Life of Pi

In Lee we trust…

Pic source: Wikipedia

When I first started reading Yann Martel’s Booker prize winning novel, Life of Pi, I left it after a few chapters. It was slow and the author spent a lot of time describing the young protagonist’s religious and spiritual discoveries. I re-visited the book after a few years and it was different this time. I was patient initially but then the book started working its magic… Pi’s unbelievable journey became most believable and I connected emotionally with the 13-year old boy and his sole companion on a life-boat, a royal Bengal tiger called Richard Parker.

The book was called un-filmable not only because of the technical challenges but because the way the story plays out; there are large portions where nothing significant happens and how do you keep expressing what a boy is feeling. However, master filmmaker, Ang Lee brought it alive on the big screen and in a way one couldn’t imagine. Life of Pi is not only visually stunning but is a deeply moving film that despite all the technical wizardry is far from the usual holiday blockbusters.

For those not aware of the story, Life of Pi is about a 13-year old Indian boy, Piscine Molitor Patel aka Pi, from Pondicherry (now Puducherry) who is born a Hindu but is also Muslim and Christian. He believes in God and sees a kind soul in everyone… even wild animals. He loses his family in a ship-wreck and finds himself in a lifeboat with some cargo from his father’s zoo – a zebra, an orangutan, a hyena and a tiger. The rest of the story is about his amazing journey, survival and faith in God.

David Magee has successfully adapted the novel into a balanced screenplay that does not let the first part of the book slow down the film but still lets us relate to Pi’s belief system. Lee keeps things simple without over-doing the emotions. He does however uses special effects and 3D to create a magical setting that invites you to get lost in the middle of the ocean like Pi. Claudio Miranda’s cinematography is stunning – from the opening sequence in the zoo to the calmness of the ocean, this is the best looking film since Martin Scorsese’s Hugo last year. Michael Danna’s background score is beautiful and reminds you a bit about his earlier Indian outings like Monsoon Wedding and Water. Among the actors, Suraj Sharma as Pi has done a fine job for a debutant and shows great promise as an actor. Tabu as Pi’s mother is as graceful as ever but I wish she had a few more scenes. Like her, other actors including Gérard Depardieu, Adil Hussain, Rafe Spall and Irrfan Khan have small roles but all just right. The real star of the film however is Richard Parker, the computer generated tiger. He is so real, so majestic and so beautiful; like Pi, you develop a bond with him and feel disappointed with his indifference.

Life of Pi is not a crowd pleaser but is a cinema lover’s delight, just like Hugo. Some people are not happy with the film’s end but I wonder what else Ang Lee could have done? Those who have read the book may find the end more agreeable than those who haven’t in my opinion. There is a question at the end of the film… ask yourself that, see what answer you get and you’ll know if the film worked for you or not.

 

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The Amazing Spiderman

New Spidey works…

Pic source: Wikipedia

The masked vigilante is back… with similar story elements and emotions that we have seen earlier. However, director Marc Webb’s reboot of the successful Spiderman franchise does not fail to impress. Written by James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sargent and Steve Kloves, The Amazing Spiderman re-tells the story of a teenager becoming a superhero in an engaging manner. Apart from the director, credit goes to the film’s lead actor, Andrew Garfield for making us forget the old Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) and becoming a good Spidey. Garfield is extremely good with emotions (as we have seen in his earlier film, Never Let Me Go) and he makes it is easier for the audience to empathise with Peter Parker. Whether it is the nervousness in front of the girl he likes or the frustration related to his long-lost parents or the guilt related to a dear one’s death; the actor makes it all convincing. Looking at his earlier work, I was not sure if he’d be good with action but he does well; and the dash of humour is refreshing as he teases and plays with his enemies.

Along with the same basic story about Peter Parker’s journey from a reclusive student to a responsible hero; The Amazing Spiderman gets its villain also in the same fashion as earlier films. A science experiment to help humanity goes wrong and we get a new villain called The Lizard, played by Rhys Ifans. The Lizard does what the usual villains in Spidey films do but he is not that menacing as the Green Goblin was in the old Spiderman. The action sequences are also less in the film and you are left asking for more. Some of the sequences are very well shot and you are given Spidey’s perspective as he jumps from heights. While the film is shot in 3D, it doesn’t add to the film, apart from the scenes where depth is required, which are good.

Another big change in the film is Peter Parker’s love interest; instead of Mary Jane, we get to meet Gwen Stacy, played by Emma Stone. Like Garfied, Stone also does full justice to her role and makes you forget Kirsten Dunst who played Mary Jane in earlier films. Gwen is intelligent, strong headed and fearless; casting Stone was perhaps the best decision for the makers.

Indian actor, Irrfan Khan’s much talked about role in the film as Dr. Ratha is nothing more than a cameo. While Dr. Ratha’s character is important to the story, there is surprisingly less attention paid to him. One does not know what happens to him after a point in the film but I don’t think anyone cares except for the Indian audience.

Overall, The Amazing Spiderman is an enjoyable film but is surely not the best superhero film we have seen this summer. Definitely watch it for a good time at the movies, but do not expect a lot; I guess that is left to the sequel. In true Marvel style, a teaser to the next film is left in the middle of the end-credits; so do not leave the theatre immediately after the film ends.

Viewing recommendations:

Spidey fans in the UK can enjoy the film at Odeon which has more IMAX screens in the country than any other cinema chain. For more information on ticket and viewing options check the The Amazing Spiderman 3D at Odeon web page. In India, choose a good theatre for 3D; PVR in my experience is better and have got lighter 3D glasses and if you have an IMAX screen in your city, go for it.

Vishal Ko 7 Khoon Maaf

Pic Source: Wikipedia

A couple of weeks ago, I had written a post on The Genius of Vishal Bhardwaj and had great expectations from his next film, ‘7 Khoon Maaf’ based on Ruskin Bond’s short story, ‘Susanna’s Seven Husbands’ (adapted for screen by Vishal and Matthew Robins). It’s been little over a week since the film’s release and a lot has been said about it, good, bad and ugly. Though I did not love the film, I still think Vishal is amongst the best filmmakers we have in India today and his weakest is eons better than many others’ best. So what worked and what did not work for 7 Khoon Maaf… here’s my list of 7 things (plot spoilers ahead for those who haven’t seen the film)

Screenplay – A killer plot but a very straightforward narrative did not help the film. The whole world knew that Susanna (Priyanka Chopra) is going to murder her seven husbands in the film but one expected some surprises and some twists throughout… the murders were lined up like a multi-course meal and we got entrée after the hors d’ourves as promised; in fact there comes a message at the interval point – ‘4 more to go!’ The film is full of brilliant moments and images like a Persian cat walking down a grave made of snow; John in a blue negligee playing chor-police; Susanna asking her poet husband, “who is Mukarrar” when he praises her couplet by using the Urdu word that means ‘again’; and Neil Nitin Mukesh dangling his amputated leg in his wife’s face, amongst many others. However, they somehow do not come together to leave a hangover like Vishal’s earlier films did.

Priyanka Chopra – She dazzled in Vishal’s Kaminey but could not really pull off a complex character like Susanna. Not her fault, she tried and tried hard but that effort showed and she never became Susanna like she became Sweety in Kaminey or Kareena became Dolly in Omkara or Tabu transformed into Nimmi in Maqbool. She shines in a few scenes but not throughout the film. The writing also did not support her as you neither feel bad for Susanna, nor you hate her. She moves from one marriage to the other but there is just so much happening that you’re left to wonder if she’s started to enjoy it or is a pained soul.

Climax – What saves the day is the superb twist in the end… the film lifts in the last ten minutes and Priyanka also delivers her best especially in the scene where she says, “this time I will drink his blood…” She appears sinister and then the surprise.

Music – A brilliant soundtrack helps the film move forward. Vishal Bhardwaj and Gulzar once again create magic especially with the song, ‘Daarrling’ (vocals – Usha Uthup and Rekha Bhardwaj) and ‘Bekaraan’ (vocals – Vishal Bhardwaj). The two rock numbers one after the other distract and only one would’ve been sufficient.

Cinematography – The scenes are set to create a mood and the lighting is dim… Vishal conceptualizes the scenes brilliantly and Ranjan Palit shoots them like never before. 7 Khoon Maaf looks like a brilliant piece of art but falls short of being a brilliant piece of cinema.

Make-up – The moment Susanna first appears on screen, you do not notice her but you notice her bad prosthetic make up that makes her look fake. A powerful scene is ruined with everyone discussing her cakey make-up around you. Of course, her journey from a young beautiful army wife to a middle aged frustrated woman requires her to look different but technical flaws like this take away from the emotion.

The husbands, the supporting cast – Some worked and some didn’t but the film has a very interesting ensemble cast. Annu Kapoor as an opportunistic policeman, Keemat Lal is brilliant and so is Irrfan Khan as Wasiullah Khan, a gentle poet by the day and a masochistic lover by the night. Neil Nitin Mukesh as Major Edwin Rodrigues, an insecure and jealous husband is good while the Russian actor, Aleksandr Dyachenko as Nicolai Vronsky is just about ok. Naseeruddin Shah as Dr. Modhusudhon Tarafdar is miscast as you just do not relate to him talking with a Bengali accent; and John Abraham as a drug addict rock star has nothing much to add. Vivaan Shah makes a confident debut and is able to manage the growth in his character over the years (though make up fails him also).

The burden of expectations is such that minor mistakes get magnified and a little disappointment is devastating. 7 Khoon Maaf also suffers from not matching up to the humungous expectations of Vishal’s devoted fans. But Vishal, 7 Khoon Maaf to you as well and we accept your take on Susanna and eagerly await your next with the same expectations (fans never learn, you see)

My rating: *** Three stars on five

The Genius of Vishal Bhardwaj

He is a composer, a playback singer, a writer, a producer and a director; he excels in all these fields and is amongst the finest filmmakers in the country today.

He has directed five brilliant films and his sixth one, 7 Khoon Maaf is already creating a lot of excitement in the filmy circles. He is Vishal Bhardwaj who has made delightful children’s films like Makdee and The Blue Umbrella and films that delve into the dark human emotions such as Maqbool, Omkara and Kaminey.

His adaptations of Shakespeare and Ruskin Bond have opened doors for more literary adaptations in the Hindi film industry. His musical compositions mean different sounds, unusual playback combinations and haunting melodies. The genius of Vishal Bhardwaj has not yet been fully discovered by the Indian film industry and something tells me that soon the whole world will sit and take notice of this brilliant filmmaker.

Here’s a look at his directorial ventures that have helped redefine Bollywood in the last decade…

Click here to read my full post that appeared on nowrunning.com on January 23.

New York

 

Entertainer with a message…

Picture courtesy: Yash Raj Films
Picture courtesy: Yash Raj Films

Congratulations Kabir Khan, Yash Raj Films, Bollywood fans and Katrina Kaif. Kabir because he has once again delivered a good film but this time it seems that commercial success will not elude him (the docu-maker’s first mainstream film, Kabul Express was critically acclaimed but didn’t make a lot of money). Yash Raj Films for supporting a project that goes beyond candy-floss romance and run-of-the-mill entertainment; also because their dry run seems to be coming to an end as after Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi’s success, this film also has opened well. Bollywood fans because after a long-long time, we have a decent film to watch. And Ms. Kaif who finally got a film where she had scope to act and yes, she delivered!

New York touches upon the subject of post 9/11 prejudices and the human rights violations committed by the US government against ‘suspected’ terrorists. The film focuses on the lives of three friends, Sam (John Abraham), Omar (Neil Nitin Mukesh) and Maya (Katrina Kaif) and how their lives get impacted after the attacks. The film highlights the plight of 1,200 men from religious minorities who were detained after the attacks for suspected terror connect. Keeping in mind a larger audience, the director keeps the torture sequences to a minimal but impactful.

Performance wise, Katrina Kaif and Irrfan Khan (as FBI agent, Roshan) shine; Irrfan because he is a fine actor and Katrina because you least expect her to. Finally, the actress got a film where she had a well defined character; she was not only convincing as an Indian-American (thanks to her accented Hindi) but was also good in emotional scenes. John Abraham is good and handles the changes in his character well. Neil Nitin Mukesh gets a tough character and it seems too challenging for the new actor; he tries hard but it shows.

There are many loopholes in the film and at times it reminds you of other movies (a scene where Katrina is frisked by a cop reminds you of an important scene from Crash, Oscar winning film on the theme of racism and intolerance) but overall the film comes together, thanks to a taut screenplay by Sandeep Srivastava. Cinematography by Aseem Mishra is first rate and music by Pritam is not memorable at all (top it with plagiarism charges).

I definitely recommend New York as an entertainer with a message. For those who would like to watch other films on similar theme, I recommend Shoaib Mansoor’sKhuda Kay Liye (2007, Pakistan) and Gavin Hood’s ‘Rendition (2007, USA). Khuda Kay Liye is a bold film about religious profiling and the contrast between Islamic extremists and liberals. Rendition focuses on the subject of extraordinary rendition where suspected terrorists are secretly and unlawfully transferred to countries known to employ harsh interrogation techniques (read torture). Starring Meryl Streep, Reese Witherspoon, Jake Gyllenhaal and Omar Metwally; the film packs extraordinary performances by the cast and a gripping screenplay. Catch these two films on DVD and for now do watch New York at a theatre near you…

My rating: * * * ½ Three and a half stars (on five)

– Shrey Khetarpal