To say bluntly, you patiently wait for the film to really get things moving and engross you in any way.
The camera focuses upon a gun in a dimly lit room. This gun, which is pointed towards the camera, slowly moves closer to it. It’s Jesse (Aaron Paul) who is holding the gun. He, with anger in his countenance, says to a man-disguised-as-policeman, “I’m no cop killer, you be cool, and I’ll be cool, understand?”. This scene from El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie, which is a follow-up to critically acclaimed TV series Breaking Bad, is one of those brief instances that reflected the brilliance of its predecessor. But such thrilling moments are far and few in between.
El Camino is not utterly boring but also not the greatest of follow-ups. It’s those surprises during hunt-for-money and western movies-like gunfighting sequences that interests you. Written and Directed by Vince Gilligan, the film picks up from where it left in Breaking Bad. Basically, the climax of that TV series acts as this film’s premise. Walter White (Bryan Cranston) is dead and it’s not clear what lies ahead for Jesse. The film follows Jesse’s journey as he, who is kept in captivity, escapes and looks forward to new beginnings in life.
The film’s title didn’t seem to be of great relevance when you get acquainted with the film’s storyline. El Camino tests your patience too. There’s always a feeling that the turn-the-tide moment is just around the corner. To say bluntly, you patiently wait for the film to really get things moving and engross you in any way. It does throw a few elements that ignite your interest for a brief period and then disappoints you. Perhaps the sheer respect that you have for Breaking Bad may allow you to successfully sit through the whole movie.
It depicts a violent chase that resembles a battlefield in which a king’s army is mindlessly running for the kill.
In the beginning of the film, you see the camera focusing on the red sky and the beams coming out from several torchlights on the ground. There’s tranquillity felt during this scene. Here, Director Lijo Jose Pelissery gives importance to the ‘colour red’ and ‘the torchlight’ as you see how these two metamorphose into something ferocious. As the movie progresses, while the colour red takes the form of flesh and blood, the torchlight gives way to fire.
Turmoil is something that has found a place in Lijo’s previous films like Ea.Ma.Yau and Angamaly Diaries. You can witness that in Jallikattu too. There’s a commotion in a village and the men, with vehement rage, are running after a buffalo. A ‘mountain’ of men (yes, you see a throng of men forming a mountain) not only go after an animal with rage but also go after each other. The film’s storyline makes you question whether, as humans, we have reached a stage where we, with our sagacious minds, have fully understood the significance of coexistence. It makes you understand the importance of living together in harmony. The film assesses the evolution of humans and checks whether or not the modern-day humans have evolved and grown into a more intelligent and compassionate species than the Early Humans.
Jallikattu is terrifying and engrossing. Prashant Pillai’s tense background score is the film’s biggest asset. Whether it’s the tick-tock sound like that of a clock or some demonic noises, Prashant’s score amplifies the fierceness of the movie. Gireesh Gangadharan’s brilliance in his cinematography tricks makes the movie even more horrific. You see the closeups of burning fire with intermittent blackouts. Or, the camera quickly moves closer to a fruit hanging from a tree and comes to an abrupt stop. The rapidly changing scenes showing a wooden stick being sharpened or meat being chopped off (with Prashant’s music in action) is splendidly stitched together. Even the continuous uninterrupted shots like a man going from room to room and talking to different people are immersive.
The film is not out-and-out grim. Lijo has made sure that it has its share of humour as well. For instance, a street food seller calmly walks on the road as an irritated villager, trying to catch the buffalo, pulls him aside. And, in another scene, while a group of men are having a serious discussion on the roadside, they get irked by the drunkards who are carelessly yelling and dancing on the streets.
The trio of Sophie (Santhy Balachandran), Antony (Antony Varghese) and Kuttachan (Sabumon Abdusamad) give the film a taste of romance and lust. Even though it is for a short while, Lijo ensures that it is noticeable in the midst of all that violence and rancour.
Jallikattu doesn’t follow a central character as such. But there are certain individuals who are closely followed to delineate the beast coming out from the humans. (The rivalry between Antony and Kuttachan arrests you).
Jallikattu is also a bull-taming sport in Tamil Nadu but the film chooses not to depict it in any way. Unlike the actual sport, this film depicts a violent chase that resembles a battlefield in which a king’s army is mindlessly running for the kill. Here, not only a buffalo subjected to cruelty is unbearable and painful but the representation of sheer loss of humanity and compassion is staggering. Not only an animal welfare activist but even the human rights activist will find it hard to witness what this film has to offer. Such is the greatness of Lijo as he gives this film a thoughtful outlook.
The film festival showcased many interesting films. This piece contains reviews of some of them.
Sometimes you go to a cinema hall, watch a film and come out a better person than you were just a few hours ago. Such films teach you, disturb you and even inspire you. More than anything else, they turn out to be a wealth of knowledge. Open Frame Documentary Film Festival 2019, which concluded recently, had many such films on offer. Some films touched upon issues that you knew about but never understood the gravity of the matter. Some films spoke about things that you never knew about and changed your whole perspective concerning those things.
Thankfully, I was able to catch some of those beautiful films that were screened in this event. I admired the work of every other filmmaker whose films I could watch and they all were very enlightening. It was a never-seen-before experience.
Rang Mahal (Palace of Colour) is picturesque and colourful. Here, both ‘beauty’ and ‘change’ are the constant figures. Directed by Prantik Basu, the film narrates the stories on the origins of life. The stories take different shapes much like the changing colours of rocks of nearby hills. While the narration keeps a check on your imagination and fantasies, the multihued houses and hills make for a beautiful sight. The long pauses in the shots, whether the camera is focussing on a tree, a mountain, or a house, act as meditative moments and have a calming effect.
Door/Homehas disturbing and noisy shots of a housing complex being razed. With it, the film shows that the glorious history of a city now lay in ruins. Director Varun Ram Kurtkoti explores the changing identity of Dharwad. The city once housed great musicians and writers of Karnataka. As the years have gone by, not only have these great artists vanished, but even the entities like the houses, that reminded the city and its people of the forgotten glory, are getting wiped out. The representation of the city’s identity shift, or one can say its ignorance of the great past that it has had, makes you more concerned and distressed. The best shots in the film come when the camera shows the window of a house against the pitch dark surroundings.
‘New’ and ‘old’ are the elements that come together in Somewhere Nowhere. The duo of Directors Reema Kaur and Shashank Walia not just make you reminisce a city’s forgotten history but also the evolution of the city, the amalgamation of modern-day city with its old self and the significance that its old self has in today’s world. The film sticks to capturing funnier sides. A random guy suddenly shouts inside a historical monument just to feel the echo and for no particular reason. Another guy, with his goggles on, poses for the camera in different ways against a beautiful backdrop that looks immensely weird and humorous. But such instances make you seriously ponder over the relevance of such historical monuments or places the city carries in this day and age (or if it carries any such thing at all). The city has somehow found ways to thrive in a changing world.
The Outside In, directed by Hansa Thapliyal, is an impressive take on dolls. The film has this innate quality of bringing the dolls to life. Each of them is created in such a way that they look like being in a real-life scenario. They may be watching TV. They may be harvesting crops. They might just be sitting near a table with a cup of tea. Every doll tells you a story. The faces of the dolls are devoid of eyes, nose or lips. The makers of the dolls hope that different onlookers would identify different personalities. Some would see a jovial face and some would sense the agony inside them. The CGI works make for engrossing visuals in some instances and Hansa makes sure the dolls don’t lose the sheen by being a Toy Story characters.
Mod Bhaang (The Ebb Tide) had its Director’s Preview screened. The fishermen community, in this film, reflect upon their aspirations and the activities related to fishing. Director Renu Savant makes you understand the life of fishermen. The film asks you to delve deeper and think if these fishermen are forced into fishing or if they have dreams of pursuing a different career. It also doesn’t dive deeper into the declining population of fish which is happening due to various reasons such as overfishing, climate change, pollution, among others. But it does make its point clear and make us think about it more clearly which we, in our fast-paced city life, might not have ever pondered over.
Starring Sharmila Tagore, directed by Umang Sabarwal, is all about grit and resilience of an actor who made a name for herself against all odds. The film documents the journey of actor Sharmila Tagore in the Indian film industry and uncovers both the stumbling block and the taste of success that she had in her fantastic film career. Through Sharmila’s story, Umang emphasises upon the significance of women empowerment. Sharmila is a testament to the successful life of an ‘independent woman’. If she can do what she wants to do and make herself stand apart from the rest, any woman can think different, dream big and achieve glory. The film is an inspiration to all the women who are still kept under certain boundaries.
Priya Thuvassery’s My Sacred Glass Bowl focuses upon the “cultural deception” when it comes to the virginity of women in India. The predefined norms, a lot of women have to adhere to, take centre stage. The significant issues related to myths and restrictions surrounding pre-marital sex vis-à-vis women, delineated in the film, are staggering. Here, while the men are never questioned about their “purity”, women are put on a test to prove their virginity. (People being ignorant about the causes of vaginal bleeding during intercourse is a big concern too). The film also asks you if the habituation to sexual intercourse can be used against a woman in a sexual assault case. It also makes you raise the question of whether or not a woman, who, with her consent, has sexual intercourse regularly, should be deemed as a person of questionable character.
Person With Desires is a beautiful film by Swati Chakroborti that asks you to believe in yourself, be mentally strong, be contented and stay happy. The film is about a differently-abled person who seeks normalcy and merriment when people see him as nothing but a “vegetable with blinking eyes”. There are times when we see a differently-abled guy and think of him as a piteous person. We tend to talk to them with the utmost concern. We tend to believe that differently-abled persons always need sympathy and compassion. Swati, through this film, throws light on such perceptions and makes you realise that he or she is a fellow human being and are not devoid of simple pleasures such as friendly conversations or even the desire for sex.
In The Mood For Love sets out to show different couples in the LGBTQ+ community in India and their stories. The duo of Directors Sandeep Kumar Singh and Aakriti Kohli are on a mission to prove that same-sex romance is “ordinarily extraordinary love” and that love is “genderless”. They make you realise what’s it like to be from the LGBTQ+ community and be in a relationship. You can sense the romance between them. You can see how they have adapted themselves in a society where being homosexual is still considered inappropriate by many. Ultimately, the film succeeds in bringing out the fact that how simple and natural it is when same-sex people are in love and are even living under the same roof.
Desire?, by Garima Kaul, deserves a big round of applause. You can’t stop trumpeting forth the praises of this film as it talks about a subject that is scarcely heard of (or, as a matter of fact, never heard of by many). It uncloaks the experiences of persons who are asexual. (Simply put, someone is said to be asexual who has no desire for sex.) Garima poses several questions through this film. She asks if someone should ever talk about sex with an asexual person or just keep it out of the equation. She further gives a clearer picture of the absurdity that one creates by failing to show an understanding and compassion towards a fellow human being and resorting to mock asexuals or homoromantic couples. The film acts as a proof that delineates that being asexual is not a defect of any kind. To someone, who doesn’t think being asexual is not problematic, the film shows the middle finger wearing a black ring.
On And Off The Records, directed by Pratik Biswas, takes us through the evolution of Hindustani Classical music in India over a hundred years. We gaze at the transition that takes place not only in the music production and distribution industry but also in the way musicians adapt themselves. The film is a musical treat. It makes you go back in time and relish some of the greatest Hindustani classical songs. (It’s saddening that such captivating music is mostly forgotten.) Music is an art and it should be presented in its truest form. The film makes you wonder if the change, that the music production and dissemination went through, stopped the musicians from expressing themselves freely or if it helped them reach more audience and allowed for more innovation.
Rehearsals For Tomorrow is Ein Lall’s extraordinary effort in capturing the change which the contemporary dance in India is going through. Here, the choreography has taken an interesting shape. Contemporary dance is taught and performed in a way that the thoughts spill out of one’s body. The synchronisation in the dance is peaceful to watch. The creative methods of expressing melancholy as well as mirthfulness through new ways are spellbinding.
Coral Woman is Priya Thuvassery’s latest film. You need to launch forth high encomiums for this eye-opening film. It is about a woman who, with utmost sprightliness in her countenance and highest gaiety in her manner, goes out in search of beauty and experiences dejection when she finds out that it is not at all how she believed it to be. She sets out in the hope of witnessing the dainty corals and ends up discovering various environmental threats that are also affecting corals. The beautiful underwater creature is now on the decline and is fast getting eliminated from the face of the Earth. The film highlights the significance of corals and its relationship with fish. You keep a grave countenance almost throughout this film as it uncovers the shocking revelations related to environmental degradation. There is a definite urge-to-do-something felt to save corals and our Mother Earth in particular.
Janani’s Juliet, directed by Pankaj Rishi Kumar, is about a theatre group and their efforts in taking inspiration from a real-life couple for their play. While adapting William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet for their play, the theatre group not only try to depict the battle between love and hate in their story but also focus upon the caste discrimination and gender equality. While the theatre group conceptualises an Indian version of Romeo and Juliet, the actual story of the real-life couple runs parallely. This intrigues you to know more about that real-life couple and whether or not they are happily living together in spite of threats from family members.
War is loud and brutal but is also stylish and stuffed with surprise packages that keep you afloat.
Kabir (Hrithik Roshan) and Khalid (Tiger Shroff) are the heroes as well as the anti-heroes. They fight together. But they also fight against each other. They are chasing a terrorist. But they are also chasing each other’s tail. Amidst all of this, War, which is centred around two Indian soldiers and their pursuit of finding the masterminds of terror groups, comes packed with an abundance of surprises to astonish you at various moments (sometimes even totally unexpected). Director Siddharth Anand knows he has a set of highly flamboyant actors and he uses them to great perfection. In this, Hrithik and Tiger are muscular, stylish, agile, fast, and dazzling. Most important of all, Hrithik is a proven performer. In spite of the film’s lack of substance, these two steer the film to its safety.
Unlike the masterfully shot action sequences, the film’s plot doesn’t seem well thought-out. The plot twists work wonders but the film is devoid of the depth, relevance and focus in the storyline. The film also suffers from its sheer incapability in evoking emotions. (Neither the romance portions bloomed between Kabir and Naina (Vaani Kapoor) nor do you feel the loss or separation when their brief relationship comes to an end.) But the movie doesn’t seem wearisome due to the realistic, classy and mind-bending stunt sequences. Whether it is a sharp object that’s been almost inserted into someone’s eyes or a magnet-powered device that’s being used to jump on a flying plane and enter inside it or a deluge of gunshots from which someone’s escaping unscathed, you get all of it in this heart-stopping film.
Siddharth Anand also considers the possibility of one actor easily overpowering the other. He gives the right amount of space to each of them to express themselves. When Hrithik has to show his heroic side (or even villainous side) as Kabir, Tiger steps aside. And when it’s Tiger’s turn to portray his heroic and villainous side as Khalid, Hrithik moves aside. They both are extraordinary dancers as well. And the songs featured in the film makes great use of their remarkable skills. (There will be comparisons of who’s dancing better and you can’t help it.)
The film keeps you guessing about several things and makes you raise questions like – Is Colonel Luthra (Ashutosh Rana) involved in terror activities too? When the film presents ‘big shocker’ from time to time, those are the moments that impress you the most. War is loud and brutal but is also stylish and stuffed with surprise packages that keep you afloat.
Ash Is Purest White presents a bold and strong woman who comes out of trouble on her own
Bin (Fan Liao), the mob boss, and Qiao (Tao Zhao), his girlfriend, have come to a place from where they can have a clear view of a volcano. Qiao enquires Bin about the purity of volcanic ash. This brief scene, which is both serene and thoughtful, is so brilliantly placed by Director Jia Zhangke. It explains the metaphorical title of this movie. More than the explosive eruption of a volcano, it is the softness of ash that is felt in this movie. Ash Is Purest White (Jiang hu er nü), which tells the story of a relationship between a gangster and his mistress over a long period of time, does not have too much of violence per se. It has more of separation, loss, betrayal, sacrifice, and despondency.
The film creates a nexus between ‘travel’ and ‘change’. Whether it’s on a bus, a car, a motorcycle or even a ferry, the characters are always on the move. You feel the brilliance of Jia Zhangke as you sense the change in the life of characters each of those movements brings with them. For instance, Bin and Qiao are travelling by car and suddenly a brutal fight ensues. (Giong Lim’s background score, with just drum beats, stupendously increases the intensity attached to the scene). The incident spells the separation of Bin and Qiao. And, it’s a motorcycle ride that allows them to meet each other again. In another scene, Qiao’s father is standing on the roadside as she boards the bus. He looks perplexed and distressed (His sad countenance touches you). This is a brief scene. But, later, you realise that this is also the last time she saw her father before his death.
You admire Qiao as a person. She is the embodiment of great mental strength. She is not only strongly committed to Bin but also ready to sacrifice her life for his well-being. In spite of that, it hurts you to see that she doesn’t get the same love in return. She is left all alone and confronts the hurdles all by herself. (In a scene, she expresses a great shock after finding out that her money has been stolen by a woman. When she goes out and enquires people about that woman, it moves you to see her dejection. Even a guy, considerable force, brushing his shoulders against hers, make you feel for her.). It’s the Tao Zhao’s terrific performance that makes the Qiao character even more powerful. Fan Liao isn’t far behind. He gives the Bin character the three shades – Style, meanness, and loneliness. He is the leader of the pack at first. He, later, avoids Qiao even after everything she did for him but does express compunction for doing so. He winds up in the wheelchair with no one to take care of him except for Qiao.
Qiao is a character dedicated to all those women who have showered all their love upon the man they love, left everything behind, and even sacrificed a lot to help him get out of trouble only to be deserted by him in the end. Jia Zhangke beautifully paints this character in Ash Is Purest White and presents a bold and strong woman who comes out of trouble on her own.
Mindhunter makes you imagine how a deadly crime would have taken place as it throws open the psychological reasons behind it
Season two of Netflix’s Mindhunter kicks off the proceedings with a dull first episode. After such a haunting, spine-chilling and thrilling season one, the very beginning of the second season puts you off. But the magic begins in the second episode as Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff), FBI agent, comes to his own. Even Bill Tench (Holt McCallany), his colleague, remarks that “he’s back”. Well, Holden was the most interesting leading character in the first outing. And it’s only in the second episode when the intriguing interviews with serial killers commence (where the greatness of Mindhunter lies). This is where Holden slyly manipulates killers who are being interviewed. He gets them to talk about instances that are gruesome, brutal and violent which, otherwise, they won’t easily reveal. Jason Hill’s fantastic background score takes care of the rest.
Based on the non-fiction called Mindhunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit by John E. Douglas and Mark Olshaker, the series tells the story of FBI agents who seek insights from imprisoned serial killers, study their behaviour, thoughts, and actions, and use that to find other such killers out there. (Ed Kemper, played by Cameron Britton, is a serial killer from season one. His interview with Holden made a tremendous impact. The season two makes sure of honouring this character by allowing him to make a brief appearance here). These are the killers who, as Bill states, “develop a sickening personal signature” and resort to committing “compulsive crimes”. Mindhunter is an exceptional and remarkable series for some important reasons. It never shows a person committing a heinous crime. It only talks about it. It shows photographs of dead persons taken by security officials for investigation. It makes you imagine how a deadly crime would have taken place as it throws open the psychological reasons behind it. David Fincher is one of the executive producers and has even directed a few episodes. So, you can expect the series to be extraordinarily suspenseful and thrilling as his films are known for.
Impressive cinematography lifts Mindhunter’s quality even further (Helmed by Erik Messerschmidt and Christopher Probst). Take this scene for example. In this, you get a longshot first. The surrounding isn’t bright where a car is parked at. But a little daylight has sneaked in. This shadowy place has a creepy aura about it. A guy approaches towards this car and enters inside it. You, then, get closeups as you see Holden sitting in the front seat of the car and the guy who just came in is sitting right behind him. While Holden does his usual manipulatory tricks while hurling questions at this guy about a serial killer, the camera juggles between side views and front views. The camera never focuses on this guy’s face as you get a blurred view which makes it even more intriguing. And in several other scenes, the camera also does little tricks to make a just-another-scene into a fascinating one. For instance, while a prison gate is thrown open and closed, it feels like the camera is affixed to the gate.
Anna Torv, who plays a psychologist Wendy Carr, was brilliant in season one. (She arrests you with her marvellous act). But she has less screen space. Wendy’s role in the investigation, albeit impressive to watch, is limited and fades away as her lesbian relationship take the centre-stage (which seem interesting at first but even this loses the sheen). Talking about personal problems of characters, even the problems that Bill confronts at home seems to be developing into something more serious and riveting. But that turns out to be repetitive and predictable.
The series also tries to keep its viewers guessing about the crimes and the motives. But it falters with the execution. It takes too long to create the confusion in your mind and ends up wearing you out. For instance, there are concerns of racial discrimination and attacks by Ku Klux Klan that seems to be turning into a grim situation. A political game gets triggered too. But the intensity, that the series wants to show through such politics and hate crimes, is never attained. Such long and tiresome instances aside, the series is otherwise a supremely engaging crime drama. It’s the want of knowing the answers behind the killings that make it worthy of binge-watching.
There is always a feeling that the film might get better at any stage. But that’s never the case. It’s the other way round.
A man imitating a blind. A police chief heading investigations on rape cases and caste discrimination. A man, in his twenties, utterly surprised to know that his mother is pregnant. A guy becoming a father of many by donating his sperm. These are, and many more, the avatars donned by Ayushmann Khurrana in his films. The actor has made a name for himself as a guy who does all those off-beat roles and has, more often than not, come out on top. Ayushmann has this knack of making the characters that he plays look supremely engaging. He plays the role of most sought-after ‘girl’ by the men and women in Dream Girl (not to be confused with Dream Girl that released in 1977). As a character that juggles between being a man (Karam) and a woman (Puja), he looks convincing in this film. But that doesn’t save the film from going through these phases – Bad, Worse and Ugly.
We are so close and yet so far – which is basically what Director Raaj Shaandilyaa’s Dream Girl is addressing. It points out the problem of loneliness. It highlights the lessening distances as well as the widening gap between each one of us in this connected world. But to make you realise this scenario and talk more intensively about this, the film doesn’t have a great narrative at its disposal. It tries a lot of comedy. A very few dialogues do seem humorous. (In a scene, Karam, impersonating as Puja on a phone call, indignantly clarifies that he is not a Taj Mahal but a Qutub Minar). But almost every other scene, that tries to be hilarious, turns out to be annoying and frustrating. It, then, resorts to throwing in some romance where the love between Karam and Mahi (Nushrat Bharucha) never seem to be of any relevance and vanishes into thin air. There’s always a song featuring in several films in Bollywood, if not all, to keep its audience entertained and engrossed. Dream Girl has it too. Radhe Radhe, in the composition of Meet Bros, that comes towards the end, is captivating and energetic to listen but doesn’t help the movie’s cause.
The film also has plenty of other characters who, apart from Vijay Raaz who plays a drunkard-talking-poetry, neither seem interesting nor funny even though they try to. It’s Ayushmann who holds you tight right until the end. There is always a feeling that the film might get better at any stage. But that’s never the case. It’s the other way round.