The Descendants

Tragic & Heartwarming

Pic: Fox Searchlight; Source: Wikipedia

A teenage girl sunbathes on the beach, her kid sister playing in the sea; their father sits a few meters away, wearing a printed Hawaiian shirt. They are on what you can call a holiday but they are not happy.

The same teenage girl sits on the edge of the pool in her big beautiful house. She’s on phone when her father comes in and wants to talk to her about something serious. She tells him the pool is dirty.

This is Alexander Payne’s masterpiece, The Descendants, based on a novel of the same name by Kaui Hart Hemmings. Set in the rain drenched and sun kissed islands of Hawaii, Payne’s film overflows with the beauty of its setting. This beauty is in contrast with the tragic situation the film’s key characters find themselves in. The director involves viewers as spectators as the King family drama unfolds in a bitter-sweet manner.

Matt King (George Clooney) is a lawyer who is also a descendant of the Hawaiian royal family. He is the sole trustee of the King family trust that controls 25,000 acres of land on the island of Kauai. The trust will dissolve in seven years due to a rule against perpetuities and the extended family decides to sell the land and share the proceeds. While Matt is involved in making the major decision to sell his ancestral land, his wife meets with a boating accident and slips into a coma. Matt suddenly finds himself dealing with the tragedy and also his two daughters, a ten-year-old (Amara Miller as Scottie King) who doesn’t understand the extent of her mother’s illness and a seventeen-year-old (Shailene Woodley as Alex King) who is bitter and has drug/alcohol issues.

The Descendants is brilliantly adapted for screen by Payne, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash; it moves at a slow pace letting you absorb the setting and giving you time to feel the protagonist’s pain and dilemma. At the same time, the use of subtle humour and Hawaiian music does not let the film slip into the depressing drama territory.

Watch The Descendants for a beautifully crafted and presented story; watch it for its emotions and the themes it touches – love, loyalty, responsibility and family. Do not watch it for a suave Clooney as he’s anything but that in the film; but watch it for his fine performance of a man who is re-discovering his relationship with his daughters and his land.

Watch it if you love cinema.

PS: I have not rated this film as I find the star system flawed. However, please share your views if you think it should be there. I’ll follow what you decide going forward.

Agneepath

Outdated and unintentionally funny…

Agneepath; Dharma Productions; Source: Wikipedia

Hrithik Roshan starrer Agneepath was an unintentional funny film for me. No, I am not really a big fan of the original (1990; directed by Mukul Anand) starring Amitabh Bachchan but if we are talking remakes then the earlier version still wins. Karan Malhotra’s new Agneepath is full of plot holes and has the 80s-90s film-making sensibility that makes you cringe. I am a big fan of the original masala style of Bollywood film-making but the new Agneepath seems more outdated than the original one. Of course, the new film is also set in the 90s (1992 to be precise) but in a thriller made in 2012, one expects the filmmaker to respect the intellect of the audience. Let me list down a few gaffes to illustrate my point (spoilers ahead).

Before I do that let me share a brief synopsis for those not familiar with the plot. Agneepath is a revenge drama that begins in a tiny island near Mumbai called, Mandwa. A greedy landlord cum goon, Kaancha Cheena (Sanjay Dutt) falsely blames a conscientious school teacher and village leader, Deenanath Chauhan of rape and murder. Led by Kaancha Cheena, the village mob lynches the teacher whose pregnant wife and young son, Vijay escape to Mumbai. Years later, Vijay returns to extract revenge and to win back Mandwa. And here are some of the goofs that did not allow me to take the film seriously:

  • Inspector Gaitonde (Om Puri) makes a presentation on the gang wars in Mumbai and in the slide show, presents a photograph of an emerging young gangster, Vijay Deenanath Chauhan (played by Hrithik Roshan). Unfortunately, the picture is not the latest one but of a 12-year-old Vijay (Arish Bhiwandiwala) as they haven’t been able to get a recent photo of him (he is now shown to be 27-years old). Gaitonde goes on to describe everything about the gangster, down to his address and the charitable trust he runs. 10-minutes later, Vijay pays what-seems-like a regular visit to the inspector at the police station. But, they haven’t been able to get a picture!
  • Inspector Gaitonde in his detailed slide show also talks about Mandwa, which apparently is run by Kaancha Cheena like Hitler’s concentration camp. Really! And the Government of India sits pretty? As per him, they do not raid Mandwa as last time they tried, it led to many civilians dying in cross fire and human rights commission created a ruckus. So, now they decide to let Mandwa be.
  • In the second half, Vijay’s mother, Suhasini Chauhan (Zarina Wahab) while watching TV recognises a gangster murdered by Vijay as Surya from Mandwa. Please note when she left Mandwa, 15-years-ago, Surya was a kid and did not look anything like his grown up version. Neither did Suhasini stay in touch with folks in Mandwa who’d send her photographs (also Facebook wasn’t there in 1992). Heck, she didn’t even stay in touch with her own son!
  • After recognising Surya on TV, Suhasini for some reason goes to the police station to explain Vijay’s revenge plan to Inspector Gaitonde. Why? I don’t know. Why does she explain it to the first police man she sees (who is on pay rolls of Kaancha) I don’t know!
  • Hrithik has abs made of steel! In a fight with Kaancha, Vijay gets stabbed by at least a 12-inch long and 2-inch wide knife but after his shirt is torn (yes ladies, the abs are on display) you only see a hint of blood and lots of black soot.

Let’s leave all this aside and agree that the director wanted to make a 90s style film and didn’t care much about logic. After all Bollywood is about taking a leap of faith! Even then the film doesn’t shine much as both the build up and the climax are long and tedious (screenplay: Karan Malhotra, Ila Dutta Bedi; editing: Akiv Ali). Cinematography by Kiran Deohans is excellent but the production design lets it down. Sabu Cyril’s sets are so unbelievable that you forgive Omung Kumar’s over the top designs for Bhansali films. The fake banyan tree and Kaancha Cheena’s den look silly and well… fake! Music by Ajay-Atul is just about ok and the songs hinder the narrative (lyrics by Amitabh Bhattacharya). The much talked about item song, Chikni Chameli (featuring Katrina Kaif) does what it was meant to – help in film marketing and support a dragging second half. Being an action film, you’d expect some memorable stunts or fight sequences but you get none; there is just a lot of blood and gore (action: Abbas Ali Moghul).

Coming to the acting department; I think Karan Johar did well by choosing Hrithik Roshan over Abhishek Bachchan, son of the original Vijay Deenanath Chauhan. Hrithik does a good job and is believable in a local, gritty character that is cunning and opportunistic. Priyanka Chopra as Kaali is forgettable; she had a small role in Kaminey also and we remember Sweety but here you don’t connect with her, you don’t care for her. Sanjay Dutt as Kaancha Cheena is menacing and looks-wise reminds you of Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now and Ralph Fiennes as Voldemort in Harry Potter. The real star of the film however is Rishi Kapoor who plays Rauf Lala, a ruthless drug lord in Mumbai. His is a new character that did not exist in the original film but leaves an impact.

Watch Agneepath if you’re a Hrithik fan and also for Rishi Kapoor.

My rating: * * * Almost three on five

– Shrey Khetarpal