Dir – Rakesh Omprakash Mehra
Written by – Gulzar
Dir – Rakesh Omprakash Mehra
Written by – Gulzar
Dir. Abhishek Chaubey
Shahid Kapoor, Kareena Kapoor, Alia Bhatt, Diljit Dosanjh
I remember Lord Varys’ chat with Tyrion where he says –
So when Censor Board decided to make those cuts to the movie, it elevated the movie to a status of power, because they definitely believed that the movie shall make an impact or wield power on the current situation in some passive way; and in the process to do so, it both elevated the movie a higher status, with a measure of publicity that would never been a fraction of what it has today, while at the same time did endorse the message the movie might want to make despite trying not to do so. And is it worth it ? It is. By full measure.
Coming on to the film, the film highlights the deteriorating condition of Punjab through 4 characters (all brilliantly cast) – Tommy Singh (a.k.a The Gabru – a drug addict pop-star), the unnamed Bihari farm worker (Alia Bhatt – who spirals down the drug route and forced prostitution by a single mistake of greed – it’s interesting to note that the narrative keeps her nameless – like most cases of abuse, and people who are the worst affected actually remain unknown), Sartaj Singh (Diljit Dosanjh – a cop that vows a fight against drugs after his own brother gets affected) and Preet (Kareena Kapoor as a drug rehab clinic doctor).
The music, dresses, the vocabulary and the antics (Shahid Kapoor is as eccentric as a pop star can get, and the jail scenes are quite intriguing – the realism of the confession of the two convicts borders on being comic – reflective of the insane grimness of the situation in Punjab, the scale of which borders on being laughably stupid; Satish Kaushik fits perfectly as the profane but homely producer) are nearly perfect – one can only imagine how a pop star shall feel being (unwantingly, or rather unknowingly) a role model to the youth, being clueless himself.
Preet and Sartaj form a journalistic/buddy cop duo, slowly building up on the clues for a takedown of the enormous drug mafia (a situation, which logically makes it clear that can’t exist without a proper system that ensures a continual supply of drugs and druggies), and in the process, fall in love, probably because that’s one of the tested ways to involve the otherwise somewhat apathetic audience into a narrative that relies on letting you know the stakes of the drug abuse problem. An effective but somewhat a little bit too convenient way.
The film leniently borrows from well known films in drug culture, from the celebration of youth and ruthlessness in Trainspotting, to the disproportionate hell the characters are forced upon simply by even a mild influence of drugs; but Udta Punjab ultimately develops their visual metaphors for a more humane and desi touch, going a step ahead. Consider the Trainspotting toilet/underwater scene and Alia’s drop down the well, where she herself had dropped the drugs she accidentally scored – Alia’s character has to be under the effects because that’s only escape, the only guiding light she has while she faces sexual abuse and torture – to sustain her sanity, overlooking at the Goa tourism ad, dreaming of a beautiful future. But by the end, when she has somewhat secured the future, free of drugs – she dives in again, this time in a sea – a beautiful life is all the light one needs.
The film still takes a relatively optimistic stand on the situation – despite the intense profanity, implied torture and the gore (which doesn’t feel even a bit misplaced) – there is now way you can take a stand on a dirty situation without getting your hands dirty. The Censor’s decisions to an extent support the claims the film makers make, of a perfect cycle of drugs (bad films) and druggies (a helpless audience); and the fact that those who inherently seem are on the correct side of the law (only legally) meet a deserving end (of death, or being irrelevant and overruled), those on the fringe of the law but on a better moral ground shall save the future (rehab – for others, and themselves).
Dir. Pavan Kirpalani
Phobia – noun – an extreme or irrational fear of or aversion to something.
As the title suggests, those fighting to make logical argument to the narrative might be disappointed; those willing to accept the irrationality can delve wholeheartedly into this brilliantly realised attempt at horror (though it tries to pretend to throw jump scares at you, but it’s the genuine awkwardness of the situations it develops that creates a sense of comedic unease).
Mehak (Radhika Apte) suffers from agoraphobia (an anxiety disorder characterized by anxiety symptoms in reaction to situations where the sufferer perceives the environment to be dangerous, uncomfortable, or unsafe) after a bad experience in a taxi. She is shifted to a new home (by moral doubtful means) by her friend Shaan (Satyadeep Misra), the only sane male presence. Here she develops a fear of the things happening in the house, much like the string of horror movies we have been fed on, starts believing that a deeper narrative of a possibly murdered soul (interestingly named Jiah Kh-urana) is behind the activities, which gives rise to situations of genuine comedy of unease.
The film looks technically sound – there are scenes of brilliant visuals and lighting in an otherwise uninviting space, complimented by a matching score, though sometimes a bit loud. It’s interesting to see how it’s only the female characters of the film (apart from the lead) that make sense or are caring and are portrayed without doubts. While the phobia for unexpected jumps and bursts is what we share with the protagonist in the moment, it is the phobia of other basic problems in life that creates this feeling for the the character – Mehak’s unhappy incident makes her unwantingly project the fear of being misused onto Shaan, the character we sympathise with – which ultimately culminates in a phobia of commitment.
We see her from a distance, and try to understand by logic; till she defies her fear, and the film defies our logic by creating that situation through an irrational set of events, so that we might better understand her by giving up our rationality.
Sairat (सैराट) (Wild) (2016)
Dir. Nagraj Manjule
In certain ways I am quite jealous of current Marathi cinema culture – how can they have films that have profound images of stark emotions; films that are intense in appeal, with no established stars, yet commercially applauded, publicly accepted and celebrated. These are films that have a point to make – to evoke a discussion, and not simply end with the credits roll.
With just 2 films under his belt (Fandry, Sairat), Nagraj Poptrao Manjule, already exists as a director I am always going to look out for (and he’s probably going to stay here for quite some time to come). There’s a certain understanding of the slow paced village life he has, a certain knack of heavily paced music and certainly a hidden anger and a strong stand on issue of caste and creed, that I haven’t seen in anyone in the limited number of films I have seen.
It’s a tale of 2 lovers -Prashya (Akash Thosar), a low caste, mild mannered boy and Archie (Rinku Rajguru), daughter of high caste politician, a dude among women. And theyare assisted by two charming and naive friends, Sallya and Langdya. Maybe it’s the casting of such a regular looking, unknown faces, that it takes just a few minutes to completely fall into their world. The premise is not something that is unheard of – it was basically what we have constantly seen in 90s from Govinda, or the numerous adaptations of Romeo Juliet. There is a sense of foreboding of something evil coming, both when the love is growing and when they struggle to make a living in a new, unknown city of Hyderabad.
But it’s the charm of the characters that makes us stay and enjoy the blooming love, and dance with joy till we are allowed to (I could see people dancing to the beautiful tunes of Ajay Atul below the screen – something that you can only witness in theatres here. It’s the first Indian film to involve a symphony orchestra, recorded in Hollywood).
The sense of impending doom is pervasive and haunting. May it be the statues in the park in a punishment posture, or the moral police beating the lovers on roadside. And there are situations in our society, when the love for a family member can be small compared to our dreams and ambitions, and of course our prejudices. Much like Fandry, here too, a discussion on the nature of caste in our society, it’s contrast with simple human emotions and how it affects us (all of us) in ways that is irrational and repulsive, yet accepted. I shall leave it to you for that to experience.
For lovers that elope, life wasn’t easy, but most movies are contend to end at that point, leaving it at the audience to assume an ending. But Sairat goes ahead, and explores the aftermath of eloping. After years of struggle, both financial and emotional, the two lovers are standing amidst rubble in an under-construction building, planning to buy a house – Archie is talking to her mom, whether she shall be accepted again in to her paternal home. Prashya’s parents have a hard time being accepted into the new village they have been abandoned to. The house is incomplete – either under construction or simply damaged – these are not homes. But love and acceptance of oneself and others is the only step they can towards building one. By the climax, her mother sends her gifts for their newly born child with people close to the family. What follows next is one of the most profound scenes presented on screen in recent times. The climax is without sound, it is us who are screaming in our heads, maybe questioning, revolting and understanding the purpose of everything we saw.
Chanda (beautifully played by Swara Bhaskara), a widowed house maid, wants her stubborn child Ria, to be educated – she is stuck with 10th class Maths. And she has to compete with her in order to make her study, enrolling herself in her daughter’s class.
The other film that it reminded me of was – Satyajit Ray’s Aparajito (the unvanquished) -a child convincing her widowed mother to let her study – and how it takes him places, even away from her mother. The fact that the protagonist there, and the child here are both named Apu does not seem coincidence.
The film treads known waters in the first half – it’s only when the mother’s solution to get her to study takes a self destructive turn, and becomes, for her daughter an all out competition to nearly destroy her mother.
Rachna Pathak Shah, plays the small (in time, but big in impact) role of Dr. Deewan, a relatively rare, supportive employer, which forms the core of the movie’s message – adult education is necessary, for growth, of their own, and of their children. The films plays it out subtly, and nowhere, does it leave the borders of realism, while still being constantly witty.
Fans like many others, are men (or women) of ambition, though it’s the society that ranks their goals unworthy or of little consequence. A fan doesn’t seek to rival its star, or replace him/her in magnitude – all it seeks is acknowledgement – like a one-sided lover who knows and accepts his/her situation, and still continues pursuit.
SRK returns to his roots – a wheatish complexioned hero that would lure audiences (and love interests) from his charm rather than righteousness of his characters or his looks (say from Baazigar, or Darr, or even the similar double role in Duplicate). And he remains one of the few stars (and the only Khan) that still fulfills as an actor. While most stars of his stature would try to produce films that put them in roles that are righteous, and give out audience (and business friendly) climax, he still remains willing to roles that lie outside comfort zones, and deliver, despite all its flaws, a film that wants you to think about it after you leave your seat in the theater (Gaurav Chanana (the fan) says to Aryan Khanna (the star)- almost as a joke directed on the ultra-easy moviegoer – रहन दे , तू नहीं समझेगा ).
For those people whose lives are in constant scrutiny and relies on their ever available personality, humility doesn’t come as a natural trait – it becomes a decision, a skill honed by persistence – many stars can’t remain humble throughout, even if they wish too; others embrace the other side of humility (read Kanye West). It seems likely that SRK himself has faced similar situations – and tries to maintain his off screen image that keeps him lovable all the times.
The film dwells on this destructive conflict of a angered fan and a stubborn star (you can change the adjectives for the fan and the star, it will still be apt) played brilliantly by SRK on either side. The chase and action sequences are too long and attention deficit – a successful conclusion could have still have been reached by trimming them. Nevertheless, the filmmakers are able to sketch out and trace two characters, either of which you can understand, but can’t appreciate – a destructive fan set out to defame its idol, to make him apologize, for defying his love, denying even a small bit of acknowledgement, and star, trying to maintain legal correctness, forgetting the source of his power, his fandom – the film ends on a uncomfortable note, but one that sounds true to its characters – a god is as valid as its followers.
Dir. Ram Madhvani.
The other movie that came to my mind while watching Neerja, was Airlift- if only because it belongs to the same decade, and has similar premise of a commonplace character fighting to ensure the survival of his/her community, and ofcourse, aeroplanes. Where Neerja succeeds as a more sincere and truthful effort, is that it highlights and discusses its central character – its motivations to perform as an individual of highest moral order, instead of forcing its protagonist into a larger than life narrative powered majorly by nationalist identity which sacrifices the small details and pleasures of a regular life, in order to make grand but less convincing points.
We see Sonam Kapoor playing the beautiful Neerja Bhanot, (a purser for Pan Am, based in Mumbai, India, who was shot while saving passengers from terrorists on board the hijacked Pan Am Flight 73 on 5 September 1986. Posthumously, she became the youngest recipient of India’s highest peacetime military award for bravery, the Ashok Chakra), a role which she decently performs. The narrative combines Neerja’s uneven past, haunted by his abusive ex-husband, with the terrifying hostage situation – and Neerja’s struggle in his past becomes a personal example of sustaining courage during the present situation (which reminded me of Robb Starks’ response to Bran – Can a man still be brave if he’s afraid? That’s the only time he can be brave – a variation of which is the film’s tagline).
Neerja chooses to perform her duties- even that of a purser, an air hostess in laymen terms, with utmost sincerity, that everything else seems small in front it – it’s her call of duty – while employing her wit to prevent as much damage as possible. The film maker too, while indulging in small regular songs and expositional affairs in shaky cameras, still manage to convey the sincerity of the premise, performing their duty – and offer a moving account of the flight, and the situation back at Neerja’s home. It’s Neerja’s mother, played by Shabana Azmi, that concludes this story on a emotional high-note – her speech gets as real and as beautiful as it gets.
Do watch it.