Category Archives: Films

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

umi_yorimo_mada_fukaku8_h_2016

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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Om Puri: Four Performances

om-puri

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: “Coming Home” (‘歸來’)

Coming Home

Directed by: Zhang Yimou
Cast: Gong Li (Feng Wanyu), Chen Daoming (Lu Yanshi) and Zhang Huiwen (Dandan)

Rating: 78%

A criminal on the run. A wife told to turn him in. It would have been a crime drama anywhere else. Only in Coming Home, the crime is being an enemy of the Chinese Communist Party. And the drama is set during the Cultural Revolution, the political inferno which engulfed China from 1966 to 1976.

The Cultural Revolution has spawned its own genre of cinema including the epic Farewell My Concubine and the devastating Xiu Xiu: The Sent Down Girl. In contrast to those works, Zhang Yimou’s Coming Home is not an angry rebuke at what went wrong, but an elegy of how the Cultural Revolution affects a couple Lu and Feng and their daughter, Dandan, in a provincial town.

Coming Home however falls short of Zhang’s previous work and of films on the Cultural Revolution thanks to its soap-opera treatment replete with endless background music, jarring camera close-ups and even tears which seem carefully choreographed.

The tragedy of the Cultural Revolution is thankfully revealed through the brilliant performances of Li, Chen and Zhang. Lu is a convicted counterrevolutionary who has escaped from a labour camp. Feng and Dandan are summoned in by the police to tell what they know. Desiring the lead role in a revolutionary ballet, Dandan chillingly proclaims her obedience to the party’s commands to turn in Lu.

The tragedy of Coming Home does not sink in until after the film finishes. For all its melodrama, Coming Home is a poignant tale of humanity losing its way and trying to find it again, thanks to the masterful performances of its lead actors.

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Film Review: “Dheepan”

DHEEPAN_Still

Starring: Anthonythasan Jesuthaasan, Kalieaswari Srinivasan, Claudine Vinasithamby, Vincent Rottiers

Directed by: Jacques Audiard

88%

“Je m’appelle Dheepan.”

Dheepan begins on the twilight of the war in Sri Lanka. Sivadhasan (Jesuthaasan), a Tamil Tiger, mourns a fallen comrade. Yalini (Srinivasan), a young woman, wants to escape as a refugee.  Illaya (Vinasithamby), an orphaned girl, becomes Yalini’s ticket. Sivadhasan, now renamed “Dheepan,” Yalini and Ilaya leave Sri Lanka a “family” for France.

Set in a housing project on the outskirts of Paris and amidst a Balzac-like cast of thugs, gang members and drug pushers, Dheepan is raw, dark and moving. Audiard’s direction and storytelling create a picture as close to art and reality as cinema gets. Through the performances of Jesuthaasan, Srinivasan and Vinasithamby, one lives the tears, frustrations and spirit of Dheepan, Yalini and Ilaya. The war in Sri Lanka lives on not just in memories.

The cinematography of Eponine Momenceau deepens the ambiance with the paddy fields and funeral pyres of Sri Lanka to the smashed lighting strips and marijuana butts littering the housing project. In this Fifth Republic, there is no law, no fraternity. Dheepan, Yalini and Ilaya have to fight for a new beginning. In Dheepan, Audiard asks gracefully and frankly whether people can start again.

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India Bound

india_censoredWritten by Randeep Singh

The film Haider was released on October 2, 2014. The film is an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Hamlet to the violent backdrop of Kashmir in the mid-1990s. Among other things, Haider looks at the atrocities of the Indian army. It has become one of the most critically acclaimed films in India this year.

On October 15, 2014, the Allahabad High Court issued notices to, among others, the film’s director, director and actors to respond to a petition. The petition was filed by the Hindu Front for Justice an organization which seeks to restrain the film’s screening on the basis that it insults the sovereignty, integrity and unity of India.

How does a film like Haider endanger the “sovereignty, integrity and unity” of India? Aren’t India’s restrictions on the freedom of expression, such as national security, public order and incitement to violence,  sufficient to deal with problems that may otherwise imperil the “sovereignty, integrity and unity” of India?

The “sovereignty, integrity and unity” limitation on freedom of expression merely enables the Indian power to curb any thought or opinion it deems “anti-national.” And what is more cherished to the Indian nationalist mythology than the idea that India is a benign, secular democracy, a view questioned by Haider?

In its stamping out of ideas, thoughts or opinions, which just may have a ring or truth to them, the Indian state privileges the right of an ambiguous and undefined the “nation” over those of democracy which relies on a free flow of ideas. The result is a narrowing of the Indian mind.

If Haider is restrained from playing in Indian cinemas, the Indian state and its fascist enthusiasts will have again (as they have done before with M.F. Hussain, Deepa Mehta, Sonali Bose, Arundhati Roy, Wendy Doniger) have privileged the rights of the “nation” over those of Indians themselves.

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Film Review: “Haider”

haider 1
Starring: Shahid Kapoor, Tabu, Kay Kay Menon, Shraddha Kapoor, Narendra Jha, Irrfan Khan. Directed by: Vishal Bhardwaj

Reviewed by Randeep Singh

This third adaptation of Shakespeare’s tragedies by Vishal Bhardwaj is not a tragedy in the same way as the play from which it is adapted. The tragedy in “Hamlet” comes from the hero’s fatal flaw, his indecision whether to avenge his father’s murder and the needless deaths which result along the way. In Bhardwaj’s “Haider,” the title role (played by Shahid Kapoor) is unwavering in his determination to murder his uncle, Khurram (Kay Kay Menon), contending only with chance and circumstance. There is no fatal flaw in the character of Haider and no tragedy as such.

The tragedy in Haider is the tragedy of Kashmir, the backdrop against which this modern-day Indian adaptation is told. It’s no irony that we see elections being conducted in a land where the day’s rhythms are determined by curfews and where the call to prayer is drowned out by army loudspeakers. The tragedy is most poignantly rendered in Haider’s search for his father, one of the many “missing” fathers, sons and husbands in Kashmir. It is realized visually too through the film’s stunning cinematography, the pure snow of the valley speckled with blood, veiled by smoke, partitioned by barbed wire.

Kapoor captures Haider as a sensitive young poet in the earlier part of the film, but gives a less nuanced performance when Haider experiences episodes of madness. The stand-out performance in the film is that of Tabu as Ghazala who hauntingly portrays a woman torn by loyalty as a mother, a widow and a new wife. Kapoor and Tabu are supported by an excellent supporting cast, particularly Menon as Khurram and Narendra Jha as Haider’s father, Dr. Hilal Meer.

The film isn’t entirely stellar. The climax, while effective, almost turns comical with the transformation of three elderly gravediggers into militia men. The madness and suicide of the Ophelia-adapted character, Arshi (played by Shraddha Kapoor), is also so rushed that it never really sinks in. The tragedy though as Bhardwaj makes clear is not that of Arshi or even of Haider. In closing the film with Faiz Ahmad Faiz’ poem “Intesaab” (‘Dedication’), Bhardwaj’s “Haider” becomes a dedication to the congregation of mourning that is Kashmir, a tragedy awaiting its final curtain.

8.5/10

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The Homosexual Desi in “Dedh Ishqiya”

dedh ishqiya

Written by Randeep Singh

Dedh Ishqiya is no “Brokeback Mountain” in Hindi cinema. The story of its two gay characters – Begum Para (Madhuri Dixit) and her lady-in-waiting Muniya (Huma Qureshi – is just one ingredient in the masala. The scene where the Begum remembers how she became estranged from her husband, a homosexual Nawaab, could have made for a more complete, compelling film. Instead, it’s a thirty second narration while elsewhere we’re treated to a Tarantino-style shootout to Begum Akhtar’s ghazal “Woh Jo Ham Mein Tum Mein.”

As a film on (homosexual) love however, Dedh Ishqiya is commendable. First, it shows desi gays as human beings. Prick them and they’ll bleed, tickle them and they’ll laugh. The Begum says that her husband the Nawaab, was not into women and that after his death, the Begum herself found comfort in the arms of her lady-in-waiting Muniya. It’s not clear whether the Begum was in fact homosexual – it’s almost implied that she became one – but that ambiguity aside, the Begum and Muniya, are gay and human.

Second, Dedh Ishqiya does not resort to stereotypes or sensationalism respecting the homosexual desi. Girlfriend (2004) had to have its “hot” lesbian love scene and Dostana (2008) elicited laughs from straight guys “playing gay.” In Dedh Ishqiya, the Begum and Muniya love one another even if that love is confined to the four walls of their mansion. When speaking of Muniya in one scene, the Begum recounts, “woh hamaari saathi, hamaaari hamdard aur ab hamaari jaan bhi hain” (‘she’s my companion, my sympathizer and now my darling, my life too’). The desire between the two is subtle but palpable whether it’s in Muniya’s intense gaze at the Begum or Muniya’s massaging the Begum’s arms.

Third, Dedh Ishqiya shows its homosexual characters making a new life for themselves. In a Thelma and Louise style sendoff, Muniya and the Begum drive off into the sunset, pawn off an essentially priceless necklace and use the money to set up their own dance school (the Begum was once an accomplished dancer). It’s an ideal situation in an otherwise than less ideal society and culture for homosexuals. I could not help but feel though, when listening to the closing song, “ Hamri Atariya Pe Aa Jaa Re Saawariya” (‘Come on to my rooftop darling’), the song was an invitation to gay desis to come out and sing.

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