Category Archives: Cinema

Film Review: After The Storm (海よりもまだ深く)

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Reviewed by Randeep Purewall

Cast: Hiroshi Abe (Ryoto Shinoda); Yoko Maki (Kyoko Shiraishi); Taiyo Yoshizawa (Shingo Shiraishi); Kirin Kiki (Yoshiko Shinoda).

Director: Hirokazu Koreeda

One of the characteristics of Japanese art and poetry is “mono no aware” (物の哀れ), a refined sensitivity to the sorrow and beauty of the transient world. The waning of the autumn moon, the fading of cherry blossoms and the vision of wild geese vanishing into the mountain mist – all these are mono no aware

In Hirokazu Koreeda’s, After The Storm (海よりもまだ深く), Ryota is a writer who has not published anything for years. He gambles away his meager earnings, falls behind in paying child support and watches by while a new beau moves in on his ex, Kyoko and son, Shingo.

One night during a storm, Ryoto, Kyoko and Shingo find themselves stranded at Ryoto’s mother’s (Yoshiko). What follows that night are precious moments for father and son, Ryoto and Kyoko and between Ryoto and his mother …

After The Storm is a film about love, family and forgiveness. It’s a tale of Ryoto who searched for happiness everywhere except for in the present. It’s also Ryoto’s story of a life lived in search of himself. In the tradition of mono no aware, After The Storm, is poignant, poetic and sensitive, a story flowing in soul and dignity with the performances of Abe and Kiki at its heart.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MISbcZZvSPI

 

 

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Films on South Asian Muslims and Islamophobia in the Diaspora

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Written by Randeep Singh

In much of post-9/11 cinema, a “Muslim” is someone whose identity is defined fundamentally in terms of religion rather than nationality, culture, class or ethnicity. Indeed, South Asian Muslims in post-9/11 American cinema are usually portrayed either as religious radicals or terror suspects in films like The War Within (2005) or as exhibiting a bipolar Muslim disorder in The Reluctant Fundamentalist (2012).

Thankfully, there have been attempts to understand the more nuanced shades of South Asian Muslim diaspora identity. In The Muslims I Know (2008)Mara Ahmed speaks with Pakistani Muslims in upstate New York on questions of cultural identity and being American while also interviewing others on what they think of Muslims.

Films from the U.K. have also tried to portray the experiences of South Asian Muslims humanistically. One such film is Yasmin (2004). The story of a spunky, young British girl from a Pakistani family in West Yorkshire, Yasmin (played by Archie Punjabi) is forced to choose her identity after the Twin Towers come crashing down.

Another film is Bradford Riots (2005), a film about Karim (Sacha Dhawan), a young university student also from northern England. When Bradford burns in riots during the summer of 2001, Karim finds himself on the wrong side of the mob and the law.

The third film, Brick Lane, is the story of Nazneen (Tannishtha Chatterjee), a young woman who moves from Bangladesh to East London. The film looks mostly at her life against the backdrop of her family and the British Bangladeshi community in Tower Hamlets, before and after 9-11.

With respect to identity, Yasmin and Karim are the British-born children of working class immigrants. They are, at most, “Muslim” in an ethnic sense. Like many from working class backgrounds, they are tough, proud and street smart. Yasmin wears a hijab when she has to but otherwise lets her hair down. Karim has his white mates at college and dosses around with his boys back in the pool halls of Bradford.

In contrast, Nazneen is a first-generation immigrant who came to England to get married. Her memories are those of the paddy fields back home with her sister as she adjusts to her life in England and to raising a family. She prays to God, but writes to her sister more often.

There’s a difference in how these characters experience racism and Islamophobia. Yasmin and Karim are labelled Muslim by a society and system. Karim is sentenced to five years in prison for his role in the Bradford riots, raising the question of whether he received a fair trial at a time of such heightened racial tension and the public call for retribution.

Yasmin meanwhile is detained on suspicion of harbouring a terrorist in her husband. Not having gone to the mosque in five years, she is given a copy of the Quran in prison and told which direction Mecca is in. Having suffered taunts at work, she is subjected to the gaze of a police constable who threatens to charge her for withholding information which she doesn’t have.

In Brick Lane, Nazneen’s lover, Karim bears the brunt of racism and Islamophobia. After facing harassment from racist gangs, Karim and starts holding meetings on how the local Bangladeshi community can defend itself after 9/11.

For Yasmin, Karim and Nazneen, being Muslim is only part of their larger identities which are based on culture and nationality. The Bradford riots and 9/11, however, make Karim and Yasmin themselves and whether they’re different after all. Whereas Nazneen takes her religion for granted, for Karim and Yasmin, the Muslim part of their identity is something that won’t let them be.

 

Previews:

The Muslims I Know: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3PPBbIzq_0E

Yasmin: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mjzg1PC0QjM

Bradford Riots: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lJYBX64PdV8

Brick Lane: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hbd7m00oW6c

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Om Puri: Four Performances

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Written by Randeep Singh

On January 6, 2017, Om Puri passed away at the age of 66. One of India’s finest actors, he also won acclaim for his performances in British, American and Pakistani films. Here’s a review of just four of his performances.

Aakrosh (1980)

In this devastating indictment of India’s justice system, Puri plays a poor tribesman (Lanya) wrongly accused by his landlords of murdering of his wife. Silent for much of the film, Lanya finally cries out in anguish for deliverance from a life of indignity and exploitation in a masterful balance of intensity and restraint by Puri.

Ardh Satya (1983)

In Ardh Satya, Puri plays a cop battling for his sanity and conscience in a force bedeviled by corruption. Whether in dealing with gang bosses, his superiors, or his domineering father, Puri humanizes the struggle between a life of dignity or selling out to the system.

My Son The Fanatic (1997)

As Parvez, Puri is a whiskey-loving Pakistani immigrant who falls for a local prostitute while his British-born son turns into a religious fundamentalist. Puri deftly plays the role of father, lover and working-class immigrant in one full comic-romantic-dramatic sweep.

East is East (1999)

In another culture clash comedy, Puri plays George Khan, a Pakistani fish and chip shop owner living in Salford in the early seventies. Struggling to establish his sway over his rapscallion Anglo-Pakistani children and his English wife, Puri’s performance elicits laughs, fear and even a little sympathy.

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Film Review: Muzaffarnagar Baaqi Hai

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Directed by Nakul Singh Sawhney

There was a time when Muslims and Hindus lived together in Muzaffarnagar. Their children played cricket. They celebrated Eid, Holi and Diwali. They worked the fields and sat on farmers’ collectives like the Bharatiya Kisan Union. The town was referred to as “Mohabbatnagar,” the city of love.

In September 2013, however, the Muzaffarnagar and Shamli districts of Uttar Pradesh suffered one of the worst pogroms in modern India’s history. Over 100 people (mostly Muslim) were massacred while more than 80,000 were displaced. Homes were wrecked, mosques were vandalized and dreams turned to dust.

In Muzzafarnagar Baaqi Hai, Sahwney probes the underlying causes of the pogrom. He shows how the BJP (and its agents) instigated the pogrom to win the general election of 2014 which brought Narendra Modi to power. The BJP was assisted in Muzaffarnagar by local Hindu Jats who used the pogrom to seize Muslim property, women and wealth.

Sawhney also unravels the BJP’s strategy in stirring up violence for votes. First, they turn Islamist terrorism into the new bête noire deeming Muslim youths as members of ISIS. Second, they revive the idea that Hindus have been “cheated” with election banners and posters speaking about “struggling” for Hindus. Third, they play on old anxieties of Hindu men about Muslim men stealing Hindu girls through the new “Love Jihad” conspiracy.

Those who survived the pogrom were put into camps. As Sawhney shows, however, the refugees failed to receive adequate provision for food or medical care. When it was discovered that over one hundred children died in the camps due to disease, the government has the camps bulldozed to avoid any unwanted scrutiny.

Muzaffarnagar Baaqi Hai is a difficult film to watch. Sawhney could have reined in the many threads in the documentary (such as the Bharatiya Kisan Union) for a tighter narrative and unity of theme. Still, in giving voice to the unheard and letting us enter their world, Muzaffarnagar triumphs.

 

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Film Review: Aligarh

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Directed by Hansal Mehta

Starring: Manoj Bajpayee (Ramchandra Siras); Rajkummar Rao (Deepu Sebastian); Ashish Vidyarthi (Anand Grover).

Aligarh is a drama based on the true story of Ramchandra Siras. Siras was dismissed from his position as Chair of Modern Indian Languages from Aligarh Muslim University in 2009, on charges of homosexuality. Mehta’s film is both a sensitive look into Siras’ life and a nuanced critique of how Indian society marginalizes homosexuals in the name of morality.

At the heart of Aligarh is Manoj Bajpayee’s portrayal of Siras. Bajpayee bears Siras’ soul and isolation whether in his barring himself up away from the world or listening to Lata Mangeshkar on whiskey-filled nights.

He also reveals Siras’ quiet charm in his conversations with Deepu, the journalist who interviews Siras after his dismissal from Aligarh. When Deepu asks Siras if he is gay, Siras speaks of his sexuality in terms of metaphor. This is a way for him to leave behind the world of “gay” and “straight” for what matters. But it’s also Siras’ way of making sense of himself in a society which has no vocabulary for his experience.

Through the courtroom scenes, demonstrations and Deepu’s investigations, we see how the issue of homosexuality in India has become at once political, legal, cultural and moral. But for Siras, it isn’t about politics, activism, collective morality or social censure. It’s about living a life of quiet dignity denied to him.

 

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Film Review: Captain Fantastic

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Starring: Viggo Mortenson (Ben); George MacKay (Bo); Samantha Isler (Kielyr); Annalise Basso (Vespyr); Nicholas Hamilton (Reilan); Shree Cooks (Zaja); Charlie Shotwell (Nai)

Director: Matt Ross

How should man live?

In Captain Fantastic, Ben (Mortenson) lives with his six children in the woods of the Pacific North-West. When news comes from the outside world that his wife, Leslie, has died, Ben and the children must leave the forest for the “real world.”

Captain Fantastic is a funny and revealing commentary on American society and culture through the story of a family. Ben and Leslie left capitalist society to raise their children in the state of nature. Their kids hunt game, analyze Russian literature and celebrate Noam Chomsky Day instead of Christmas.

But the kids have no experience of life beyond their survival skills and home schooling. They struggle to find the way to their dreams, like Bo (MacKay), who wants to attend Harvard and Princeton, a betrayal of his father’s anti-institutional principles. Ben too must battle with his own principles and conscience when he meets estranged family members, particularly Lesley’s parents. Mortenson’s performance brings out Ben’s intensity and vulnerability all at once in these encounters.

Can man live authentically in modern society? Through an engaging and affecting story, Captain Fantastic reminds us that even the the freest of men have their chains.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How should man live? Ben (Mortenson) lives with his his six children off the grid in the forests of Oregon. They hunt game, bathe in waterfalls and subject themselves to rigorous physical and intellectual discipline. Yet when news comes from that other world of Walmart and McDonalds that Ben’s wife and mother has died, the children urge Ben to leave their compound in the mountains to attend the mother’s funeral.

What ensues is a comic, heartfelt and often eye opening film on American culture, raising children and how to be real. When they first encounter a highway patrol officer for a broken tail-light, Ben and the children improvise their roles as home-schooled Bible children who sing the officer away with hymns of Christ and salvation.When they first have dinner at a table with Ben’s sister, the children wonder whether their aunt killed the chicken herself and the almost macabre moments at the dinner table where the cousins receive varying accounts from their parents and Ben on how their aunt died. .

Ben’s children can analyze Russian literature, recite the American Bill of Rights and celebrate Noam Chomsky day,  but they have never kissed a girl, had a Christmas dinner. To them Coca Cola is poisoned water and the American landscape is haunted by Calvin Coolidge’s adage, “the only business of America is business.”

The first meeting between Ben, his children and Ben’s sister and her family hilariously puts both American society’s effect on children into perspective, but also questions what is the real world. Has Ben prepared his children for that world? Is his dream their dream too? The younger son, Rellian (Nicholas Hamilton) tastes video games, and wants to stay with the grandfather. The eldest son, Bo (George MacKay) confesses to his father his dreams of going to Harvard and Princeton. Ben has armed his kids with knowledge, good health and character, but as the film unfolds, experience is the greater knowledge denied.

In the end, the tension is what led Ben’s wife to her illness. The emotional highpoint is when Ben turns his RV away from the cemetary entrance on his children’s urging that he will be arrested. Ben is forced to choose between principal and sanity. Ben himself stands accused by his father-in-law (Frank Langella) and his youngest son, but in the end admits that it was a beautiful mistake. It never helped the mother and it alienated the children from the rest of the world around them. Ben is brilliantly portrayed by Viggo Mortenson, bringing together both the intensity and vulnerability of the father, the man who has lost his wife and now questions what life he must make for his children.

The film has its moments of sentimentality and sappiness – like rescuing the mum’s corpse from her grave for cremation and trying to save the younger son from his grandfather’s house. But it asks us: what is freedom? what is the real world? Like Rousseau said, man is everywhere in chains and nowhere is he free.

Basically funny, good performances

 

k – marts – macondalnds – coolidge – the business of america is business

literary analysis of liolita

 

freaks out officer by singing christian rhymes

 

noam chmsky day

 

they’re children

 

8 year old blil of rights

 

religion is dangerous fairy tales

 

can’t go to funerals – turns RV around – dramatic point

 

fight with dad re college – knowledge as experience, not book-learning – what is the real world? are they preepared?

 

letter – we are defined by our actions, not our words

 

take care of the chidlren – nothing to worry about

 

  • a beautifu lm istakes – to liv ein woods

refill the grave – keep the

 

a warm, af fecting poetic, funny tale of family, love, renewal and hope – commentary on american life – alternatives – what is afe? what is the real world? authentic/? real? man is everywhere in chains – well – performed all around – good – 89%

 

fascinsts – famly – freedom

  • fascists – book learning + it is america all that bad/

?

 

 

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The Censorship of India

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Written by Randeep Singh

The Bombay High Court has overturned the censor board of India’s decision to make 89 cuts to Udta Punjab, a film about drug abuse among Indian youth. That’s good news for Udta Punjab; so why was it subject to such censorship in the first place?

It’s because India’s Censor Board (i.e. the Central Board of Film Certification) is an arbitrary, paternalistic and repressive tool of government which dates from the colonial era. The first censor boards in India were set up in 1920 to discipline, rear and guide Indians from their naïve, childlike and unruly selves.

Today’s Censor Board continues the colonial tradition of parenting Indians, protecting them from all sorts of realities films. It has grown increasingly conservative since 1991 as a reaction to Westernization and is currently staffed with BJP members and supporters, including its head, Pahlaj Nihalani.

The Udta Punjab controversy has nevertheless brought out Karan Johar, Mahesh Bhatt and Aamir Khan in support of the film. Online petitions to screen the uncensored version of the film gained tens of thousands of signatures. The Bombay High Court decision too leaves hope that, if censorship of cinema grows in India, so too will resistance.

 

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