Les Misérables

Passion. Music. Love. Cinema.

Pic source: hollywoodreporter.com

The longest running musical, seen by over 60-million people worldwide and a much loved novel by Victor Hugo… Director, Tom Hooper took on a mammoth challenge when he decided to direct Les Misérables, the film.  He retained the musical format, which makes it a very different viewing experience, but also requires a little patience. At two-hours and forty-minutes, it is a long film with a lot of singing and even more heart.

Les Misérables is nothing short of magic on big screen – it looks spectacular and has outstanding performances by all the actors, who performed their songs live on the sets and not lip-synched. It is a triumph for Hooper and his brilliant team of writers – William Nicholson, Herbert Kretzmer, Alain Boublil, Claude-Michel Schönberg (the last three are also behind the on-stage musical adaptation). After a spectacular start, the film does drag a bit in the second hour but the sincere and heart-felt performances by the actors keep you involved.

Set in the nineteenth century France, Les Misérables begins with a man named Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) being released from a prison after serving a nineteen-year sentence for stealing a loaf of bread. He is marked as a dangerous man with a life-long parole, which he breaks and is pursued by a law-obsessed policeman, Javert (Russell Crowe). While Valjean gets a second chance to turn around his wretched life, a beautiful factory worker named Fantine (Anne Hathaway) is doomed after her co-workers find out about her illegitimate child. The film spans two-decades and we are introduced to numerous characters including Fantine’s daughter, Cosette (played by Isabelle Allen as a child and Amanda Seyfried as an adult); Cosette’s greedy care-takers, Madame and Monsieur Thénardier (Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen); Thénardier’s children, Éponine (Samantha Barks) who is as old as Cosette and the young street urchin, Gavroche (Daniel Huttlestone); Marius (Eddie Redmayne) who loves Cosette and is also a student revolutionary along with Enjolras (Aaron Tveit). It is a great ensemble cast and I cannot point at one actor who did not live up to the characters they portrayed.

Pic source: Wikipedia

The film opens with a prisoners’ song, “Look down” where we see hundreds of famished prisoners pulling a ship to its dock, while Javert supervises them. It is a grand visual with the sea, large ships and so many wretched souls including Valjean. The film strikes the perfect balance between real emotions and a magical setting, which is almost unbearably sad at times. The costumes, the wigs and make-up, the production design and cinematography are all first-rate and make it a spectacular viewing experience. The music is from the stage musical (lyrics – Herbert Kretzmer; music producers – Alain Boublil, Claude-Michel Schönberg) with an additional original song, “Suddenly” that is about Valjean finding Cosette and the sudden change in his life. It is performed beautifully by Hugh Jackman who is simply brilliant in the film. My other favorite songs in the film are Fantine’sI dreamed a dream” in which Anne Hathaway confirms her Oscar shot; young Cosette’sCastle on a cloud”, which has a haunting melody; the revolutionaries’ “Do you hear the people sing?”, which is still playing in my head and Valjean’sWhat have I done?” Apart from Jackman and Hathaway, I loved what the two little kids brought to the film. Isabelle as Cosette looks exactly like the famous portrait by Emile Bayard from the original edition of the book and Daniel as Gavroche is the star in the last forty-minutes of the film. Special mention for Aaron Tveit who plays Enjolras with so much conviction that you almost forget to look at Marius.

Les Misérables is made with passion, love and hope, which is visible on-screen. It may not be the most entertaining film you’ll see this year, but it is everything that great cinema can offer a true film-lover. If you like musicals then do not miss it on the big screen.

Watch this great video about the actors singing live while filming:

 

And here’s Fantine’s heartbreakingly beautiful “I dreamed a dream”:

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Guzaarish

 

Lost in search of perfection

Guzaarish; Pic: SLB Films, UTVMP

When the promos of Guzaarish first came out, everyone expected it to be in the league of director, Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s last film, Saawariya, which sank at the box office. The reason for the comparison was the whole gloomy look and feel that the director created for the new film despite the last one giving the audience blues (literally). If Saawariya was blue-green, Guzaarish is red and black… each frame of the film is highly stylised and put together with artistic finesse. Each image can be exhibited in a gallery as art; however, these frames together fail to ignite the magic that Bhansali’s earlier works created (Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, Black). While most disliked the film, I liked Saawariya for what it was, a moody musical and closer to a play than a film. Guzaarish once again falls in the same category and doesn’t hold together as a film as it could have. How I wish, the perfectionist filmmaker obsessed a little less with the way his film looks as little imperfections make things a bit more real.

Guzaarish tells the story of Ethan Mascarenhas (Hrithik Roshan), a renowned magician who gets confined to a wheel-chair after an accident during one of his acts turns him into a paraplegic. Despite his condition, Ethan leads a dignified life running a radio programme on how life is so beautiful and being a role model for many. One fine day he decides to say adieu and files a petition for euthanasia or mercy-killing to end his suffering. His decision puts a question on another person’s life that revolves around him, Sofia D’Souza (Aishwarya Rai Bachchan), his nurse and caretaker for the last twelve years. Sofia’s life has only one motive, which is to look after her master/patient/object of affection, Ethan and with him that may also disappear.

The film mainly revolves around Ethan and Hrithik has done a good job of creating a character who is eccentric, genius, funny, bitter and romantic in equal parts. However, there is one thing that is missing that makes a lot of difference to the film… you are unable to connect emotionally with Ethan the way you did with Michelle in Black or Rizwan in My Name is Khan. In fact, you feel more for Sofia which says a lot about the character and the way Aishwarya has portrayed it. Aishwarya emotes well and says a lot through her expressions without many dialogues; only her loud costumes distract (Sabyasachi). This is one of her best performances and I am beginning to feel that roles that require her to speak less and emote more, suit her better; case in point, Guru and Jodhaa Akbar. There is an interesting supporting cast in the film that completes the picture – Shernaz Patel as Devyani Dutta, Ethan’s lawyer is good and so is Rajit Kapoor as the public prosecutor; Aditya Roy Kapoor as an aspiring magician is as impressive or unimpressive as his last outing in Action Replayy; Nafisa Ali as Ethan’s mother is graceful and Suhel Seth as his doctor is just about tolerable (better than his prime time news appearances). Model, Monikangana Dutta’s much talked about debut in the film as Estella Francis, Ethan’s ex-girlfriend pans exactly three and a half scenes; and she doesn’t shine in them.

Coming to the technical department, music by Sanjay Leela Bhansali is termed soulful by many but I find it very average; a better soundtrack could have lifted the film a few notches up. Screenplay by Bhansali and Bhavani Iyer is extremely laidback making the film seem long even if the duration is only two hours. Sudeep Chatterjee’s cinematography is beautiful and Sumit Basu’s art direction is good as per the director’s brief; however, the heavy Portuguese hangover does not quite go with the times we live in today. Same with Sabyasachi’s costumes for Aishwarya that look beautiful for a ramp show but on a nurse, they look outlandish. I am not saying that she should have been dressed in drab clothing but the Indo-Spanish look made her look a little unbelievable.

Guzaarish has its moments and I enjoyed it in parts… the opening sequence that shows Sofia’s daily routine with Ethan is one such part and drive outside the house is another. Unfortunately, the whole here is not greater than the sum of its parts. On another level, I think that we, and I mean the audience here, do not understand the artist called Sanjay Leela Bhansali, perhaps the same way he doesn’t understand us anymore. Do watch Guzaarish if you like any of the lead actors or the director or have the patience to appreciate each picture you see on screen. Once again, Guzaarish is not a bad film but is certainly not a master stroke.

My rating: * * * Three stars on five

– Shrey Khetarpal