewed as an effective socio-cultural commentary about urban life in Japan at the turn of twenty first century. 

The actors have been honest in their portrayals, the characters are well thought out and executed. Although set in Japan this can be a story that can happen anywhere, we are just viewing it through a Japanese lens (hehe aren’t all lenses originally Japanese – Canon, Nikon, Sony, Fuji…)

Feb 21, 2012

Reservation Road

Joaquin Phoenix and Mark Ruffalo are the reason I wanted to watch this movie in the first place. Both are good character actors and if they are together in a movie it had to be interesting. Reservation Road tackles a delicate and explosive human issue and pits these two fine actors on two sides of the fence.

Somehow the depiction of the crucial incident which leads these two men to cross their paths didn’t make enough impact on me as it should have. Moreover Jennifer Connelly’s role and her dialogs fell short of the grieving mother she portrayed. The tension between the men is tangible, with one living the life of a deer in the headlights(the pursued) and the other bursting forth with the rage of the pursuer.

It is an interesting movie to watch without expectations and then let yourself be amazed by the performances of the two main actors.

Feb 1, 2012

Ladies vs Ricky Bahl

It had an interesting title, looked as if there were a tad too many ladies in it for my liking, better keep that for later – that was my initial thought when I first heard about this movie. Then Parineeti Chopra and Screen Awards night happened. The clips they showed at Screen Awards where Parineeti won the best female debut of the year presented Ladies vs Ricky Behl as a sort of dark, gritty independent flick for which people usually win acting awards. Nothing like the Yashraj films lively rom-com(or con) it turned out to be.

It must be one of the films Anushka Sharma and Ranveer Singh had to do for their film contract with Yashraj Films (3 films?) Anushka sure seems to have talent and Yashraj Films has made a wise choice investing in her, considering her earlier films – Rab ne Bana di Jodi and Band Baja Baraat were hits at the box-office.

In Ladies vs.., the ones who steal the show are the ladies. Three rather unknown faces - Dipannita Sharma, Aditi Sharma and Parineeti Chopra are the life of the movie. All three of them have exceled in their roles, but it is Parineeti who takes the cake as the fiesty and fun loving loud mouth Dimple Chaddha. Infact so much so that as a viewer I find it a bit disappointing that Ranveer Singh’s character fell for Ishika(Anushka) after a couple of meetings and not for Dimple.

The story of a set of ladies trying to outsmart a con man is contemporary. Script and camera keep in tune with the times and the theme. You can blame it for predictability, but then again this is not Tarantino, we are watching a Bollywood movie dressed for commercial success. Incredibly cool songs(very Punjabi-sh beats), the kind that will make you thump your foot on the gas, zoom past like a flash of light while being thankful to some invisible force that bestowed you with life so that you could enjoy this music. Good work, Salim-Sulaiman! Some may not find it as appealing as Band Baja Baraat, but I like it because the acting credits are spread out over a wider group of actors and not just Anushka and Ranveer. All in all, a good entertainer.

Jan 30, 2012

Never Let Me Go

This is a movie that never could be American. An American would never sit back and take it, as cliched as it may sound, it is true. Never Let Me Go is an English film that can only be made in a non-Hollywood place where they speak English, which makes the prime choice for such a location – England. 

Is it Orwellian? Not really, because beyond the limits of the special boarding school called Hilsham, which is the focus of the movie, free society exists. The unpersons or persons without a future only exist within similar such boarding schools. The color scheme and the mood is subdued in browns and beiges, tinted with a pervasive sense of melancholy.

The most obvious question a viewer will ask at the end of the movie is, why don’t they try to escape? Maybe the best answer comes from the author of the novel that the movie is based on, Kazuo Ishiguro in an interview about Never Let Me Go explains that he meant the lives of the donor children (the children who are brought up in these special boarding schools) as a metaphor of our lives, as to reflect on why we accept death as the end and do not try to escape it.

There is no rebellion against fate anywhere in the story, only weak requests that fizzle our before they begin. It is a difficult story to capture in film, it is a better fit as novel where you can explore words and allegories, chew upon the its and your existential cud. On screen, when you watch characters play out these doomed roles, you want to exhort them not to sit back and take it. 

But the script(Alex Garland), actors, director(Mark Romanek) and the art has worked together to bring a challenging narrative to a beautifully made film. Who would’ve thought to cast Keira Knightley in a dark role with black bangs to match? Carey Mulligan and Andrew Garfield fits the bill as film's subdued and hapless protagonists. The children who portrayed the characters in their childhood are just as good as the adult actors. A touching and dark movie.

Jan 19, 2012

Christian Brothers

In tough economic times a paisa vasool movie is a blessing for the audience. Paisa vasool is desi way of saying, ‘to get bang for your buck’. Movies that fall into this category give you a chance to see all the major heroes in one place and will be also be a veritable avial showcasing comedy, tragedy, songs, romance, hot babes, cool cars, reunions, breakups, action, reaction and whatever else you could ask for in a 2.5-3 hour package. You purchase a ticket to watch a movie and come out feeling like you’ve watched 5 movies for the price of one. The producer is pleased and the audience satiated and Christian Brothers avial clinches number #1 spot at the box office.

Mohanlal (who else can play a Mumbai underworld don in Malayalam cinema) is the foundation of this movie’s brotherhood. Mohanlal has the copyright of don roles from the early nineties ever since he became the good boy turned goonda in Kireedom and moved to Mumbai in Adhipan and came back to Kerala in His Highness Abdullah. Too bad that Mammootty missed that boat. 

Dileep is the other brother and he fields all the comedy balls and Suresh Gopi is the brother(-in-law) who like Mohanlal has a copyright on a certain type of hero -  the police officer who swallowed an English dictionary. (Isn’t it time we awarded a honorary IPS to Suresh Gopi like Lt.Col title conferred to Mohanlal by the Indian Army (122nd Infantry Battalion)?) Sharat Kumar, the manliest of actors from Tamil in the 50-60 age group is imported to be Mohanlal's buddy.An interesting face that flickered by was Vivekandan, the actor who played the teen lead in 1990 movie - Kshanakkathu, as one of Mohanlal's sidekicks.

Saikumar is the father who created these brothers and the entire Christian brotherhood is often challenged by another set of brothers from a different mother, this one led by Biju Menon and fathered by Vijayaraghavan. Mother figures are non existent, no wonder the boys are running wild. Female actors are all damsels in distress waiting to be rescued by the appropriate Christian brother. In fact cars and guns play more important roles than ladies in this movie. This is our very own Guns, Gems(of actors) and Steel, for your daily dose of the aforementioned three items watch this movie in installments.

Jan 14, 2012

Shutter Island

Shutter Island is a little late for me, Memento, Requiem for a Dream, Mulholland Drive, Inception and a handful other movies whose names I don’t remember have already taken the viewers down the path of alternate realities played out inside character’s heads. If you are the analyzing type, this is one movie whose real meaning you can dissect to death after multiple viewings.

Dennis Lehane is one of my favorite writers of casual fiction. I loved his Mystic River and remember eagerly waiting for the film version when I heard Clint Eastwood was directing it. I have not read this work of his – Shutter Island but if Mystic River (the book) is anything to go by Shutter Island the movie has been glammed up a bit into a Hollywood script under Martin Scorcese. Of course when a movie is set in or before 1950s, the leading man can be no one else but Leanardo Di Caprio, the real Benjamin Button of Hollywood who is perpetually stuck in a screen time somewhere between the Great Depression(‘30s) and the Great Prosperity(‘50s)

This time he is stuck for real in an island penitentiary/mental asylum called Shutter Island as US Marshal Teddy Daniels investigating a mysterious disappearance of a female inmate. That is just the start. Things get murkier and stormier as the film progresses. But somehow from the very beginning I had the feeling that Mark Ruffalo was acting. Another reason to doubt the story was, did Scorsese have the guts to cast Ben Kingsley, the man who played Gandhi, in a negative role?

All that said, Shutter Island has an interesting story, the director has delivered it as a tight almost waterproof package, although the movie's predominant element is water. There are metaphors, allegories and symbols placed through out the movie left for audience's interpretation including the famous last line that Di Caprio's character utters at the end of the movie, throwing a monkey wrench into the already confused machinery of audience's mind.

Jan 9, 2012

Madrasapattinam

As a topophiliac I am partial toward movies with place name titles. Changes in geography shaped and reshaped under the wheels of time interest me to no end.  Madrasapattinam made me look at the origins of the so-called authentic Tamil name, Chennai which became Madras’s official name in 1996. Wikipedia says Madrasapatinam and Chennapatinam were two different but nearby places. Madrasapattinam was a fishing hamlet near Portuguese fort St. George and Chennapattinam was the settlement which sprang up near the fort. Both their histories go back to 15th century. Between the two how did the administration decide which one was more original? 

Madrasapattinam, the movie favors Madrasapattinam over Chennapattanam. It is sort of like Tamilian’s Titanic cleverly adapted for pre-independence era Madras. There are telltale signs of Titanic strewn through out the movie starting with the old lady, the necklace, the old lady’s grand daughter, flash back to a doomed and fleeting love story and a handsome self sacrificing hero who never gets old. Like Titanic – the movie, Madrasapatinam was created to ride the box-office waves, not to sink without a trace. It has romance of the most forbidden kind – gori mem falling for a dark skinned dhobi, in the backdrop of the simmering Indian freedom struggle almost nearing its date of fruition.

Arya and Amy Jackson play the roles of lovers separated by class, race and political tensions. One of the positives about this movie is we do not have Indians in crusty pancake makeup and blond wigs playing the role of the British. Although twenty first century British dialogs sound Dickensian, viewers’ misery due to this strait-jacketed language is restricted to a few opening scenes.

The city of Madras plays itself. The director had me in his pocket when he showed the transformation of Coovum river from a scenic serene waterway to a narrow channel between trash heaps in the present day Chennai. CGI although not seamless as historic Hollywood movies, is definitely better than Salman Khan’s Veer a period piece from Bollywood with more money and CGI.

Madrasapattinam has a lot of flaws in the script and story department if you go at with a magnifying glass. Most of the public who spends money to watch this movie in Chennai’s cinema halls won’t be having such a glass in their possession. This is dreamy movie for the underdog, about someone who attained the unattainable, with a strong thread of love and related emotions binding it together, movie success at the box office is a proof that we Indians always fall for that time tested trick.

Jan 6, 2012

Boss Engira Bhaskaran

Jamshad Cethirakath aka Arya – a Malayali from Trikkaripur(Kerala) brought up in Chennai with Diana Kurian aka Nayantara – a Malayali from Kottayam(Kerala) brought up in Gujarat and Kerala, both find stardom in Tollywood and join hands as hero and heroine in the 2010 super hit Boss Engira Bhaskaran. 

It was touted as Nayantara’s comeback hit and breakthrough commercial hit for Arya. With all this Mallu pride overflowing in the first paragraph it should be self evident that this review is written by a Malayali whose distinction is that I have not watched many Tamil movies. But I have been trying to correct this drawback this last week by multi-threading a few Arya and Dhanush movies.

Bhaskaran otherwise known as Boss(Arya) amongst his friends and family is a happy go lucky unemployed youth living in Kumbhakonam. A lot of middle class Tamil film-goers will be able to identify with his story and the surroundings. Arya’s natural comic timing and strong support on the comedy front from Santhanam makes the movie a laughter-fest from start to finish. In this they are aided by a humurous and unexpectedly sound script. Even the supporting characters have engaging dialogs, except for Nayantara’s ‘pardon’, which was a tad irritating but it was afterall intended to annoy Boss.

Boss Engira Bhaskaran is funny romcom perfect for lazy afternoons. Even the villians are cast in a witty mold. There are not many lessons to take home except to take life light-heartedly like Boss.

Jan 4, 2012

Top Malayalam Movies of 2011

2011 was a milestone year for the discerning Malayali movie-goer, one who was tortured years on end with too many Dubais, Naatturajavus, Christian and Uppukandam Brothers. It goes without saying that I consider myself belonging to this category. This was the year I finally found some contemporary Malayalam films I can recommend to my film-buff friends (non-Indian and therefore non-Malayali) and did not have to go into hiding after the recommendation for fear of losing their friendship.

2011 was also the year when Malayalam cinema woke up and sniffed a new formula  and started playing with it – integrated multi narrative track, already perfected by Alejandro Inarritu, Wong Kar-wai and David Lynch, so there are plenty of places of draw 'inspiration' from. In the process of learning there were some misfires like The Train and The Metro, but some like Traffic and City of God hit the target.

Another surprise winner of 2011 is the non-superstar, in the line of Times Person of the Year – Protestor,  Malayalam cinema’s star of the year was not Mohanlal, Mammootty , Prithviraj or Dileep, (or not even Suresh Gopi,) it was the dependable second benchers, the reliable middle-of-the-pack actors like Lal, Jayasurya, Shweta Menon, Kunchako Boban, Indrajith, Asif Ali, Salim Kumar, Reema Kallingal, Indrajith, Vineeth Sreenivasan, Remya Nambishan, Fahad Fazil and Samvrutha Sunil who took the cake this last year. Also worth mentioning is the new crop of movie-makers who were instrumental in bringing a paradigm shift in the way we make movies in Kerala – Lijo Jose Pellissery, Samir Thahir, Aashiq Abu, Listin Stephen, Bobby n Sanjay, Rajesh Pillai and the like.

On to movies, my five favorite films of the year in no particular order,

Salt N Pepper (Woohoo! Malayalam has its first real…..Read more)

City of God (The end is the beginning is the end as….Read more)

Chappa Kurish (Chappa Kurish - Kochi speak for heads or tails, whatever the outcome of this coin flip…Read more)


Beautiful has shades of compassion and comraderie and gives Anoop Menon an opportunity to sling a guitar on his back and walk/ride the streets, which movie star has not dreamed of playing such a James Dean-ish character. Jayasurya as a paralysed millionaire with a  love for life gets to emote with his eyes and flirtatious talk. It is an interesting movie and yet another one which pays tribute to Malayali male’s endless fascination with that ageless Padmarajan classic – Thoovanathumbikal.(Read more)
 Indian Rupee has a good story and tight script. Though more laudable is the fact that it is the one and only movie which keeps Prithviraj (barely) in the ship that sailed from Kerala’s movie ocean in the second decade of twenty first century bearing the flag of new promise and hope. Prithvi is on the verge of becoming a latter day Mohanlal (not the Mohanlal of Nadodikkaattu but the Mohanlal of Natturajavu), if not for rare movies like Indian Rupee.


Also rans
Gaddama : (Women in flight (no, not Amelia Earhart), escaping their wretched existence make...  Read more )

Traffic: Probably the most commercially successful multi-narrative movie of 2011, it not only is technically sound but has drama and melodrama to top it off. Read more

Adaminte Makan Abu: A typical festival circuit movie, Malayalam budhi-jeevi(intellectual) directors have been churning out since the fifties and sixties, because third world poverty and desperation sells, tugs the heart strings of movie intelligensia at Cannes and Berlin and Toronto helping to bring home an award or two. Salim Kumar and Zarina Wahab have faithfully executed their roles as an aging couple waiting to go on a pilgrimage to Haj and the rest is textbook award movie stuff.

Pranayam, maybe.