Rakshadhikari Baiju, Oppu Review: Thoroughly Enjoyable Movie About Life In A Village Community

Around 120 minutes into Rakshadhikari Baiju Oppu (Guardian Baiju), there is a scene in which the lead characters sit inside a local toddy bar, and sing “Oru Pushpam Maathramen” in their rough voices, tapping on the wooden desks. They are joined by other customers at the bar, including a group of tourists who are drawn to the place by this impromptu musical performance. Everyone looks relaxed and happy. Not at all what we would expect from characters when a film is nearing its climax. 

Rakshadhikari Baiju is like that. It doesn’t bother with plot twists and heroic characters. There is no sense of urgency in its script, and rightfully so. It’s as if the film is enchanted by the idyllic life in Kumbalam, a tiny village on the lap of the backwaters of Kerala.

It lingers in scenes of evenings, as the members of the resident cricket club, Kumbalam Brothers, meet and play their daily matches on a piece of unused land, traditionally used as the village’s playground. The focus is on the details – the unparalleled fun of gully cricket, the banter of the villagers, the sincerity of their relationships. 

***

Writer-director Ranjan Pramod portrays the village and its residents realistically, with wit and slapstick humour. It’s so well done that long after the credits roll, we want to believe that their life still goes on. 

The film is woven around an informal playground, the chief place where the Kumbalam Brothers have been hanging out for over 36 years. And it’s not just the cricket-loving men who use the ground. Every evening, groups of young girls and women play ring-throw and badminton. Kids play football in a corner. Senior citizens meet here every evening, and watch the youngsters play. Even Narayanan (an energetic Janardhanan), a cranky old man who lives near this plot, comes. Otherwise, he spends his uneventful days quarreling with little kids who have upset his cow, grazing near the play area.

Everyone has a reason to love this space, which represents their peaceful, community life. 

There are over a hundred characters in the film. They appear and disappear, not without making an impression. From Hareesh Perumanna, who plays one of the club members to Padmaraj Ratheesh, who dons the role of a pothead and goon – everyone gets a memorable moment. 

***

The narration proceeds through Baiju (Biju Menon) a 44-year-old water-authority officer who founded the Kumbalam Brothers with his friend Thomas (Dileesh Pothen), when they were 8 years old. Although Thomas and other older members moved on when they grew up and settled abroad, busy with their careers and family, Baiju continues to helm the amateur cricket club, rather proudly. A generous and fun-loving man, he treats the members of the team, who are decades younger than him, as family. The village teases him with the nickname ‘Rakshadhikari’ (Guardian), and not without a reason. He is the go-to man for all the kids and youngsters when they need financial or other aid.

Although Baiju might remind one of Balettan and Naran, he is an adorable character, made all the more vivid by Menon’s performance. There is a rib-tickling scene in which Baiju is sitting on the parapet of a well, and chatting with his fellow club members. A police vehicle passes by, and one of the men cries out, “Ayyo, police”. Just like that, Baiju jumps into the well, although he has no reason to be afraid. It’s just a reflex action. 

Impressively executed scenes like these bring us close to the character. He is a familiar person – gentle, timid, and law-abiding. It’s entirely in character that he decides to stay out of trouble, even when he stands to lose the thing he prizes the most – the playground and all the activities around it – forever. 

***

Ranjan Pramod was on a long hiatus from the film industry after the back to back box-office failure of two films he directed, Photographer and Rose Guitarinaal. But Pramod’s role in Malayalam cinema as a screenwriter can never be written off. In every film he has written, there is always one poignant and lifelike part that bears his impression. Like the scene in Naran where Velayudhan (Mohanlal) is arrested and kept inside the office of the police inspector (Siddique) who realises that this so-called daredevil goon is just an innocent overgrown child. That scene, and not the rest of the film where Velayudhan becomes the village’s saviour, is the core of Naran.

In Rakshadhikari Baiju, that particular moment comes when Baiju and his team, while travelling to a nearby town to play a cricket tournament under lights, run into Baiju’s old friend, Thomas. Thomas is there on a short visit from Germany, where he has settled. The man is dressed in a suit and formal shoes. But he sits down on the playground grass and cheers excitedly for the Kumbalam Brothers.

In this sequence, everyone acts as if no camera is watching, as if they’ve known each other for years. Following that, Baiju and Thomas sit under their favourite tree, waiting for dawn. The subtle somberness in the conversation is both sincere and moving.

***

Rakshadhikari Baiju is like that good-hearted, well-meaning, funny person we all know, not quite free of society’s racism and sexism. 

It has a predominantly male-driven narrative, like Vellimoonga and Anuraga Karikkinvellam. Men have fun with friends, evade or take-up responsibilities as per their wish. The women stay indoors, live under their shadows. Baiju’s wife and teenage daughter resemble characters from ’80s and early ’90s films – they love gold jewellery and clothes, and little else. There’s also a man who constantly complains about being controlled by his wife. 

There is Sreekala (Krishna), a dark-skinned plain jane who is head-over-heels in love with Unni (Aju), her neighbour. He rebuffs her advances, even as the whole village takes her side. It could have been a great romantic track. However, it gets reduced to a disappointing affair where the fair-skinned man makes a chirpy young woman feel guilty about her appearance.

And the film is long-drawn, taking its own sweet time to reach the climax, which does make a relevant point. A tighter script would have done wonders for this film. 

In spite of its flaws, Rakshadhikari Baiju is a film that deserves to be watched for its sincere portrayal of life and human relationships, the old-fashioned way. 

*****

The Rakshadhikari Baiju Oppu review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the movie. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.

Bollywood And Its Women: How Good Are They, Really?

The recent spurt in the number of ‘women-centric’ films in Bollywood is heartening, but how many of them deliver the feminist narrative they promise?

“When I took up my first job, I imagined that I would buy a car in a year with the money I had saved,” a former roommate told me once. “Now it’s been three years, and I don’t have enough to buy a moped.”

We were sitting on a bed in our cold one-room rented place behind a family’s garage in Bangalore, drinking tea. She wanted to write on lifestyle, fashion, and food, but was drudging as an underpaid content writer. Her parents were pushing her to return to Jaipur, her hometown. To get married and settle down into a ‘normal’ life. She continued to resist.

Rarely has mainstream cinema acknowledged this truth about the modern, urban woman – cash-strapped, confused, and stressed-out in a world dogged by economic crises, sexism, and systemic apathy. Such women, unsurprisingly, don’t quite belong in male-driven popular culture which adores manic pixie girlfriends, creates gentlemen out of brats and thugs, and casts either damsels in distress or daredevil fighter females. There has never been enough space for the awkward, clumsy women who can’t handle life with grace and aplomb, who are not very desirable, or ‘dateable’, as Noah Baumbach’s Frances puts it.

Baumbach, the Woody Allen of this generation, centered his Frances Ha!, a 2011 monochromatic film shot in Brooklyn, around a 27-year-old struggling dancer who is leading a messed up life. There is a scene in the film where Frances (Greta Gerwig) is at a restaurant with a friend (Adam Driver). She insists on paying for the food since she got a tax rebate earlier that day. Frances hands over her debit card to the bearer who tells her that the restaurant accepts only cash. The scene is so brilliantly enacted and shot, with the camera watching an embarrassed and nervous Frances mumbling, “I am not a real person yet,” and running off to find an ATM machine. The film follows her as she dashes through the streets, looking for an ATM, with that ever-evasive self-esteem slipping away from her again. Her fears and desperation are familiar. It’s a very palpable sequence, just like the overall film. There is no definite story-line, yet this simple and honest life portrait of a young woman has a unique charm that would keep you glued to the screen.

Frances is coltish, and does things that mainstream cinema doesn’t want its women to do. Like tripping on the road while doing a cartwheel, peeing on railway tracks, and making embarrassing conversations at dinner tables. Frances, in spite of living in a dispiriting world, doesn’t ask for sympathy or redemption. The film culminates in a beautiful and calming shot of her settling down in her new apartment.

Frances Ha’s feat can be largely attributed to Greta Gerwig, the lead actress who co-wrote the film’s script with her life-partner, Baumbach. A similar work is Fleabag, Netflix’s breakout series written by and starring Phoebe Waller-Bridge. It has an extremely irreverent woman with a lot of grey and darker shades at its centre. Someone who would unabashedly bitch about lovers and colleagues behind their back, laugh out inappropriately in public, and mercilessly remind her friends of that embarrassing drunken banter from years ago.

In young Indie director Anais Volpe’s debut film, Heis Chronicles, a 20-something woman returns home to live with her old mother and twin brother after losing her job. A struggling artiste, Pia (Volpe herself), through humorous and occasionally sombre monologue, explains what it feels like to be unemployed in a first-world country.

*****

If we are yet to see similar stories about modern women in Bollywood, that is because the biggest film industry in India is yet to come of age with feminist narratives. Although a bunch of women-centric films like Queen and Anarkali Of Arrah stand out for their no-nonsense women protagonists, there is a bigger lot which only manages to camouflage the industry’s inherent sexism and misogyny, nothing more.

Of course, there are positive signs. Over the years, the industry has seen a surge in the number of films centred around women. There are successful actresses like Kangana Ranaut, Deepika Padukone, Vidya Balan and Radhika Apte for whom scripts are being written, who are being vocal about the industry’s pay disparity and sexism. Also interesting is the rise of women directors who are not confined to art house films that get screened only at film festivals. Zoya Akhtar, Farah Khan, and Gauri Shinde are making commercial films with free-spirited women characters, and the films are doing well at the box-office too.

However, the grim reality comes to light when you see a movie like Begum Jaan or Dangal being promoted as a feminist film. In Dangal, a sports drama about two women from a Haryana village making it big in the field of wrestling, the elephant in the room is Aamir Khan, who dons the role of a male savior. The male narrative subjugates the female narrative in Dangal, while Begum Jaan, which has Vidya Balan playing the titular role, is a badly made mawkish movie that treats its women characters like they are a bunch of clowns. Quite often do mainstream film industries lose sight of that line that separates a feminist film from run-of-the-mill scripts that just have a woman in the lead role.

Queen, by that standard, is quite well thought-out. Directed by Vikas Bahl, it has a young protagonist from a middle-class Delhi family, going on her first trip abroad, alone and heartbroken after her fiancé calls off the engagement a day before the wedding. It isn’t the first time that a female character goes travelling through Europe on the Indian screen. In Aditya Chopra’s Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, Simran (Kajol) does some backpacking too. However, DDLJ‘s Simran and Queen‘s Rani live in two contrasting worlds. While Simran gracefully buries her head in a book to avoid interacting with strangers, Rani decides to make new friends, and let out her frustrations and repressed emotions. Rani chooses to break free, while Simran gets into a glittery lehenga and blushes when Shah Rukh Khan sings “Mehendi Laga Ke Rakhna”. Simran was a product of a new India which wanted to go global, yet keep one foot firmly on Indian soil. Rani is a part of a new wave of Bollywood which is more focused on drawing familiar characters.

In Shoojit Sircar’s Piku (2015), the biggest star is Deepika Padukone, who plays the titular role. Although the film has Amitabh Bachchan playing Padukone’s father, a crabby septuagenarian suffering from a bowel problem, it is essentially Piku’s story. The film collected over Rs 100 crore globally. The film’s success, by far, is attributed to its screenplay written by Juhi Chaturvedi, one of the most original writers Bollywood has at the moment. She gives a personal, humorous touch to Piku, who would otherwise have been just another upper-class career woman – with a moral side the Indian censor board would never approve of. Padukone gets more screen time in the film, and reportedly, received a bigger pay check than her male co-stars, Bachchan and Irrfan Khan.

Gauri Shinde’s Dear Zindagi (2017) narrated the story of a young woman overcoming heartbreaks and depression with the help of a psychologist. While the film deserves a pat on its back for taking the word ‘depression’ to the realm of mainstream cinema, it ends up as yet another Bollywood film like Jab We Met, where a sad pretty girl is cheered up by a handsome male star.

*****

A far better portrayal of a woman suffering from a mental disorder could be found in Phobia (2017), starring Radhika Apte in the lead role. Apte’s performance in the film was, by far, one of the the most remarkable performances by an actress in a film in 2016. Phobia, a thoroughly underrated brilliant drama, narrates how a patriarchal society shuts off a free-spirited woman, just as a cage would clip the wings of a bird. Apte’s performance as Mehak, a young woman suffering from Agoraphobia, is restrained and nuanced. The film’s powerful feminist narrative is subtle – something that unfurls in the background. On the foreground, Phobia is an excellent psychological-thriller with some great plot twists. Agoraphobic Mehak, who is too scared to step out of her house, is a creation of the society that preys on free-spirited women.

In Dear Zindagi, Shinde plays to the galleries by casting Alia Bhatt, one of the most charming faces in Bollywood, in the lead role, and none other than superstar Shah Rukh Khan, in the role of her psychologist. The film collected over Rs 60 crore from the domestic market. Nevertheless, it’s not fair to equate the success of Dear Zindagi to that of Queen or Piku. While Bhatt does add the necessary glamour to the dour subject of depression, it is Khan’s presence that gives the film its starry shine.

Similar star interference is seen in films like Dangal, Pink and Naam Shabana, where the women protagonists are held by their hand and led to success, justice and freedom by men.

In Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury’s Pink (2016), three young and independent women living in Delhi fight a bunch of guys in a high-profile sexual harassment case, with the help of an old fiery lawyer, played by Amitabh Bachchan. The women don’t fit into Bollywood’s traditional ‘good girl’ mould, yet the film effectively prompts the audience to root for them, largely because of Bachchan’s eloquent advocacy in their favour.

Having said this, Pink is an undeniable improvement for an industry which once made a woman protagonist marry her rapist, and later, save his life so that he would fall in love with her (Raja Ki Aayegi Baraat, 1997). Pink is cautious enough to not objectify women or resort to overt sentimentality. Instead, it narrates the painful legal procedures and societal trials that a sexual abuse victim is put through.

While Pink uses Amitabh Bachchan as its spokesperson to pass the feminist message “when a woman says no, it only means no!”, in Anarkali Of Arrah (2017), which stars Swara Bhaskar, the woman protagonist, who is a small-time dancer, stands up for herself. Anarkali’s lowly profession as a dancer-singer whose songs have lyrics laden with sexual innuendos, makes her vulnerable to sexual harassment. But Anarkali fights off rapists and sexual predators with all her strength, even though she has no one to take her side in an Indian small town where misogyny rules the roost.

Taapsee Pannu’s 2017 film, Naam Shabana, tricks her into believing that she is the lead in the film in which she gets to play the titular role. However, the film proceeds more like a mission of taming the dragon, where Shabaana, an athlete with a sharp intellect, is stalked by a set of men, led by Manoj Bajpai and Akshay Kumar, who discreetly take her under their wings, and train her to be an intelligence officer. In the crucial action scenes, Shabaana functions as a property while it is Akshay Kumar who dictates the operation. But the bright side of Naam Shabana is that it convincingly portrays a sturdy, smart and athletic woman. And perhaps, in one of the future installments of the franchise, we might hopefully see Shabana putting to use her skills and talents.

Also releasing today are Maatr, starring Raveena Tandon in the role of a mother looking to avenge her daughter’s violent death, and Noor, featuring Sonakshi Sinha as a Pakistani journalist.

*****

‘Begum Jaan’ Review: A Frivolous Drama That Gets Nothing Right

That Srijit Mukherji won a National Award for Best Director in 2015 for his movie Chotushkone, is a mystery. The film, a star-studded affair, was an underwhelming thriller that fiddled with rationality rather than being intelligent. Nothing in the film hinted of the director extraordinaire that Mukherji is projected to be. Now, the celebrated Bengali director has entered the Bombay realm with Begum Jaan, a Hindi remake of his Rajkahini, an overbearingly mawkish drama on the Partition of India.

Right from its opening sequence, where an old woman undresses in front of a bunch of men (a fluttering national flag always around as symbolism) to save a young woman from getting raped, to the climax sequence where a bunch of women walk into a burning building theatrically suicidal, and burst into laughter, Begum Jaan comes across as an utterly dishonest and terrible movie.

The plot, set in 1947, revolves around an archaic brothel, operating out of a majestic fortress on a piece of godforsaken land. The fateful line that Sir Cyril Radcliffe draws, separating Pakistan from India, turns disastrous for the brothel. The inmates are given one month notice to vacate the place, but they refuse to. The apathetic international politics trespasses into the life of these women, who are blissfully unaware of the life outside the brothel, and tears them apart.

There are heavy-handed attempts to make the situation look deeper and darker. Like the absurd shots featuring one half of the faces of two government officers – an Indian and a Pakistani – placed against the corner of the frame to denote the melancholy of partition. The lines that the veteran actors like Ashish Vidyarthi and Rajat Kapoor get to mouth are so silly that you feel embarrassed for them.

Vidya Balan plays the head of the brothel, named Begum Jaan. Unaware of the inanity of the film she is stuck in, Balan plays her part wholeheartedly, trying to look her ferocious best. For the most part, she is lying on a cot in the yard of the brothel, smoking a hookah, with a lot of attitude. Living with her are a bunch of women, raunchily dressed all the time as if they are secretly filming an Ekta Kapoor movie inside the building. There is a song sequence which compares the happy world inside the brothel, to the tumultuous political atmosphere outside. While the villagers living around are fleeing the place, you see the brothel inmates playing Holi – the raunchiest festival in the country. Shots of the refugee crowd juxtaposed with the shots of women getting wet, wasted and aroused. Because hey, they are prostitutes and they can get turned on by the sight of a banana.

The scenes inside the brothel are plainly jarring, and there is an absolute lack of cinematic aesthetics.

And there is composer Annu Malik, pretending that he is the Ravi Shankar to the Satyajit Ray that Srijit Mukherji is. His music has a personality totally disconnected from that of the movie. Consider this sequence where an old king, whom Begum is keen to entertain, asks her to sing while he is having sex with a teenage girl. “I forgot to bring my gramophone. Please sing so that I can make my old organ work,” he grins. The next thing you see is the man raping the girl, with Begum watching it, playing her Sarod and singing a song that sounds like a badly composed elegy. Bollywood has never seen a more bizarre song sequence starring two National Award winning actors (Vidya Balan, Nazeeruddin Shah).

The characters speak in metaphors. All of them. There is an unintentionally funny scene where the government officers, along with a bunch of policemen, arrive at the brothel, asking Begum Jaan to vacate the place. “Leave quickly. You have just one month,” says an officer, and Begum replies, “We know how to count a month, officer. It comes and leaves, reddening everything.” The policemen, irked by this feminist poetry, pull out their pistols and prepare to shoot. And the women take out their weapons too – ladles, kitchen knives, pieces of wood. Taken aback by the belligerence of the women, the men leave.

Any attempt to make sense of Begum Jaan is a futile exercise. It is a trifle pretending to be a serious drama about feminism, politics and issues that the makers only have a rough idea of. Worse, it doesn’t display any kind of cinematic value to cover up the glitches in the subtext.

*****

The Begum Jaan review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the movie. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.

Sakhavu Review: An Old-School Pastoral Tale On Communism

Siddharth Siva’s latest film has a tricky title. Sakhavu (Comrade) is a word that might seem plain, but there isn’t an over-used, a more romanticized ideological figure in Malayalam cinema than a comrade.

Every once in a while, the industry churns out a film, starring an upcoming male superstar, in a role that would require him to act like he is Che Guevara, bear a red flag, raise his fist and scream Inquilab Zindabad, and deliver punch dialogues and powerful blows.

Although the leftist political parties in Kerala are busy digging their own grave, these on-screen comrades have managed to woo the audience almost every time, even if they are portrayed sans any sincerity. Rarely has Malayalam cinema gone beyond the glitzy peripheries of communism and pulled off a film like Lal Salaam or Arabi Kadha

The immediate factor that separates Sakhavu from its counterparts like Oru Mexican Apaaratha, is its earnestness. Although narrated like a moral tale, the film has its heart in the right place.

It celebrates the exalted spirit of a man who selflessly works towards the betterment of the world all his life, rather than romanticizing the colour of the flag that he bears. The narration is rather predictable and old-fashioned, woven around punch dialogues and familiar situations. However, the film’s ardent conviction in its portrayal of the central character, Sakhavu Krishnan (Nivin Pauly), a foolproof communist, makes it an impressive watch.

Supporting it amply is Prashant Pillai’s compelling background score. For one, there is a key night scene where Krishnan and his fellow comrades take on a set of ruthless goons. The scene is clumsily lit up and shot, yet the riveting background music makes up for all the glitches, prompting you to root for the good guy.

***

The film oscillates between two time periods. It juxtaposes the stories of two contrasting men, from two different generations – Comrade Krishnan and Krishna Kumar, a millennial politician, both played by Nivin Pauly. Like a kindergarten teacher narrating to the brats in her class the stories from Aesop’s Fables, the film tells Krishna Kumar the inspiring life-story of Comrade Krishnan.

The film presents the latter like a man straight out of a fairy tale. A sepia-toned flashback sequence shows him arriving in the highland village of Peerumedu one fine day. The film never bothers to go into his past. The man is immensely kind, courageous and rational.

With an ability to maintain calmness even in the face of a calamity, Krishnan quickly becomes a hero in the village inhabited by poor tea estate labourers. He brings together the workers against exploitative employers. He motivates them to stand up for their rights. He works on the fields like one of them. While his fellow comrades sometimes display doubt and hesitation like normal human beings, Krishnan’s conviction in communism never wavers a slightest bit.

He is the personification of everything Karl Marx wrote and envisioned. In addition to these, Krishnan understands and appreciates art. He respects women. He is the stud that women complain of being non-existent. 

It is to this perfect demigod the film compares Krishna Kumar, a reckless, lazy, youth whose biggest talent is his ability to lie through his teeth. The perfectness of Krishnan is not questioned since it’s through the exaggerated words of his admirers we learn of him. What doesn’t seem right is the over-night transformation of Krishna Kumar into a daredevil man, ready to take on the evil around. 

Krishna Kumar is a role Nivin Pauly is so familiar with that he can sleepwalk through it. His performance as Krishnan is earnest, but lacks a much required nuance. Although he gets the looks right, the cold uprightness in his voice is, often, irksome.

As Comrade Krishnan, Pauly never tries to improvise. The pace of his walk, his dialogue modulation, is monotonous. It never raises or falls, but stays invariably on a midrange. That said, he plays the old age version of the role effectively. The make-up is great, and Pauly nails the frail body-language.

However, Siddharth manages to pull it down with a cringe-worthy stunt scene later on, where the old man, with numerous health problems, beats a 6-feet tall goon to pulp. 

This goof-up is not surprising because Sakhavu lacks a cinematic finesse. For the most part, it resembles a stage play where the characters indulge in dialogue marathons. The stellar parts of the film are the ones that involve punch dialogues like, “I prefer to be identified by the prefix of my name – Comrade, than by any caste suffixes”, and “What can the harsh, cold weather of Periyar do to the indomitable spirit of a comrade!” And going by the cheering crowd in the movie hall, the dialogues do work.

Aparna Gopinath, who plays Krishnan’s JNU-educated daughter, gets some heroic moments in the second half. That’s heartening because seldom do these so-called new generation communist films in Malayalam acknowledge the presence of fiery, rebellious women. 

***

Sakhavu, much like Siddharth’s previous film, Kochouvva Poulo, is a refined lesson on life, told with a lot of old-school idealism. There are no betrayers or grey-shaded characters or moments. Krishnan gets married to Janaki, not for love, but out of responsibility. The couple are seen exchanging a few smiles and glances, but the film resists itself from doing anything beyond that, fearing it might bring Krishnan down from that moral heights.

What better film this would have been if Krishnan was more human and less divine, and if the screenplay had more shades other than just whites and off-whites.  

*****

The Sakhavu review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the movie. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.

 

Puthan Panam Review: Good Moments & Performances Let Down By Sloppy Filmmaking

Director-writer Ranjith’s Puthan Panam (The New Currency) has an impressive prelude, innate charm, a talented cast, and an accomplished star to lead the pack (Mammootty). And yet, it ends up being a forgettable film.

For one, it’s packed with too many issues (and too many actors) – from caste-based killings to custodial violence. For another, it’s sloppily edited. So much so that eventually we lose track of the meandering storyline.

***

The film opens with a young single mother and her five-year-old son stranded on a railway platform in Kerala, with no money. The sequence juxtaposes scenes from her past with her present. A past in which her husband was hacked to death by her angry, upper-caste relatives in a Tamil Nadu village. A present in which a stranger walks into her life, just like that.

The man slyly takes control of the mother-child duo by buying them food and train tickets. Later, he takes them to his one-bedroom barsati in a run-down area, like a butcher leading a pack of meek, clueless sheep to the slaughterhouse. Gulping down bottles of rum, he boasts to his friends that he isn’t afraid of the police or the law. Clearly, the woman is walking on a slippery slope.

But then, something unexpected happens. Policemen arrive, grab the man by his collar, and take him away.

He won’t see the light of day for the next eight years. 

This out-of-the-blue intervention of the system into people’s life – sometimes as a saviour and sometimes as pure evil – repeats several times. And that’s precisely what makes Puthan Panam an interesting watch. There are bad men on the loose – fighting, threatening, and killing each other. But the real villain, triggering distress in everyone’s life, is the government and its arms.

***

There are personal stories, like that of the woman and her son. But Ranjith wants the audience to see the big picture, in which everyone is a puppet in the hands of the law. He uses demonetisation to prove his point, and he plays it safe by portraying its least controversial version – the one in which the only group troubled are black money hoarders; not the common man.

When the Prime Minister announces the rollback of currency notes at 8 pm on November 8, Sundari (Iniya), a domestic help, asks her teenage son Muthu (Master Swaraj) if their modest life will be affected. He says, “What is a financial reform to penniless people like us?” He is right. You see, that night Mia (Niranjana) befriends Shine (Ganapathy), a pizza delivery boy who had been nagging and stalking her for a long time, right after he helps her change a Rs 1000 note.

In Kozhikode, a wealthy businessman (Joy Mathew) is lamenting about the Rs 1000 notes he has stashed in a secret vault in his palatial house. His friend, a wealthier and more powerful tycoon, Nithyanand Shenoy (Mammootty), hurriedly leaves his Kasargod residence to meet Chandrabhanu (Sai Kumar), a high-profile politician in Kochi. The latter had handed over Rs 25 crore in cash to Shenoy’s men in a business deal, just an hour before the announcement. An angry Shenoy threatens him, asking him to return the money in new notes. However, things go terribly wrong when Chandru (Hareesh), one of Shenoy’s loyal men, accidentally shoots Chandrabhanu, killing him instantly. 

This scene has an absurd quality reminiscent of films like Burn After Reading. Shenoy, while mouthing threats and making tall claims, turns his back on the camera, like the usual masala-movie hero. That’s when Chandru pulls the trigger. Shenoy’s face turns red, his aura of invincibility suddenly lost. He feels human and vulnerable. This faux-pas launches a cascade of mishaps as Shenoy and his gang try to hide the gun, which inadvertently lands in Muthu’s hands. 

***

Ranjith uses hipster music (something he perhaps discovered recently) all over the film mindlessly. There is a song featuring Mia, Shine, and Muthu flaunting their newly-found power – the pistol. It starts off well, but soon becomes wearisome as Ranjith stretches it out. Same goes for the scenes depicting police violence. There is slapstick humour in how Chandru and the men are nabbed by the police. Then the film gets into Visaaranai-mode, confusing the audience. Ranjith traverses from one genre to another inconsistently, making little sense at the end. 

Neither is there logic to why Shenoy, a daredevil, cools his heels instead of retrieving the pistol from the child as soon as possible and moving on to more important things. Probably because Ranjith wants to play with this unlikely pair – a tycoon and a smart teenage underdog, like he did in Pranchiyettan and The Saint. 

It works to some extent, mostly due to the actors’ performance. When Shenoy tries to convince Muthu that he is in fact, a don who kills and robs, the child says, “Like a goon? Kochi is full of goons.” As if there is nothing interesting about that profession. It’s a funny scene.

***

Mammootty plays his role with the utmost sincerity, nailing the awkwardness in Shenoy’s mannerisms. There is a scene where he and his aide, Mammookkoya, are taken to Muthu’s colony by Indrans, a simpleton ragpicker. Despite being dressed in an ordinary t-shirt and lungi, Shenoy looks outstanding. His predicament – of being in a completely unfamiliar situation – is totally believable.

After a long time, Mammootty seems completely relaxed in a role. 

Among the supporting actors, Baiju stands out for his flawless comic timing and nuanced performance as Kunjappan, a local thug. Indrans, who gets just a couple of scenes, is equally brilliant. Master Swaraj is a natural performer and a great dancer, and Iniya plays her part well.

***

At the end when the film finally reaches its climax (at a snail’s pace), it’s a let down thanks to an unintentionally funny stunt sequence.

The blame lies with Ranjith, who has barely improved as a director since his initial days. He still makes films as if they were radio dramas; overtly dependent on dialogues. 

Puthan Panam could have been a far better movie. It just needed some logic, and a better sense of cinema. 

*****

The Puthan Panam review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the movie. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.

Kerala HC Directs CBI To Probe The Death Of Kalabhavan Mani

The Kerala High Court, on Wednesday, directed the Central Bureau Of Investigation (CBI) to probe the death of actor Kalabhavan Mani following a bail plea submitted by the actor’s wife, Nimmy, and his brother, RLV Ramakrishnan. The court has asked the CBI to take up the case in a month’s time.

The CBI had earlier refused to take up the case citing workload and a shortage of staff. The bureau had also told the court, citing various medical and police reports, that the actor died of liver ailments.

The 45-year-old actor-singer died on March 6, 2016, a few hours after he was found in a serious condition at his farmhouse at Chalakudy, his hometown. His family members have been alleging foul play in his death, which was refuted by the investigation report submitted by the Kerala State Police. 

However, a report submitted by the medical board constituted by the State government, on March 29, had stated that Mani died of methyl alcohol poisoning. The report had also pointed out that common pesticides, drugs, alkaloids, metallic and volatile poisons were not found in his viscera and blood samples. 

“We have always been alleging a foul play in Mani’s death. But the police handled the case carelessly. They were too eager to close the file, concluding that it was a natural death,” said Ramakrishnan. “Now the court has acknowledged our doubts, taking into account the medical reports that said Mani was poisoned. I suspect the police had been trying to protect the culprits all along,” he said. Ramakrishnan, a singer and performance artist, added that the family will continue the legal battle until the truth comes to light. 

Read: Kalabhavan Mani’s Death: Foul Play Ruled Out – Silverscreen.in

Read: Kerala HC Asks For Progress Report In Probe Into Kalabhavan Mani’s Death

Read: Kalabhavan Mani: In Life And Death – Silverscreen.in

The Man Of The Masses: Interview With Composer Gopi Sunder

Gopi Sunder, the most sought-after composer in Mollywood at the moment – “almost all Vishu movies are mine,” he laughs – keeps a cool head more often than not. He’s not trained in music; doesn’t understand raagas or gamakkas, and believes there are certain advantages of not having learnt them. “I don’t have to unlearn the raagas to be creative. Cinema is not a place to display your erudition,” he says.

The accusations of plagiarism against him don’t bother him either.

Bizarrely, he doesn’t refute them.

Sometimes, the director would like a tune, and would want the composer to do something similar, Gopi explains; so he’d tweak notations enough to not get into legal trouble. “Of course, that doesn’t fool people, but I’m not ashamed to admit it in public. The critics and trolls cannot haul me to court over this.”

1

The notes come to Gopi anyway; formal training or no.

That too, at the opportune moment.

“I would be in a trance, then…”

Bhavas are his primary source of inspiration. When you arrange notes in a certain way, they emote, he declares. “Khamboji, Hamsadhwani, Mohanam… the names aren’t important to me. I look for the emotions that the notes convey.”

He often breaks into a song during our conversation. Or a random tune. One time, it’s Ethu Kari Raavilum, a popular number from the movie Bangalore Days – and his favourite. To Gopi, the impromptu songs and tunes are parts of natural speech. He uses them as one would an adjective. To describe or enhance something he says, to drive home a point – or to merely exist as a dramatized expression that just doesn’t seem out of place. Music seems to be an organic extension of his personality. He’s fluent in music-speak. So when Gopi says, “I don’t think there was a particular moment when I decided to make music my career; it’s always been a part of my life,” I’m quite inclined to believe him.

*****

I reach Gopi Sunder’s studio in Kochi on a March afternoon, a week before the release of the now-popular soundtrack from the audio album of Amal Neerad’s CIA. A bunch of young programmers sit in the hallway, earphones plugged in, glued to their computers.

A few minutes later, the composer ushers me in.

I ask him about the projects he is working on.

A wide smile.

“Several,” he says, leaning back on the sofa. “Mexican Apaaratha, which released last week, Take Off, Amal Neerad’s Comrade In America, 1971: Beyond Border, Georgettan’s Pooram, Sathya…”

I am hardly surprised. If there’s something Gopi is known for other than his music-making prowess, it’s his fast-paced working style, coupled with a fine understanding of commercial cinema. “I have experience of over 20 years in the industry. That helps,” he says. “I work on a tight schedule. To me, the technical process of composing is easy. I’d be thinking about music all the time, and when I finally sit down to work, it gets done quickly.”

This working pattern, however, isn’t “mechanical”; Gopi just doesn’t let those “mood-swings” upset his work. A skill that comes from experience. He calls the process artistic, even spiritual. Sometimes draining, but mostly satisfying.
Usually, Gopi listens to a script outline or a situation-description and begins working on a tune right away. “I prefer to compose in the presence of the singer, lyricist, director, and scriptwriter. I don’t need solitude or privacy. Sometimes, I make a tune while hanging out with them in a tea shop. I sing in the public, though I am not a good singer.”

*****

Over the years, Gopi Sunder has created some of the most popular ‘mass’ numbers in Malayalam, the latest being the leitmotif of Puli Murukan. It seems effortless from the outside. “It’s in fact more difficult to compose a fast number in Malayalam,” Gopi laughs. “You should know the youth to make a popular song. To understand that, I go to theatres, tea shops…the places that people frequent. I interact with college students. I have never cut myself off from the public, but have become a part of it. It becomes easy to cater to their taste then.”

Of course, it’s not easy to make songs that stay with the audience for a long time. Especially now. “The world is busier,” agrees Gopi. “Now, by the time people grow fond of a song, another number would top the music charts.” Yet, the composer believes there’s space for all kinds of music. “I have noticed that the younger generation listens to both old and new songs. That’s an encouraging trend. I listen to songs by Baburaj and MS Vishwanathan as much as I enjoy the new soundtracks.”

Gopi is also an ardent fan of commercial cinema. “I watch a lot of films – commercial as well as classics, from all over the world. I would say that the composer who is used to working in commercial films, can work in art films with equal efficiency, but not vice versa. Not because composing for commercial films is more difficult, but because they look at commercial films as lowly.”

2

Gopi Sunder, as he has admitted in many a TV interview, owes a lot to his failure in his tenth standard board examinations. He discontinued his education after he failed the exams, and joined the team of composer Ouseppachan, his father’s friend. The journey since hasn’t been easy, he admits. “People look at me and say I’m lucky. But they don’t realise that this did not happen in a day. I toiled for 12 years to get my first film assignment. As a background music composer in Big B, and later, as an independent composer in Siby Malayil’s Flash.”

His highly successful oeuvre includes songs like Olanjali Kuruvi (from 1983), for which he roped in veteran singers Jayachandran and Vani Jayaram. The background score that he’d composed for 1983 fetched him a National Award in 2013. Most of his background scores, and leitmotif bear his signature, I tell him. While, according to many composers, an ideal score must blend into the narrative, Gopi says, “It depends on the nature of the film. Some require a score that blends with the narration, some need a track that stands out on its own. What makes a background score extraordinary is the sensibility with which it’s used in the film. It should convey the essence of a scene.”

One of his favourite background scores in Malayalam cinema is that one in Manichithrathazhu.

The electrifying, sometimes overbearing, background scores in Indian commercial films, are sometimes necessary, says Gopi. “In India, we have movies where the hero fights off 10 men single-handedly. For such highly-fantasised sequences, we need punchy music.”

Gopi Sunder’s work in films like Charlie, Ustad Hotel, and Kali have been much appreciated.

“I am ready to do all kinds of films. The directors I work with have varied sensibilities. Ultimately, my job is to keep my clients satisfied. That would give me more work.”

I remind him of a recently-released movie for which the background music that he composed had fallen flat. “I know it didn’t work,” Gopi admits. “Sometimes, I tell the directors how to use a score. I tell them where to add the BGM and where to use silence. But if he/she is so persistent that they need the film to be filled with music, I can’t help. I would try further only if the project is one I feel so emotionally attached to. Again, if it’s a film that makes you go ‘wow’, that would definitely be helmed by a director who is sensible enough to know that the film doesn’t need to be filled with sound tracks.”

He pauses, and then adds, “but if the director wants me to fill the film with loud music, and kill it, I would do that too. To survive in the industry, one has to be ready to face such clients.”

Needless to say, there’s no filter that Gopi applies to the projects that he sings. He takes up everything. He works with “all kinds of people” in “every kind of film”.

“I believe there’s an audience for every type of filmmaking. If you want to be in the industry, you cannot afford to be choosy.”

Earlier in his career, Gopi had worked on advertisements. He still does sometimes, between film assignments. Once in a while, he scores for short films too. “I can do any number of films simultaneously. Once, I’d worked on 28 films including some Telugu and Tamil films. I began doing Telugu because they make you feel very comfortable. They pump in good money because they trust my abilities. The songs I composed for the seven to eight Telugu films have done very well.”

Gopi wants to be remembered as the person who took a road less travelled. “Remember when the first posters of Big B appeared on the walls of Kochi? People said it looked like a jeans advertisement starring Mammootty. They hadn’t seen such a chic, modern movie in Malayalam before. Didn’t Big B change the face of Malayalam cinema? Similar difference has happened in music too. It’s more experimental.”

*****

He is also one of the few composers who has been encouraging actors and actresses to lend their own voice to songs. Actor Dulquer Salmaan debuted as a playback singer through ABCD, in Gopi’s composition. The actor, encouraged by the tremendous response that the song received, tried his hand at singing in three more films – Manglish, Charlie, and the latest, CIA. It is not just commerce that drives this trend, Gopi says. “These actors are really talented singers. Doesn’t it sound better when the actor himself sings the songs pictured on him? That would be more natural. I am not making them sing a highly complicated song like Harimuraleeravam, but a simple number that they can sing with perfection. I made Ninne Kanda Kadalalakal Pole to make Prithviraj and Mamta sing because I knew they were good singers. We added the song as an epilogue to the film because there was no apt situation for it.”

The composer thinks it’s a good time for budding singers who want to take up music as a career. “Earlier, there were just a few singers in the industry – Yesudas, Chithra, MG Sreekumar….Now there many of them, and they are all busy with shows and programmes in and outside the country.”

Gopi has a band, Band Big G, with which he does live shows in Dubai. “It’s part of the brand building process,” he says. He is the only permanent member of the band.

Recently, Gopi  also launched his own music company. “I haven’t charted out a concrete plan for the company, but the goal is to handle the audio market deals and royalty business – YouTube, audio of the films I like, etc. – by myself. It’s like an investment.” He also looks at this company as something he can retire into. “See, this whole set up that is in existence now – director and producer approaching a music director to compose music – will change and a more a systematic corporate set up will come up soon.” For instance, he has programmers who work with him day and night to program the tunes that he composes. Gopi claims to be a programmer himself. If the project is something that he finds special, like Ustad Hotel and Take Off, or those that need really good attention, like Pulimurugan, he would sit down and work on everything from composing to programming, all by himself.

Ustad Hotel is, again, one of the few movies that Gopi Sunder is personally attached to. Another such movie is Bangalore Days. The Sufi-style music that he tried out for Ustad Hotel earned him a lot of praise.

The composer, however, says that the repeated use of Sufi elements in his songs is incidental. “I used it in Anwar and Ustad Hotel, which had an Islamic background. In Charlie, I used it in a scene where Dulquer’s character is walking out of a lodge with a child whom he rescued from a pimp. Martin said he was not sure about using a Sufi piece there since Charlie isn’t affiliated to any particular religion. But I knew this would touch a cord with Dulquer’s biggest fan base, the Malabar region, which otherwise, might not be fond of a film like Charlie. I understand how audience’s psychology works inside a theatre. In a scene as this, where Charlie acts like a demi-god, a savior, people would see only Dulquer. So it’s best to play to the gallery by cashing in on his off-screen image. The Sufi theme song worked out fantastically.”

3

He begins composing in silence. That’s Gopi’s first note.

There’s a method of composing that many use, Gopi explains, of adding a tune to a rhythm. He doesn’t do that.

“Once I hear a director’s narration, I sit down and hum a tune to him. If he likes it, I will begin orchestration. There is no technology dependence here. I am trying to use less and less of technology.”

Although Gopi is adept at using technology, he’s careful with it, so as to not lose the “soul” of his music. “I started off as a live music composer. Even now, I am confident that I can compose live with 100 pieces of orchestra in front of me. That’s something I learnt from Osephachan, whom I assisted for many years. I have 23 years of experience. I have done it all. I don’t think anybody else in my generation can claim this,” he says.

Earlier, there was an impressive way of composing, Gopi recalls. “Musicians and composers would meet at a place and start working on a song. I want to bring it back, systematically, with effective use of technology. I want to include singers in the process of composing. Those days, singers like Dasettan and Janakiyamma knew the pain that went into the process of composing. That made a difference in their singing too.”

*****

Gopi Sunder is someone who hardly loses his temper. “I live in the moment,” he says. The latest accusation of plagiarism levelled against him is that of copying the tune of “Njan Ninne Thedi Varum” – a song in the album of Jayaram’s Sathya – from the song “Halena Halena” in the Tamil film Irumurugan.

He handles the merciless trolls on social media platforms effortlessly, giving it back in kind. When I ask him if filmmakers themselves tell him to plagiarise songs, he ignores the question with a smile. A sly response soon follows, “Do you think I’m so crazy or talent-less to plagiarise songs all the time?”

“This is how it happens,” he later adds, “the editor, while doing rough cuts, would lift a soundtrack of their choice to fill a portion. The director, after listening to it, might grow fond of it, and would ask the music director to do something similar. Most of the time, it’s hard to convince them with another tune. They will think the copied one is better than an original tune, even when that’s not the case. It’s human psychology.”

He laughs.

A recent status on his Facebook page conveys much the same: 

[There is greater audience for ‘copied’ songs than original tunes.]

So, Gopi tweaks notations to satisfy the directors. Tweaks them enough to not land himself in legal trouble.

The Indian Copyright Law defines ‘musical work’ as “a work consisting of music and includes any graphical notation of such work but does not include any words or any action intended to be sung, spoken or performed with the music. A musical work need not be written down to enjoy copyright protection.”

“Of course, people will know,” Gopi agrees. “They will definitely spot similarities between two songs.”

To make up for all the songs that go wrong for reasons which are not in his control, Gopi Sunder churns out brilliant original scores time and again. “All the allegations and criticisms motivate me to make better songs,” he shrugs. “Instead of spending my time and energy in reacting to trolls and defending myself, I deliver a super-hit song immediately. Like Ethu Kari Raavilum, for instance.”

*****

The Gopi Sunder interview is a Silverscreen exclusive.

‘Lipstick Under My Burkha’ Selected For The Golden Globes

Director Alankrita Srivastava’s Lipstick Under My Burkha, the film which the CBFC refused to certify in February 2017, has been declared eligible to participate in the coveted Golden Globes Awards. The announcement was made on the opening night of the Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles (IFFLA), where it was screened.

According to a Mumbai Mirror report, the director of IFFLA, Christina Marouda, announced ahead of the film’s screening at LA, “We are honored that the Hollywood Foreign Press Association has chosen our opening night film, Lipstick Under My Burkha, to be an official Golden Globes qualifying screening. The director of the film will now have the opportunity to properly plan a Golden Globes campaign should she choose to submit the film for nomination.”

The film, starring Konkona Sen Sharma, Ratna Pathak Shah, Aahana Kumra and Plabita Borthakur, follows four women as they search for a little freedom in their lives. It has already won the Oxfam Award for Best Film on Gender Equality at the Mumbai Film Festival, and the Spirit of Asia Prize at the Tokyo International Film Festival.

The film was denied a censor certificate in India for several reasons including “women’s fantasies” and abusive language. Clarifying the censor board’s stand, Pahlaj Nihalani, who heads the board, had said, “We only have objections to the content of the movie [sic]. The treatment given to the issue of ‘women empowerment’ was the reason we did not give this film a certificate.” The film was sent to the CBFC’s Revising Committee in early February. However, the committee decided to not award the movie a censor certificate. 

Read: ‘Lipstick Under My Burkha’ Denied Censor Certificate For Being ‘Lady Oriented’

Read: CBFC Vs ‘Lipstick Under My Burkha’: Pahlaj Nihalani Says The Censor Board Is “Simply Doing Their Job”

1971 Beyond Borders Review: Insipid War Movie That Passes Jingoism For Patriotism

During the lengthy India-Pakistan war sequence in the climax portion of Major Ravi’s latest film, 1971 Beyond Borders, there is a bizarre moment. Amidst all the fighting, guns, and wailing, actor Mohanlal, who plays Major Sahadevan, the head of the Indian army battalion, starts a conversation with his Pakistani counterpart, Raja (Arunoday Singh). “I have heard a lot of things about you,” shouts Raja from the trench he is hiding in.

Sahadevan, from another trench a few feet away, replies, “I have heard a lot of things about you, too. That you are as ferocious as a tiger etc [sic]. But before the next sunrise, I will kill you and your people.”

Raja responds, “In your dreams!”

Would army chiefs of two countries engage in trash talk on a real war ground? This is something Major Ravi should know, for he has first-hand experience of wars and guns. This scene, which is shot like a stage play, is a hint to what is in store. Ravi’s 1971 Beyond Borders is a clumsily-executed, blatantly-jingoist film.

The film is Ravi’s sixth military movie, and the fourth one in his ‘Major Mahadevan series’ starring Mohanlal. Over the years, a lot of things have changed. Mahadevan has been promoted as a Colonel. He is now working with the United Nations Peacekeeping Force. His big, round belly is bigger than ever. After years of annihilating Pakistani army, and screaming lessons of patriotism into the ears of selfish, cowardly senior officers and the hapless audience, Mahadevan is now fighting terrorism across the world.

Minutes into the film, you see him valiantly saving a group of unguarded Pakistani soldiers from the middle of a shootout. Ravi has shot the scene at his corniest best, using close-up, slow-mo shots of Indian and Pakistani men fighting hand in hand. When the shootout is over, Pakistani men, on the verge of tears, pay their gratitude to Mahadevan. “You saved us, even though we are Pakistanis,” the head of the group tells Mahadevan. And the man replies, “That’s what Indians do. We never consider anyone an enemy…”

*****

The film, based on the Indo-Pak war of 1971, has Mohanlal playing a dual role – as Mahadevan and as Major Sahadevan, father of Mahadevan. The movie pretends to discuss the catastrophic consequences of war by romanticizing war. There is a scene where a senior intelligence officer arrives at the Indian camp to discuss with Sahadevan the possibilities of surrendering to Pakistan since it has Britain, USA and China aiding it. However, the word ‘surrender’ causes Sahadevan, the dare-devil patriot, see red. “No matter who comes for Pakistan’s aid, we will win,” he shouts at the officer, and proudly walks his team of soldiers to the war ground, as the intelligence officer gawks at him in awe. The film looks at war merely as a physical exercise where men sacrifice themselves like gladiators at the altar of nationalism.

Like every other Major Ravi film, 1971 has a bunch of thoroughly-dull characters who mouth template lines such as, “I am always ready to die for my country”. The army camp consists of over-weight Malayalee soldiers, and a couple of Tamilians. When not on war ground, they are seen reminiscing about their lovely life in Kerala, or serving water to injured Pakistani soldiers in the Indian war prisoners’ camp. These scenes are juxtaposed with that of the Pakistani war prisoners’ camp, to show how generous and ethical Indians are, as against the barbarous Pakistanis.

One of the few sensible sequences in the film belongs to Sudheer Karamana who plays Captain Adhiselvam. Upon the order of Sahadevan, Adhiselvam goes to a Kerala village to inform an ailing father of the death of his son on the war field. The father is on the death bed and Adhiselvam, caught between his duty and humaneness, stands by his bed, unable to mention the news of the son’s death. This sequence, which had several possibilities, like The Bull Beneath The Earth, is, unfortunately, reduced to a non-imaginative tear-jerker.

1971 is the kind of movie where characters, dressed in army uniforms, scream things like, “enemy is coming this way, turn left and hit them by their shoulder”. Wouldn’t you rather watch a Dangal or a Chak De India where these types of strategies actually belong? 1971 is a one-sided account of a slice of history, told with the help of a toxic cocktail of jingoism, nationalism and a lack of understanding of cinema.

*****

The 1971 Beyond Borders review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the movie. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have an advertising relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.

64th National Film Awards: Akshay Kumar Wins ‘Best Actor’ For Rustom

Bollywood actor Akshay Kumar and Malayalam actress Surabhi have won the awards for Best Actor and Best Actress respectively at the 64th National Film Awards. The jury was headed by director Priyadarshan (feature film category) and cinematographer Raju Misra (non-feature film category). The results were announced at a press conference at the National Media Centre in New Delhi on Friday morning.

Kumar won the award for his portrayal of a senior naval officer who murders his wife’s lover in Tinu Suresh Desai’s Rustom. Surabhi’s portrayal of a young widow in the Malayalam film, Minnaminungu, won her the award. The actress also won the Kerala State Award for the Best Supporting Actress for this role in March.

This year, regional film industries like Marathi, Tamil and Bengali dominated the awards. 

Marathi film Kaasav (Turtles), directed by Sumitra Bhave, won the award for the Best Feature Film, while director Aniruddha Roy Chowdhhury’s debut Bollywood film Pink, a critically and commercially successful film on sexual harassment, won the award for the Best Film on Social Issues. Shyam Pushkaran won the award for the best screenplay (original) for his Malayalam film, Maheshinte Prathikaaram. The award for the best screenplay (adapted) went to Sanjay Krishnaji Patil for Marathi film, Dashakriya. The award for best dialogues was won by Tarun Bhaskar for his film, Peli Chupulu.

Director Rajesh Mapuskar won the award for Best Director for his Marathi film, Ventilator. The film, which is produced by actress Priyanka Chopra and stars director Ashutosh Gowarikar, also won the awards for editing (Rameshwar S Bhagat) and re-recording.  

Young actress Zaira Wasim, who portrayed the teenager wrestler Geeta Phogat in Aamir Khan’s Dangal, won the award for the Best Supporting Actress. Actor Mohanlal won a special jury mention for his roles in the Munthiri Vallikal Thalirkkumbol, Janata Garage, and Puli Murugan.

The jury also named Uttar Pradesh as the most cinema-friendly state, while Jharkhand won a special jury mention in that regard. Uttar Pradesh won the award “For implementing a unique film policy, taking into account that the film medium is not only about entertainment but is also a very important vehicle of employment, social awareness and cultural development.”

Actors Sonam Kapoor and Adil Hussain won special jury mentions for their roles in Neerja and Mukti Bhawan respectively. 

Three actors won the award for Best Child Artistes this year  –  Adish Praveen  for Kunju Daivam (Malayalam) b) Nur Islam and Samiul Alam for Sahaj Pather Gappo (Bengali) c) Manohara. K for Railway Children (Kannada). Director Nagesh Kukunoor’s Dhanak won the award for the best children’s film.

***

Tamil cinema won a number of awards this year. Producer-writer G Dhananjayan won his second National Award for the Best Film Critic, while lyricist Vaira Muthu won the Best Lyrics award for the song “Entha Pakkam” from the film, Joker, which also won the award for the Best Tamil Film. Suriya’s 24 won two awards in the technical category – for Best Cinematography (DoP Thirunavukarasu), and Best Production Design (Subrata Chakraborthy, Shreyas Khedekar & Amit Ray).

This year, an award for Best Stunt Choreographer was introduced for the first time. Peter Hein won the award for his work in Mohanlal’s Puli Murugan. The award for the best non-feature film went to Malayalam documentary Chembai: My Discovery of a Legend, directed by Soumya Sadanandan. Lata Surgatha, a book on the story of legendary singer Lata Mangeshkar, won the award for the best book on cinema. 

*****

 

 

‘Naam Shabaana’ Review: An Impressive Protagonist To Root For

At the end of Shivam Nair’s Naam Shabaana, when the credits start to roll, the first name which appears is that of Akshay Kumar; the star who is in the film for barely 15 minutes. And that really is how feminist Bollywood can get, even in a film that has a woman playing the titular role. However, Naam Shabaana cannot be discredited altogether for this misstep. It has a well-conceived lead, Shabaana Khan, played by a very sincere Taapsee Pannu who holds the fort throughout the film. Those who have watched Baby, the film from which Naam Shabaana stems, should be familiar with this young intelligence officer, bright as a button and swift as a cheetah. Shabaana’s life before the secret agency contacts her, is the highlight of the film, which otherwise, is an average thriller with loopholes aplenty.

The film introduces Shabaana as an everyday middle-class girl, clad in a cotton salwar with dupatta wrapped around her neck, shopping grocery from street-side vendors. However, this first impression is quickly proven wrong when Shabaana gives it back to a passerby who carelessly pushes her about, and tosses an insincere ‘sorry’. The mystery around her thickens when you see that nothing really arouses her – not even her gang of happy friends at college, or winning a match of Kudo.

Taapsee, who proved her acting prowess in Pink last year, does something similar here. She retains the sternness that worked wonderfully in Pink. There is a brief scene where she lets her guard down, and narrates her past to Jai, a sweet boy who has a deep crush on her. Taapsee brings out the vulnerable side of Shabaana beautifully. That sequence where you see why this girl is the way she is, is effective and convincing. It brings you closer to Shabaana, which makes it easier to root for her in the thrilling operation that ensues.

The haste with which the film dismantles this vulnerable, romantic side of Shabaana is one of its weakest points. It’s eager to get back to the glum-faced Shabaana, with whose help the government agency would eliminate one of its most fatal fugitives.

Prithviraj Sukumaran, the south Indian superstar, plays Michael, an international criminal with great ability to masquerade and escape law. The actor looks the part, but his portrayal of the criminal often slips into an unintentionally funny theatrical performance. In the part where Shabaana confronts him, he does something that is reminiscent of his recent Malayalam blockbuster, Ezra. He displays a Hulk-like fury.

The agency and its members are clinical, smart and in business all the time. However, this image takes a hit in a scene where a criminal slips away from them using the archaic technique employed by primary school children to escape a difficult question posed in classroom – he says he wants to pee.

This is why it’s important for everyone – civilians as well as civil servants – to watch some of our blockbuster potboilers once in a while.

*****

Akshay Kumar’s involvement in the film is similar to that of George Clooney in Gravity. Especially during the scene where he appears miraculously in the balcony of a room when Shabaana is desperately in need of some help. He is a demigod who helps the woman stay afloat. And afterwards, he holds her by her arm and guides her through the alleys to safety. Kumar adds so much credence to the film, and thus, he, subtly steals the limelight from Taapsee in every scene that he appears. What if the role was played by a woman actress, like, say, Tabu? It might have stilled worked out finely for the film, but the makers take no risk.

Naam Shabaana, in spite of its flaws, is a film to reckon with. There are moments like the one where Shabaana sneaks out of her house past midnight, careful not to wake her sleeping mom. You see that the woman is lying awake, fully aware of this secretive business of her daughter. The calmness with which she accepts and trusts Shabaana is moving. In a few scenes, the film portrays the mom-daughter relationship beautifully.

There is another instance where a senior officer leaves Shabaana in a room with a bunch of strong guys, asking her to tackle them in three minutes. There is no hint of doubt on his face. Similarly, the film doesn’t make Shabaana dress up, shake a leg or seduce the villain, like one of those popular James Bond films. It rightly romanticises Shabaana’s raw talents – her intelligence, athletic abilities and resilience. This sensitive and credible portrayal of the female protagonist makes the film a worthy addition to the Baby franchise.

*****

The Naam Shabaana review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the movie. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.

‘Georgettan’s Pooram’ Review: Dull Characters, Tasteless Humour

Director Biju’s Georgettan’s Pooram is a movie that puts you through a test of fire. It has a wayward and elongated first half which confidently passes sleaze and sexism for comedy. And those who brave this ordeal get to watch a slightly better second half which makes some degree of sense.

Every joke and comical situation in this supposed ‘family entertainer’ is rooted in blatant sleaze. When the film’s lead man, George (Dileep) bumps into a girl, Merlin (Rejisha Vijayan) at a funeral ceremony, he stares at her with glee and says aloud, “Shall I make her a mother… to my kids?”

This tasteless line comes as no surprise. The film opens to a flashback sequence in which George is introduced to the three guys who would later be his friends. At first, the guys pass him for a bible geek, which is proven wrong when they catch him peeping into their lady teacher’s bathroom. Their friendship is forged over this common ‘hobby’ of peeping into bathrooms and bedrooms. Fast forward to present day, we see the guys who seem to be in their thirties, with no hint of maturity. Jobless and wild as ever, the guys’ favorite pastimes include boozing, stalking women and other things that are generally considered serious crimes. In one instance, the men barge into the bedroom of a girl they haven’t even met before, after tackling her parents. To the girl who looks bewildered and terrified, George announces that her ‘ugly’ parents’ have, after all, “manufactured” an ”interesting product”.

What is creepier than the film’s sense of humour is the fact that the censor board has passed the film with a U certificate. This isn’t unprecedented, though. One of Dileep’s earlier blockbusters, a ‘family-drama’ titled Mr Marumakan, had a supposed comic scene in which the protagonist, played by Dileep, hires a conman to rape a woman. In Mayamohini again, a family-entertainer, a comedy scene involves two guys trying to rape Dileep who is in a female get-up. These films, oddly enough, had managed to collect a good amount from the box-office.

In all fairness though, Georgettan’s Pooram has no rape jokes. In the second half, the film tries to become a sports drama, with the men taking up the game of Kabaddi to reclaim their favourite hangout spot – ironically – from its rightful legal owner. But it’s hard to take the portion seriously as George and his friends do not come across as innocuous men who would shed their laziness and insensitivity for any reason. They are just unemployable loafers with no distinct qualities.

*****

Dileep, Sharafuddeen and Vinay Fort, plainly, don’t look like peers. Dileep, who is 48, tries his best to behave like a thirty-year-old man – he dances at temple fests, acts like a naughty little boy in front of his mother, and tries to woo Rejisha who is in her early twenties. Moreover, he body shames women who are past their youth. “I didn’t come to see this crone. Where are the young girls you had promised to bring?” he asks a driving school tutor whose students are older women.

Despite everything he does, Dileep’s act falls through, and he appears the way he is – as a middle-aged man desperately trying to shed years off his age. There is a cringe-worthy scene in which he looks at Malavika Nair, a 17-year-old actress in amazement and declares that she is ‘great work’.

That Rejisha Vijayan, a State Award-winning actress, chose to act in this film is unfortunate. She plays a young, soon-to-be-nun whom George romances forcefully. There are actors like Ranji Panikker and Chemban Vinod Jose who sincerely try to hold their own in this chaos. However, their performances do not matter as this is a film that deserves to be forgotten at the earliest as a bad dream.

*****

The Georgettan’s Pooram review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the movie. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.

The Great Father Review: A Stylish Mammootty Tries To Save A Drowning Film

Haneef Adeni’s directorial debut The Great Father has leather jackets and sunglasses in pivotal roles. In the backdrop lies a story that is worth telling. But the focus is constantly drawn away by the aforementioned things. And how suave its lead man, the megastar Mammootty looks when he wears them. 

The Great Father is as much in awe of Mammootty as its target audience – the young fans – are. A lot is said about his invincibility and good looks. Even the sophistication with which he smokes a cigarette gets a special mention.

That desperation with which the film tries to highlight Mammootty’s ageless swagger and charm is what pulls it down.

***

The story revolves around a series of rapes and murders in the city. A paedophile and serial killer, who goes by the name of ‘Joker’, is running loose. He murders young girls and leaves their mutilated bodies in swamps, meadows, and tunnels. A special investigation team, led by an intelligent, though insensitive young police officer Andrews Eappen (Arya), is on the case. It’s a situation akin to Memories Of A Murder. 

The story takes a turn when Joker fails to kill one of his rape victims, Sarah (Anikha). She happens to be the daughter of David Ninan (Mammootty), an alleged former–mafia kingpin. David goes all out to find and kill Joker.

***

The film begins with Sarah telling her wide-eyed schoolmates about her dad’s exploits in Mumbai. The sequence is badly written and looks contrived. In one scene, Sarah proudly walks into the classroom with a pistol in hand. Just to convince the non-believers of David’s violent past. 

Sarah’s relationship with David is portrayed more as one of hero worship than a regular father-daughter one. He’s the man who makes her a star among her friends. He’s the man who will protect her from all evils.

Although she is central to the film’s plot, Sarah is treated as an instrument to build up David’s image. Jeethu Joseph’s 2012 blockbuster Drishyam had a similar narrative structure – A first half devoted entirely to the protagonist’s family life, and a second half where he turns into a guardian of the women in the family.

But the writing was far more believable.

At home, Mohanlal’s Georgekutty was a normal family man who discussed his daughters’ school and the household budget at the breakfast table. His heroism was rooted in the way he steered his family out of a crisis. 

In The Great Father, even the crisis – the rape of Sarah David – is a ploy to bring to life the daredevil underworld don that David really is. 

***

For the most part, we see Mammootty driving his MUV around, delivering punch dialogues, and beating villains to pulp in style. Oddly enough, there is no sense of urgency or sensitivity in his actions. During the course of his hunt for Joker, there are other little girls who are kidnapped and killed. Meanwhile, the police officer Andrews Eappen emotionally tortures Sarah just to gratify his ego.

The film, fixated on David’s self-styled investigation, doesn’t build on these points.

Andrews is one of the most patchy characters in a film that has characters aplenty. He is evidently a sadist who would torture the weakest person in the room to show that he is the boss. Although portrayed as an opportunist with no sense of morality, the film makes a hero out of him; perhaps because of the star who plays the character. Andrews draws applause when he mercilessly beats up a pedophile, and later, when he sides with David in his fight.

In fact, under the guise of speaking for women, the film sings praises of male machismo – Something the star-vehicles are known for doing to perfection.

***

The film has a cinematography and background score that jarringly vie for attention. While the camera uses a lot of dramatic slow-mo shots (of falling rain, for instance), the overbearing background score tries to convince you that this is Columbia and David is as lethal as Pablo.

Sneha, who plays David’s wife, is largely ignored by both, the film and by the characters in the film. Malavika Mohanan, who will be starring in Iranian auteur Majid Majidi’s next film, plays Meera, Arya’s assistant. Four years ago, her debut movie Pattam Pole had clumsy body-language and bad dubbing – it’s all the more striking in this film.

Then again, a movie only gets the actor it deserves. 

***

In fairness, The Great Father has one heartwarming moment that stands out of the mess. “If you think a woman loses everything when she loses her virginity or when she is raped, you are so wrong, mister,” Doctor Susan (Mia George) tells Andrews when he asks her for details of the rape victims. There is so much conviction in that one line’s delivery.

Most of all, the film is reminiscent of the sad paradox that Mammootty’s acting career is. In Manivathoorile Aayiram Sivarathrikal, which was released 29 years ago, Mammootty played a gloomy widower, father to a 13-year-old girl. He performed effortlessly, with grey hair and tired eyes. Even his body language had a shade of love and melancholy. 

Now, 65-year-old Mammootty’s David Ninan is an awkward and sketchy portrait. He looks like someone who would rather take a puff and ride away to the mountains on his Royal Enfield than attend his daughter’s parent-teachers’ meeting at school.

Unsurprisingly, The Great Father is a film that caters only to those of his fans who worship him as a style icon.

*****

The The Great Father review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the movie. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.

When Men Do Not Know How To Love: An Interview With Director Ram

Men are not able to open up to women, Ram declares during our interview. “Especially contemporary Tamil men. They carry many prejudices. They have a set scale to measure women – by her looks, status, ‘character’… the men are not able to cope with the changes in the society, they feel humiliated and suffocated; they react violently.”

Taramani, director Ram’s upcoming movie, is a take on gender equations.

*****

If there’s something that director Ram is asked often, it’s a question about the characters in his movies. He’s asked how much the characters resemble his real persona. That’s one of the things that Ram emphasizes during our conversation.

Vehemently.

I am not any of my characters, he says, when we speak on the phone one January evening, between editing sessions of his upcoming Peranbu.

“So, don’t judge me based on them.”

He also doesn’t sympathise with the lead character of Kattradhu Tamil MA and Thanga Meengal. Both were dark-themed films, about complex misfits who constantly rebelled with their surroundings. In Kattradhu Tamil MA, a young post-graduate in Tamil literature is alienated in a world that has no space for arts and humanities. Thanga Meengal, on the other hand, was about corrosion of values in the education system. It also featured Ram in the lead role as the father of an eight-year-old girl.

“People tend to think I am an angry, emotional guy – like Prabhakar in Kattradhu Tamil MA or Kalyani in Thanga Meengal,” he declares, “I hold a Masters in Tamil; that’s probably the only thing that connects us.” He understands their angst, their frustrations – but it stops right there. “I’m a totally different person.”

Actor Jiiva, who played Prabhakar in Kattradhu Tamil, had to undergo therapy to get out of the skin of the character.

The film was emotionally draining, Ram admits. “Jiiva was in his early twenties then. He is a sweet chap. But it was torture for everyone because it’s a depressing movie. The plot is dark. Its lighting pattern and locations are melancholic. It was stressful.”

*****

Director Ram at Stone Bench Creations Launch

In a career spanning nine years, 42-year-old Ram has directed two films, and is working on two others – Taramani and Peranbu – that belong to a lighter genre. Taramani, starring Andrea and Vasanth Ravi, is the last film in his Globalisation Trilogy. His fourth film Peranbu, according to the director, is the most important one in his career.

It stars Mammootty, whom Ram calls a “wizard on screen”.

Also because Ram learned “the art of acting” from him. “Of all the actors I have worked with so far, Mammookka belongs to a different league. The days I spent with him on the sets of the film were workshop on acting and film-making.”

Mammooty plays the lead role, Amudhavan, in Peranbu. It was the actor who recommended Anjali, a transgender actor, to play an important role in the film, which happens to be Mammooty’s first Tamil film in the last 12 years (after Vishwa Thulasi in 2004).

Mammooty, Ram says, told him that the hallmark of a good actor is that he knows when not to act. “I had heard that from other people, too,” Ram recalls, “but Mammooty actually does it. He shows you how true it is.”

Of course, there were some disagreements on the sets, routine ones, really, “but every conversation with him helped me learn something new,” the director declares, “If I didn’t like a particular shot, I would explain it to him. He would readily agree for a re-take if my explanation made sense to him. Also, he never does night shoots. But for Peranbu, we had to do a lot of night shoots in Chennai, and some early morning sunrise shoots in Kodaikkanal. He gladly did all of that. I have been lucky enough to work with two masters in my career – Balu Mahendra and Mammookka. Now I think I should do my next film too with Mammookka.”

Ram’s favourite films of Mammooty include Thalapathy, Sukrutham, Amaram, Thaniyavarthanam and Mrugaya. “Kattradhu Tamil has faint shades of Sukrutham,” Ram says.

*****

Taramani is Ram’s first film set in urban spaces. A take on gender equations, “it’s about how gender roles and man-woman relationships underwent drastic changes in the post-globalisation era,” Ram says, adding that the movie doesn’t take sides.

A significant change was that women became more self-reliant, he observes. “Globalisation created a liberal space for women to express themselves. It gave them an identity, beyond the usual tags of mother, sister, wife, and daughter. At least to a great extent. More and more women travel these days, that too with their own money. However, are the men who live with them and work with them able to understand the change? That’s one of the questions Taramani is handling.”

Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut, many films of Roman Polanski, Alfonso Cuaron’s Mexican drama Y Tu Mama Tambien, Tamil films like Marupadiyum and Aval Appadithaan, and many literary pieces served as inspiration for Taramani.

That, and those real-life relationships that he got to witness: of independent women, and violent men.

It’s unfair to call the whole Tamil film industry misogynist, Ram declares when I steer our conversation to recent events. “As far as I know, this kind of humiliation never happens in the space I work,” he says, referring to the interview in which a director made derogatory remarks about actresses. “A lot of women work in every department in Kollywood. When I joined the industry, this wasn’t the case. There were few women, and it was very difficult for them to foray into direction. Now, things are different. I treat my co-workers, actors and actresses as artistes playing the characters I created, not on the basis of their gender. The costumes I decide for my lead actress are always according to the character she plays. I have never, and I will never try to make money by exhibiting an artiste’s body.”

*****

Ram graduated from Madras Christian College in the 90s. After a stint as a script-writing assistant, as part of Balu Mahendra’s team, he moved to Mumbai to work with Raj Kumar Santhoshi in films like Lajja and Pukar. The progressive, cosmopolitan college campus, and the highly professional work spaces changed his perspective about gender roles. “I studied Literature in college,” he says, “Literature helps you understand the other gender in a better way. I grew up in a family where women were given more importance than men. My sister was sent to an English medium school, while I was put in a local Tamil medium school. In Madras Christian College, there were people from all over the world. Interactions with them widened my view.”

Kattradhu Tamil MA, too, taught him many lessons. “Till then, my knowledge about cinema came from the time I spent with Balu Mahendra and Santhoshi, and from movies and books. I didn’t know much about about film-making, thus I was more free-minded. We shot the film in guerrilla style. I did it for the sheer pleasure of making a film,” Ram says.

None of the director’s films have antagonists. It’s difficult to do a mainstream film without an antagonist, he says, because it makes it tougher for the audience to understand the protagonist. “So, I give more exposition to the protagonist, but it makes me look like I am sympathising with the lead men of Kattradhu Tamil and Thanga Meengal. I am just using them as a tool, though. I always begin a story with a thesis. I create the character to present my thesis. I’m more emotionally connected to my thesis, than to the characters.”

While Kattradhu Tamil was an argumentative film, it’s not about Tamil language as many people see it, Ram adds, “The film might look arrogant and emotional, but it is about how liberal arts and humanities are neglected today. It’s about how the society is creating a sociopath. That the lead character is a Tamil graduate is just a coincidence. Initially, I was planning to make the film in Hindi.”

And, it was easier to make his first film than the rest. “I think as you gain more experience, you tend to lose originality. After the first movie, I became a serious film student. When I was making Taramani, I had more clarity. I could balance what I learned from my previous two films with theoretical knowledge.”

Ram’s a “better filmmaker now”, and is “evolving”. He’s no longer the person who made Kattradhu Tamil; is more calm and mature, and doesn’t get angry easily.

I’m more grounded, he says.

*****

It was Gautham Vasudev Menon – a filmmaker known for his romantic dramas – who produced Thanga Meengal, a dark and raw film. Despite the stark contrast between the genre of their films, the duo was quite comfortable with each other.

“GVM loved Kattradhu Tamil. He likes the kind of films I make. I like his films too. We bonded well because we had no ego differences. For me, working with anyone is easy. I try to accept people as they are. It’s important to rein in your ego because film-making is a team work. A director should respect everyone – from a set assistant to the film’s lead actors. Managing a set is the most difficult thing. It requires a lot of skills.”

On the sets of Thanga Meengal, the whole crew lived like a family, Ram says.

A video of GVM singing Aananda Yazhai, a popular number from the film, had gone viral in 2013. The soundtrack made the movie even more popular among the masses.

“I don’t know anything about music. In my films, there are great songs because I don’t know anything about music,” Ram laughs, “I don’t give my music directors any instruction in particular. If the music conveys the emotion of the film, I give the nod. If the music doesn’t suit the situation, I would reject it. Even if it’s a great composition.”

Aananda Yazhai had also fetched Na Muthukumar, the late lyricist, a National Award. Muthukumar and Ram had grown up together.

“We studied together. He helped me become what I am. He understood my scripts like no one else. He would listen to my rants endlessly, and would understand me perfectly. I don’t know where I am going to find a friend and colleague like him,” he says, “I miss him.”

Taramani and Peranbu are scheduled to release this summer.

*****

The Director Ram interview is a Silverscreen exclusive.

Phillauri Review: Lovely Leads, Lovelier Music

There is palpable innocence at the core of Phillauri. The film’s central character, a spirit named Shashi (Anushka Sharma), would fit into a Studio Ghibli universe. She appears, sprinkles powdery light everywhere, is awestruck by human beings, and occasionally remarks that the world today is so different from her days. At heart, the film is an old-fashioned love story – slow, gentle and unpretentious.

And through the beautiful poetry and alluring music woven into the narrative, Phillauri speaks of art’s eternal, infinite capabilities.

*****

There are curious scenes which hint that Shashi is from a distant time. The morning she lands in a palatial house that belongs to a wealthy Punjabi family, she flies to a chandelier and tries to blow off the electric lights. At an engagement ceremony, Shashi is taken aback by the bride’s gown because it bares her upper back. “Oh my God, she is nangi (nude)!” she says, before discreetly trying to cover the bride with a dupatta

Shashi isn’t at the house to jump out of wardrobes and scare away the inmates. She just doesn’t know how she ended up there: a house which is preparing for a grand wedding. 

*****

This adorable bewilderment is shared by Kanan (Suraj Sharma), the 26-year-old Canada-returned scion of the household. Also, the only human being who can see Shashi. He feels out of place in the sprawling family house which has been transformed into a big fat wedding venue.

As the film proceeds, much like a ballad, we see the spirit and the human bonding over their mutual cluelessness. Kanan accidentally becomes Shashi’s “husband” when he “marries” the tree where Shashi had been living for 98 years, as instructed by an astrologer. He helps her hide in his house. In turn, when he feels that life is too much to take, she helps him calms down. 

***

The narrative criss-crosses between a brightly-coloured present, and a warm-toned past set in 1919.

In her own timeline, Shashi, sister of an erudite physician, falls in love with Roop Lal (Diljit), a musician and village heartthrob. Her idealism helps him find purpose in life. His sense of liberation opens up the world for Shashi, who had always lived under the strict and watchful eyes of her brother. In one scene, her friend is shocked to hear that Shashi is pregnant. She asks Shashi if she is not ashamed to have slept with him. At first, Shashi nods her head in affirmation. Soon though, she bursts into a mischievous smile, and says “no”. 

Anushka Sharma, playing a Punjabi woman from the early 20th century, doesn’t have much of a makeover. She nails her role with sheer acting prowess. Her face is a delight for close-up shots. When grieving, she doesn’t simply burst into tears. She masterfully breaks down the emotion into pieces – shock, disbelief, realisation, denial, and finally, acceptance. The first time Roop Lal comes and sits by her as she is writing poetry, she blushes, and a tint of red appears naturally on her cheek. 

***

Kanan’s homecoming is curiously similar to that of Dev in Dev D. A performance by a local band, a cheesy gesture of welcome by family members, and an ecstatic childhood sweetheart. Like Dev, Kanan feels out of place in the house. Things are moving a little too fast. And the time he spent in Canada has built a sea of differences between him and his bride, Anu, a starry-eyed girl who is head over heels in love with him.

However, the sequence is overdrawn and forced. A nightmare in which he falls off the terrace; scene after scene of him smoking to relieve his tension; a number of pointless and corny exchanges between him and Anu on his confused state of mind.

In a scene where the family gets together to discuss Kanan’s issues, he says he wants to find himself before entering wedlock. His mother responds by dragging him in front a mirror. Instead of just having a proper chat with this innocuous young man, there is an overt and loud attempt to be witty. 

*****

Given its sensitivity to human emotions, Phillauri has one ugly part that runs against the grain of the rest of the film. A young dwarf works as a servant in Kanan’s house. The boy run away in fear when Kanan gestures at him to be quiet, while pointing at Shashi, who is standing by his bed. The dwarf misinterprets it as an invitation for sex, and the film tries to play on that as comedy.

Perhaps he had come across too many such gestures in his vulnerable life. The sequence is unnecessarily long, and tasteless.

It’s going to take Bollywood a lot more time to learn that rape jokes are not funny. 

*****

The film has an excellent production department that perfectly brings to life a bygone era. The mud-coloured jute and cotton clothes that the actors wear, the hand-written notes that Shashi and Roop Lal exchange, and the dusty village square – everything looks like it belongs in the story. 

The male actors, Suraj and Diljit, are equally effective in their roles. There is a curious role-reversal in Phillauri, where it’s a man who is an object of desire. We are introduced to Roop Lal through his sculpted body and his enthralling performance at the village square, which draws a huge female crowd. Fully aware of his beauty, Diljit is flawless in the role. 

Phillauri, with a soul that exudes so much light and warmth, is a delightful watch.

*****

The Phillauri review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the movie. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.

Honey Bee 2 Review: A Sequel That Reveals How Annoying The Characters Actually Were

Watching Lal Jr’s Honey Bee 2 is like skipping the drinking, and heading straight to a hangover and headache. A sequel to the 2013 film Honey Bee, Honey Bee 2 has characters who are engrossed in things that make little sense. Of course, this justifies the film’s title, which is a nod to a popular local liquor brand in Kerala. Set around a lavish wedding, Honey Bee 2 tries hard to play to the gallery.

But for the viewer, the end result is an unremarkable drama woven around bland situations. 

***

Of all the uninteresting characters in the film, the dullest is its hero, Seban (Asif Ali). Seban is a man-child whose life revolves around the bottles of alcohol he downs in the company of his equally aimless friends.

In Honey Bee, all hell broke loose when a stoned Seban asked his best friend Angel (Bhavana) to elope with him, after ditching her four ferocious elder brothers and fiancé on the night before her wedding. Curiously, Angel agreed to run away with him, only to face heartbreak the next morning when she realised that the sober Seban is not in love with her.

Nevertheless, the thrilling chase between Seban’s gang and Angel’s brothers made the first part an engaging watch. 

Honey Bee 2, is more of a family affair, with a focus on Seban’s coming-of-age story. It begins with a Seban and Angel near-fatally plunging into the sea from the rear of a ship, in a bid to escape from her brothers. The couple’s suicide attempt draws forgiveness from Michael Punyalan (Lal), the eldest brother.

Burying the hatchet, Michael announces Angel’s wedding to Seban.

Things seems to be running smoothly. But that’s not enough for the impulsive man-child Seban. He has unresolved issues with his parents. He is unsure of his love for Angel. There are scenes that desperately try to be intense. Like the one where Seban screams at his mother exasperatedly, “I don’t know what to do!” 

Unfortunately, it’s impossible to take this guy or his grief seriously. He is as wayward and unpredictable as a monkey. His own friend Abdu (Sreenath Bhasi) says, “Don’t let him drink too much, or he will say he is in love with the next woman he sees.” 

***

That Angel is in love with Seban is something the film doesn’t want to have explain. It follows commercial cinema’s favourite formula where the most selfish brat in the gang ends up with the best girl. Never in the runtime of either movie do we get a inkling that Seban genuinely cares for Angel.

Angel, on the other hand, refuses to give up on this alcoholic. Every time he shouts at her and blurts out things like “I regret the moment I asked you to marry me”, the camera quickly captures her – wiping off tears carefully, careful not to upset the wedding make-up. 

***

The irreverent humour that had worked to a large extent in Honey Bee falls flat in the second part. In one sequence, a drunk elderly uncle asks Angel to “scratch his butt” if she has some time to spare. She laughs off the tasteless request as if it’s a routine joke. 

What does work in the film’s favour is the presence of actors like Sreenivasan, Baburaj, and Suresh Krishna. 

Sreenivasan plays advocate Thampi Antony, Seban’s father, and a clueless man whose love for his son is often misinterpreted as disdain. The veteran actor brilliantly underplays the role, which is one of the few interesting characters in the film. Suresh Krishna as the priest is naturally funny. He is the first to jump into the ring whenever a fight erupts. Suresh, who used to be the reigning antagonist in Mollywood once upon a time, plays the character with élan. 

The rest of the supporting cast aren’t particularly memorable. Most of all though, Asif Ali’s loud performance fits the bill, because Seban owns all the antipathy he generates.  

***

Ultimately, Honey Bee 2 resembles an awkward school reunion where former classmates meet after many years, but cannot decide on a topic of conversation. If it was any fun to watch Seban, Angel and their friends in the first part of the series, the second part makes us realise just how shallow and annoying these characters are, when you get to know more of them.

In the case of Honey Bee 2, familiarity breeds indifference. 

*****

The Honey Bee 2 review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the movie. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.

C/O Saira Banu Review: Manju Warrier Shines In This Warm Drama

In director Antony Sony’s debut film C/O Saira Banu, the two protagonists (played by Manju Warrier and Amala Akkineni) are unconventional lead characters, rarely seen in Malayalam cinema. One is a happy single mother, the other is a firebrand woman lawyer. Both are independent, courageous, and immensely kind. Their contrasting social worlds clash one night, and they are pitted against each other in a legal battle.

The film is about how they emerge from this, unhurt.

***

C/O Saira Banu is a smart film. It seamlessly weaves a number of contemporary issues like moral policing and the kiss of love protest into its narration, without any judgement. And although the fight for justice in the second half is bizarre, the film sugarcoats the whole sequence, such that the audience never feels the gravity of the unfairness they just witnessed. 

Moreover, C/O Saira Banu has Manju Warrier playing the titular role. And Warrier is a highly talented actor who exudes charm in even the plainest get-up. She plays her part with finesse – as if she has known Saira Banu, a nondescript postal officer and the modest life she leads, forever.

In one scene, she proudly shows her college-going son (Shane Nigam) an old photograph of hers that was featured on a newspaper’s front page. She giggles like a child when he looks at her in amazement and asks, “Is this really you, Banu?” It’s beautifully natural.

In another scene, she walks out of the office of a government attorney who has insulted her, sits down on a bench in the corridor, and bursts into tears. She draws empathy. She makes you grieve for her son, Joshua, who is behind bars for a crime he never intended to commit. And when she says, “Joshua will never do this!” you nod in agreement. Because this woman is so genuine, she deserves to be believed. 

***

The second woman in the film, Annie John Tharavadi (Amala Akkkineni), is a lawyer whose brilliance and charisma makes the men around her envious. She is someone who can veil the darkness inside her with innate grace. Although Amala’s looks are perfect for the part, you can’t help thinking how much better the character would have been if portrayed by a better actress. Someone who could depict vileness as credibly as she can be cherubic. 

In a scene where Banu confronts her about a secret she had been guarding carefully, Amala falters. Her lips and eyes quiver, and she looks furious. Except, that’s not quite the Annie John we had been watching till then. She is sharp and intuitive – someone more sophisticated than Drishyam‘s Georgekutty.

Better writing and a better actor would have made this role iconic. 

***

C/O Saira Banu laments the plight of Saira, whose low-class status and lack of political influence make her lose out in a system driven by money and power.

Oddly enough, the film never bats an eyelid for the man whose death forms the core plot of the film: the young migrant labourer from West Bengal who is killed in a brutal hit-and-run case. It shakes both Saira’s world and Annie’s. 

In the legal trial that follows, the perils of hiring workers without checking their identity is discussed. However, the dead man gets no sympathy. Even the young activists whom Joshua befriends are unconcerned with the lost life.

And this lack of empathy fuels an unintentional dark satire that mocks itself.

***

C/O Saira Banu doesn’t try to be extraordinary in its filmmaking style – the song sequences are old-fashioned, and scenes where Joshua’s passion for photography is depicted are cliché-ridden.

However, the film has a warmth that elevates it above these flaws. The mother-son relationship is portrayed delightfully, without being preachy about the virtues of motherhood. When Saira holds Joshua close just as she once embraced orphaned kittens as a child, the analogy is beautiful.

And the icing on the cake is Mohanlal’s near-poetic voiceover, gentle and deep, used to narrate Saira’s flashback. 

***

In an industry that is centred around male stars with stories written for them, C/O Saira Banu is a crucial step for feminism and Indian cinema.

*****

The C/O Saira Banu review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the movie. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.

Alamaara Review: A Relationship Drama With A Worn-Out Plot

In Midhun Manuel Thomas’s Alamaara (Wardrobe), a newly-wed couple’s life turns into a mess, thanks to a huge wooden wardrobe that the bride’s parents gift them for their wedding. The groom’s family, already miffed with their new relatives, refuse to accommodate the furniture in their family residence. Tension escalates further when the girl puts her foot down and declares that she won’t stay in the marriage unless the furniture is carried all the way from Kerala to the Bangalore apartment where she has just moved in with her husband. 

 Alamaara is an unintentional tribute to a slice of bygone era in Malayalam cinema. The period when the industry was flooded with films set in conservative middle-class households. In this informal genre of sexist relationship dramas, women are often the root of problems. For one, the commercial hit films directed by multi-faceted Balachandra Menon in 1980s and 1990s, had male protagonists who would mansplain the secrets of a happy married life to their immature, whimsical wife. If she happens to be a tigress with a sense of independence, the man, often played by Menon himself, would tame her using love and sometimes, a whip. When new-age cinema abandoned these characters, the television soaps gladly took them in.

It is surprising that Midhun, who made a promising directorial debut in 2015 with Aadu, decided to make a comedy-drama out of this worn-out plot. The characters and situations are soulless, and the humour is tasteless. For starters, isn’t it bizarre that in this age of compact apartments, a set of upper-middle class parents would gift their daughter a a gigantic wooden wardrobe? There is no reasoning to why Swathi (Aditi), a modern, financially-independent girl, is so fixated with a wardrobe that she lets it ruin her married life. At one point, she wakes her husband, Arun (Sunny Wayne), up in the middle of night to ask when the wardrobe would be delivered. 

There are a bunch of supporting characters, equally sketchy, played by actors like Saiju Kurup and Aju Varghese. Aju’s short stature becomes a butt of joke, while Kurup’s character is ridiculed for his ‘downfall’ from a fitness enthusiast to a domesticated husband. 

***

The lack of freshness in the script is compensated to an extent by the unconventional cast. Sunny Wayne, who is known for his rugged looks and the offbeat characters he played in hip movies like Neelakasham Pacha Kadal Chuvanna Bhoomi and Koothara, plays the protagonist, a nondescript bank employee. Renji Paniker, the yesteryear screenwriter who has to his credit some of the most fiery political dramas in Malayalam, dons the role of Arun’s father, a good-humored villager who quietly puts up with the tantrums that his wife throws regularly. Manikantan, who won the Kerala State Award for the best supporting actor for his role in Rajeev Ravi’s Kammattipadam, plays Arun’s uncle, a staunch RSS man who loves beef and booze. And he, by far, is the saving grace of Alamaara. Whenever Manikantan takes charge, makes a valiant face and says “Bharatmata Ki Jai”, the film becomes slightly watchable. He has an impressive comic timing and fine screen presence. 

There is nothing memorable about the film’s music, except how it adds to the clutter that the film already is. For one, in the scene where Arun and his friends are climbing up the staircase, carrying the heavy wardrobe, a loud and chaotic background score plays over the characters’ exchanges. This is repeated several times throughout the film. 

*****

Alamaara is an addition to the list of uninspiring and hollow dramas that Mollywood has been churning out of late. It pretends to belong to the new wave of Malayalam cinema, yet lacks any imagination or originality. 

*****

The Alamaara review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the movie. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.

Long Road To A Level Playing Field: Interview With Filmmaker Vaishnavi Sundar

Vaishnavi Sundar’s fourth directorial – Go Ahead And Take Left – was recently screened at the Women’s International Film Festival, held in Islamabad on March 10 and 11.

It was during a short holiday in Sikkim when Vaishnavi Sundar had a chance encounter with what would be the subject of her Hindi short film, Go Ahead And Take Left. “I was doing the regular touristy things, walking around the city, when I noticed this female traffic cop, Anju, on the road. There was something very unique about her,” Vaishnavi says. “There is a no-honk policy in Sikkim, so the atmosphere was calm. That calmness was on her face too, even as she was standing in the hot sun, maneuvering the busy traffic on the road. I found the sight of her so charming.”

Go Ahead And Take Left is Chennai-based Vaishnavi’s fourth film that she had directed and edited. That the central character of the multi-faceted filmmaker’s project is a strong, independent woman is not something incidental. A staunch feminist, she is the brain behind Women Making Films, a vibrant network of women filmmakers, technicians and artistes across the world. In the traditionally masculine space that cinema is, Vaishnavi and Women Making Films strive to bring about gender equality by encouraging more women to take up cinema as a profession, supporting women filmmakers in their ventures, and narrating real stories of women in mainstream films.

Vaishnavi, however, did not attend the film festival in Islamabad – a novel event in which several women-centric films, made by women filmmakers from different parts of the world, would be screened in a country infamous for gender violence and misogyny. “Thanks to the tumultuous relations between India and Pakistan, the visa process is so complicated and time-consuming. I got overwhelmed by the procedures. It scared me,” she says. The festival is held by Pakistan-based organisation, Women Through Film, with which Women Making Films plans to collaborate soon.

Talking about Go Ahead And Take Left and its central character, Vaishnavi says, “Of the things that I found interesting about Anju, the striking one was that she was not able to comprehend my questions on sexism. I am sure she has her own hardships – economic and familial – in life. But it made me jealous that she was so untouched by things like misogyny and gender disparity. She would shrug off my questions saying, “I can do everything that a man does. How are we unequal?”

A question that, precisely, sums up what Vaishnavi is attempting to achieve through Women Making Films.

*****

WMF is an outcome of anger and disappointment. Vaishnavi had been furious with the “way things were in the country”. “We have a giant film industry, but the participation of women in it is negligible. Instead of whining, I decided to do something about it. A strong lesson that I learned when I subscribed to feminism in my lifestyle is that ‘community is where future is going to be’. I wanted to make a community where women in the film industry could display their portfolio, collaborate with each other easily, and exchange ideas.”

Immediately after its inception, WMF successfully organised a film festival, The First Festival, inspired by a similar initiative – ‘Directed By Women’, a women-only community in the US, featuring films of woman filmmakers. The screenings were held in Indian cities like Noida, Trivandrum, Mumbai, Chennai and Bengaluru. In February 2016, Vaishnavi and WMF took the women’s film festival to the North East India, with the support of Gauhati Film Club, and in May 2016, a similar festival was hosted in New York, and one in Philadelphia in October 2016.

Currently, there are 121 members in WMF. “I am inviting everyone, who has her name on the credit list of a film, to be a part of this forum. There is no discrimination on the basis of their political ideology or quality of work. It’s up to them if they want to work with other members of the forum. I am just creating a platform where they can communicate with each other,” she says.

A post-graduate in Business Administration, Vaishnavi quit her corporate job to pursue her creative aspirations. She started off as a stage artiste with Chennai-based theatre group, Theatre Nisha, and later, as a director. She made her first short film, Pava, in 2014. The second film, The Catalyst, based on a short story by Kartar Singh Duggal, was made in 2015.  Her third project was a documentary; Unearthing The Treasures Of Ariyalur is one of the few Indian documentaries on Paleontology. It was commissioned to her by Nirmukta – a freethought forum. Both, The Catalyst and the documentary, were crowd-funded productions, and the latter was made under the banner of her film company, Lime Soda Films. 

“Feminism is essential”

At one of the home-screenings of Pava, there was a male filmmaker who would not stop asking questions about the film. But never to Vaishnavi, the film’s writer-director, but to the male protagonist of the film who was sitting next to her. “Then, I didn’t realise what made him do that,” says Vaishnavi, recounting many subtle, yet evident sexist experiences she had in the industry.

“I do get a lot of unsolicited messages from strangers, and not a lot of people appreciate a forum like WMF. On the forum’s social media pages, I regularly get comments like ‘You are exaggerating the situation’ and that ‘there is no thing called gender disparity in the film industry anymore’. I handle the trolls with patience. I tell them why feminism is relevant today. Suppose there are two glasses – one is filled with water and one is empty. We can talk about equality only when both the glasses are full, not when it is the way it is now. We are pouring more water into the glass which is already full,” she says.

Of course, there’s a considerable rise in the number of female directors, technicians, and actors – Vaishnavi agrees – but that’s nothing compared to the increase in the number of men in the field. “Back then, if there were three women filmmakers and 20 men filmmakers in the industry, now the number is 300 and 20000 respectively. That’s not gender quality.”

While one could say that times are changing with successful women filmmakers like Konkana Sen Sharma, Alankrita, Nandita Das, Mira Nair and Deepa Mehta, it’s just that they are more visible now, due to the surge of information channels, declares Vaishnavi. “That feminism is there in the industry now, is a delusion that men want you to believe. It’s not a level playing field. Even a lousy male director is able to grab projects one after another, while the struggle is many times harder for a far more capable female director.”

Worse still, there are women who think feminism is a useless ideology. “For one, take the case of Priyanka Chopra, who is doing really well in the East as well as in the West. She is a very inspiring figure, and I am proud of what she does and her success. But it is traumatizing that the feminism movement is not getting encouraged by women of her stature. She said once, ‘I am not a feminist, but I believe in equality for everyone’, which is clearly a lack of awareness about the ideology. You are a feminist if you believe in gender equality in its true sense. Why do you want to deny it?” asks Vaishnavi.

*****

When a woman gets trolled and abused online and offline, why aren’t more women speaking up for her? Vaishnavi questions. “Take for instance, Kangana has gone against Karan Johar, one of the most powerful person in the industry, all by herself. There are so many people from the film industry who can take a stand on this, yet are not willing to. There is zero support system for women who get targeted on social media. When Suraaj spoke against Tamannaah, there was a little support from people like Nayanthara, but that’s a rare case. Youngsters like Varalakshmi are doing a great thing by garnering support against gender violence within the industry, but senior stars are denying any kind of sexism in the industry. That they are making this choice is disheartening. If they are not doing anything for their gender, who else is going to do it? The fact that WMF was founded by someone like me, who is not a star, says a lot about it.”

Vaishnavi hopes that many more sensible female-centric films, made by women, would be made in India in the coming years. “Women should start telling their stories. Men are getting it all wrong.”

On WMF blog, Vaishnavi has co-written a series titled ‘Misguided Portrayal‘ with Prateek Sharma, a feminist himself, where she talks about erroneous characterisation of women, homosexuals and other minorities in Indian films. “Portrayal of strong women in our films is always problematic,” she says. “Take for instance, in films like Mardaani and Iraivi, the women are either being ‘damsels in distress’ or they are beating up men and behaving like a man. That’s not the way it should be. I don’t think any male filmmaker/writer can think like a woman and make a genuine film about women, unless he collaborates with a woman,” she says.

“One exception to it is Aval Appadithaan, a 1978 Tamil language film starring Kamal Haasan and Rajinikanth. Even K Balachander got it all wrong. Women in our films are always angry or someone who would sacrifice everything for family. We must not glorify such women and make them shoulder the role of a supreme provider who forgoes all her personal wishes and aspirations. Why should she?”

Future Of WMF

More cross-border collaborations, more film festivals, more interviews with women filmmakers and technicians who get meagre media attention – Vaishnavi has a number of plans for WMF. “We will also be holding many workshops on niche departments like color correction, VFX and animation, involving women and young girls,” she says. “I want to organise more events in North East India.”

“There are few women producers in India. However, they (like Guneet Monga) are doing very well. I hope WMF will be able to aid the women filmmakers who can’t find producers and distributors for their films by being the support system and network interface,” says Vaishnavi. She is also working on three feature film scripts that she can’t seem to finish. “I am my harshest critic. I don’t want my script to repeat all the cliches and mistakes that our filmmakers have been making so far. I have been repeatedly rewriting the scripts. Someday, when I am most confident about them, I will make my first feature film.”

*****

The Vaishnavi Sundar interview is a Silverscreen exclusive.

Short And Stunning: Kochi Biennale Screens Berlinale Film Package

In Fort Kochi, the line that separates art from the art venue is thin. The entire archaic town, which hosts the famous Kochi Muziris Biennale, is like an open art gallery where every wall and every street corner is vivid with paintings and calligraphy. The movie screening hall at Cabral Yard is an installation, ‘The Pavilion’, designed by artist-architect Tony Joseph. With its grand size and fine design, The Pavilion could easily pass for a traditional martial arts training ground, a spice godown, or an unconventional concert hall.

Photo Courtesy: Kochi Biennale Official Facebook Page

It is in this spacious, naturally air-conditioned hall that the ‘Berlinale Spotlight’ was held, from 11-13 March. A set of 20 short films, which premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival 2017 in the ‘Berlinale Shorts (BS)’ and ‘Forum Expanded (FE)’ categories, were screened at the event as a part of the Kochi Biennale Foundation’s Artists’ Cinema programme. Berlin-based film scholar Ulrich Zeimons curated the package, which included films from several genres. 

The festival opened with a ceremony attended by artist Bose Krishnamachari, founding member and president of KBF, artist Riyas Komu, KBF director of programmes, and Syed Ibrahim, director of Goethe-Zentrum Trivandrum. Director Shaji N Karun, the chief guest at the ceremony, said, “Through short films, in particular, we would be able to achieve even our most abstract thoughts and memories in much stronger and more mature form.”

***

Ulrich Zeimons. Photo courtesy: Kochi Biennale official Instagram page

Ulrich or Uli, who is in mid-thirties, has a long experience of working with Berlinale as a program coordinator. “It wasn’t easy selecting the films,” admits Uli, standing just outside the screening hall, meeting and greeting the audience. “I picked films which have an experimental style of narration, which are more artistic and visual than anything else.”

The curator says that venues like film festivals and art Biennales serve as fundraisers for young filmmakers who want to experiment with the medium, and don’t want to compromise for purely commercial reasons. “These films are not for a regular cinema theatre experience. An ordinary audience might find them absurd, but the beauty of its absurdity might make sense only at these types of spaces.”

***

Indonesian director Wregas Bhanuteja’s Lembasura is a hilarious meta-movie which ridicules the serious discourse around mythologies. A young crew sets out to film the tale of Lembasura, the mythical demon who is believed to be responsible for the rain of ash in the Indonesian islands around Mount Kelud. The actor who plays the demon is an overweight, good-humoured man, whose physical appearance becomes a butt of jokes during the shoot. The metafilm’s portrayal of the ‘dance of the demon’ and theme of connecting mythology with everyday life deliberately loses meaning, thanks to this irreverent humour. 

Palestinian director Larissa Sansour’s In The Future, They Ate From The Finest Porcelain, is a seamless blend of visual installation, sci-fi, politics, and other elements. Walking on an outlandish wasteland, the narrator says, “We are depositing facts on the ground for future archaeologists to excavate.” The 28-minute documentary comments on the present world from an imaginary space set in the future. 

Uli’s favourite film among the lot is Jokinen, a 45-minute Finnish film directed by Laura Horelli, an experimental documentary director who lives in Berlin. Through black-and-white archival photographs and newspaper clips and a narration in male and female voices, Horelli recounts the migration tale of Finnish communist August Jokinen, and the famous Yokinen Trial, a show trial against racism organised by the American Communist Party in New York in 1931. 

Bilahari K Raj, a young filmmaker who attended the festival, is full of praise for the selection of films. “These short films are nothing like the kind you see in regular film festivals or YouTube channels. Each of them has a novel, individualistic style of narration. They experiment a lot with editing and camera,” he says. His favourite film from the lot is Personne, a German film directed by Christoph Giardet and Mathias Muller. It is a powerful cinematic collage that uses an unconventional and brilliant editing technique. 

Refugee & Immigration Crisis

In the past two years, the problem of refugees and the ongoing immigration crisis have become important issues. In many of the films screened at this year’s IFFR and Berlinale, these issues were a common theme. Escape From My Eyes, a 33-minute Brazil-Germany co-production directed by Felipe Braganca and screened at Biennale, narrates the memories and dreams of three different African immigrants in Berlin, in poetic language. In its final moments, the film shifts to a realistic documentary style, showcasing the chaotic atmosphere in which the immigrants live in Berlin. 

In director David Munoz’ Hide And Seek, a Spanish film crew visits a Syrian refugee camp in a Lebanese desert land. The film begins with visuals of a group of children playing hide-and-seek in the camp. The crew moves on to interview a woman at the camp, but the filming has to be done covertly. The juxtaposition of the game and the filming process is an interesting watch. 

*****

Angamaly Diaries Review: Pure Brilliance

Director Lijo Jose Pallissery’s Angamaly Diaries opens with palate-titillating images of the region’s signature cuisine, for the makers seem to know that the way to someone’s heart is through their stomach. Amidst shots of the town’s bustling streets and the busiest eateries, the film’s protagonist, Vincent Pepe, introduces himself in a jovial monologue. The sequence is instantly likable. There is no attempt to prep the audience for the violent scenes that are to follow, and rightfully so.

In Angamaly Diaries, it’s not a young man’s life that’s chronicled. The focus is on the vibrant nondescript small town where generations of people live, celebrating happiness and surviving chaos. Although the film is traversing a period of time in Pepe’s life, there is also a sense of timelessness. And not everyday, do you come across a film that rebels against all the conventions of contemporary commercial cinema, and emerges victorious. Everything about Angamaly Diaries, right from its music to character construction, oozes freshness. A hoard of newcomers perform with incredible panache, as if they have no camera watching them. 

Pepe (Antony Varghese), an average happy-go-lucky youngster from Angamaly, grows up in the company of the friendly, yet ‘not so nice men’ of the town. Things take a turn when Babuji, the football player whom Pepe regards as his idol for his swag and guts, is killed by two teenagers, Ravi and Rajan. Years later, the killer duo returns to Angamaly, and a series of clashes begin between them and Pepe’s gang of friends. What takes centre-stage in this tumultuous relationship is Pepe’s business of pork, the red meat that the town’s people can’t exclude from their daily life.

Although the bloody scuffles form an important part of the story, the film doesn’t let violence define the characters or the place. Violence, according to the film, is a creation of circumstances. Occasionally, the arch rivals decide to call a truce and share a drink. The story juxtaposes scenes of gang rivalry with Pepe’s personal life, where he hooks up with three different women, one after another. These sequences are most impressive, thanks to the characterisation of the women who do not stick to any of the traditional concepts of Malayalam cinema. How often does our cinema portray physical intimacy without making a fuss about it? There is a heartwarming coolness in the air when Seema and Pepe, who are in their late teens, meet secretly on the terrace of her house on several nights, or when she slyly walks into his hospital room everyday to gift him that kiss. When Lilly aka Lichy, who is elder to Pepe, falls for him and opens up to him, no hell breaks loose. She is the proud breadwinner of her family. There is a wedding scene where women down several shots of hard liquor and dance with men. The film’s lack of moral prejudice is exceptional. 

Prashant Pillai’s rhythmic rustic tunes lend an identity to the town, which has never been featured in cinema before. His music is quirky – especially the simple, yet effective track he uses in the portion in which the romance of Seema and Pepe is featured. The number, Theeyame, blends perfectly with the ambiance of Angamaly, like how Kaayalinarike had in Rajeev Ravi’s Annayum Rasoolum. However, the use of a Hindi number, Do Naina, to mark an important moment in the film, is slightly puzzling. Pillai’s Mumbai background might have something to do with this choice of language. Just like how Gopi Sunder’s fixation with Sufi music makes him incorporate it even in films which have no such background. 

The film’s final 15 minutes are composed as a single shot – perfectly executed by Lijo and his cameraman, Gireesh Gangadharan. That the team pulled off this single shot is no mean feat. The sequence involves a large crowd, and the events unfold in a crammed space. If the use of a single-take in the toddy bar song sequence in Amen had looked forced, here, it is a perfect natural choice. 

From Amrutha, who plays Seema, to Sarath, who plays Ravi, every actor in the film has delivered a flawless realistic performance. That these artistes have never appeared before a movie camera before, seems to have worked in favour of the film. They look so comfortable in the skin of their character. There is a scene where Jolly Chirayath, the writer-activist who plays Pepe’s mother on screen, snaps at him when he asks her something about the day’s pork curry. That moment is so naturally hilarious. Or the scenes in which Ravi jumps out of the pick-up vehicle, walks hastily towards the pork farm, picks up his sledge-hammer and delivers a blow on the pigs one by one? It’s hard to imagine that this actor has an entirely different persona off-screen. 

Angamaly Diaries is to 2017  what Maheshinte Prathikaram was to 2016. In an industry which revolves around sub-standard blockbusters like Puli Murugan and Jomonte Suvisheshangal, Lijo’s film comes as a breath of fresh air that will be remembered for a long time to come for its unadulterated originality. 

*****

The Angamaly Diaries review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the movie. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.

Oru Mexican Apaaratha Review: The Vast Emptiness

Last October, when Ganesh Raj’s teenage-drama Aanandam hit the screens, a section of the audience accused it of being naive, mushy and apolitical. Four months later, Oru Mexican Apaaratha (A Mexican Vastness) directed by debut director Tom Emmatty, has released in theatres. With characters clad in red and white, holding flags of political outfits, with their fist up in the air, the film might look like an anti thesis of Aanandam. It’s set in an arts college where students from middle to lower-middle class study. A lot of the scenes are shot realistically, in the college’s old, uncouth and chaotic men’s hostel. The lead characters talk using political jargon like revolution, oppression and communism, and drop names of Che Guevara and AKG too often. And there are clashes that recur every five minutes, always without a rational cause.

Unsurprisingly, everything falls flat. Take out the punch dialogues and skirmishes from the film, and the real content is wafer-thin.

***

The story is set in Kochi’s erstwhile Maharaja’s College which has witnessed some of the most intense political movements in the history of student politics in the state. The film opens to a flashback sequence which shows a fiery student leader of SFY (read SFI) being shot down by the police for leading a protest against the state government, with regard to the case of a missing student named Rajan. The incident happens inside the party office which is named Mexico, in memory of Che’s life-changing sojourn in the country.

Oru Mexican Apaaratha Review: Silverscreen Original
A still from Oru Mexican Apaaratha starring Tovino Thomas, Gayatri Suresh.

Years later, a naive young man named Paul (Tovino Thomas), who has no particular interest in politics, while feeling from a gang, hides in this room. That night spent in the room changes him drastically and he, who couldn’t even open up to the girl he had a crush on a few scenes ago, transforms into dare-devil the next day. No kidding, a few scenes later, ‘Comrade Paul’ files nomination to contest election as College Chairman.

Oru Mexican Apaaratha pretends to discuss relevant issues of personal freedom and corruption, but it’s the acts of valour and machismo of half-baked characters that take the front-seat. For one, the Dalit boy who speaks out in public about how the police arrested and beat him up for refusing to cut his long hair, is used as just a prop. He, the only person in the film who has something concrete to talk about, has no actual consequence to the film’s narrative.

The film mentions the issue of self-finance colleges in one of the scenes, and doesn’t take it beyond a tasteless joke. The emphasis is on violence which the movie holds as synonymous to ‘revolution’. In tedious slow-motion shots, the camera feasts on blood gushing out of faces, and men screaming at each other for reasons as juvenile as a casually used expletive. At some points, the film becomes an unintentional spoof of itself. 

***

Oru Mexican Apaaratha Review: Silverscreen Original Review
A still from Oru Mexican Apaaratha featuring Gayatri Suresh and Tovino Thomas

Apart from being blissfully silly about campus politics, the film is also misogynist and racist. The whole campus looks dangerously masculine, where women walk around quietly, and sometimes steal quick admiring glances at the macho men who hog the limelight.

Anu (Gayatri Suresh) begins as an extroverted woman who doesn’t shy away from confronting her stalkers. She, however, is immediately stamped as vile. She is the latest entrant to the list of ‘Women who betray in love’, a cliche in Malayalam cinema’s recent wave of films.

It’s nothing short of pathetic that in a movie on campus politics, a field where women are as actively involved as men, the writer-director couldn’t create a better female character. There is a scene where the film’s two young communist leaders visit the modest house of their close friend, and are introduced to his four sisters. The scene is supposed to evoke laughs. The joke is on the dark complexion, obesity and unmarried status of the sisters.

Among the actors, Tovino and Neeraj Madhav stand out with effortless body language and great screen presence. However, the skin-deep, lackluster characters that they play, make their performance forgettable. 

***

If Sandesham, the 1991 movie written by Sreenivasan, was responsible for turning Poland into a witty pun that Malayalees all over the world continue to use in their daily conversation, Oru Mexican Apaaratha might have just made Mexico a butt of joke (unintentionally). Sandesham, over the years, has garnered a large number of critics, especially for taking condemnatory jibes at the state’s communist party – which has always enjoyed a singular status in Malayalam cinema. There are films like Lal Salaam and Adimakal Udamakal, which narrated the stories of selfless comrades who fought the system and dared to fail. What connects these films and Sandesham, is that they are backed by a brilliant screenplay which mirrors the society they were made in.

It is evident from the subtexts that the writers of the films had a deeper understanding of the history and politics. Meanwhile, Oru Mexican Apaaratha, like a number of new age political films, succumbs to hollow romantic ideas about communism. They beat around the bush enormously, without taking the slightest effort to spot the bird. 

*****

The Oru Mexican Apaaratha review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the movie. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.

On His Own Path: Interview With Indie Filmmaker Sandeep Mohan

“Five minutes, please. We are fixing the sound,” filmmaker Sandeep Mohan calls apologetically to a group of people seated in a Kochi cafe where his film – Shreelancer – is about to be screened shortly. It’s a Sunday; the audience who have (largely) arrived to watch the movie, make no fuss. Some spiritedly help Mohan with the technical glitch; others gather around the filmmaker, full of questions about what they are about to watch.

Kochi has a few of these quirky, well-meaning cafes. Car N Cafe, the one in Kakkanad where I am about to watch Shreelancer, is a two-storeyed building; the ground floor is a car workshop, while the level above houses a cafe. It serves classic cafe fare: Sandwiches, coffee, mojitos. The owner is here, too. He requests everyone to place their orders right away, for when the screening begins, the coffee machines would be switched off. There is general warmth and affability; the audience have been brought together by an informal Facebook post. Sandeep relies on Facebook for almost everything. To find the cast and crew for his films, to arrange screenings, to find an audience…

He has been travelling across the country, projector in tow, screening his films in cafes, private residences, and corporate spaces. Sandeep isn’t too fussed about the venue, nor about the money he makes from these shows. The audience is free to pay what they like. He calls this unique release and distribution model, ‘The Great Indian Travelling Cinema’. “The whole idea is to be independent,” he says. “without relying on a third party to distribute, release, or promote my film. I want to enjoy creative freedom, make the films I like, and take it to people who want to watch it.”

Soon, the chatter in the cafe dies down; everyone settles into their seats. The lights are off, and the show begins.

*****

Last Sunday’s show was the 18th screening of Shreelancer, Sandeep’s third directorial after Love Wrinkle Free and Hola Venky.

A buoyant and witty tale of a young man’s inadvertent journey of self-discovery, the film was made by a small crew on a shoestring budget – in 21 days. The cast comprises of theatre artistes, and also unseasoned first-time actors. It has an uncomplicated plot, characterised by a genuine, irreverent sense of humour. Shreepad, a 28-year-old former engineer, is leading a bland life as a freelance content writer in Bangalore. Often unpaid and underpaid, he is broke and depressed, and has to bear his father’s constant nagging about getting a steady job. The 95-minute-long film revolves around Shreepad’s (mis)adventures and his earnest efforts to find peace and happiness in life.

Many moments in the film are inspired from Sandeep’s life. The resemblance between him and Shreepad is striking. “I have spent many years as a struggling freelancer. I still work out of cafés and co-working spaces where I meet many people who do the same. It helped me portray the life of a freelancer realistically,” he says. The film was shot on a Sony AS7 II camera. “I did a solo recce of the lower Himalayas, met some locals who were willing to let me use their houses for the shoot.”

The idea was to keep the budget minimal, Sandeep declares. They slept in small hotels, and used public transport, but were quite insistent on not compromising on the quality of filmmaking.

Early days

Sandeep Mohan

Originally from Thiruvananthapuram, Sandeep moved to Mumbai when he was in his twenties. After a brief stint as a Researcher in a Current Affairs Programme for Zee TV, he landed in Bollywood – as an Assistant Director for Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam. “It was a revelation,” Sandeep exclaims. “I realised that I wasn’t made for the kind of filmmaking that involves a big-budget, massive sets, and a star cast.” He soon moved to Bangalore, and took up copywriting again. “I did many odd freelance jobs during that period in life. I couldn’t watch movies online, but I read a lot of scripts available on the Internet. I wrote many scripts then, made a couple of underwhelming short films. I had a flair for writing, and I loved cinema. So it was a natural career choice.” 

Finally, in 2012, he made his first feature film, Love Wrinkle Free. “It was funded by my friends and acquaintances. I would say it was my film school. I learned the practicalities of filmmaking when I made the movie. I made many mistakes. Later, I realised I could have made it on a far lesser budget had I been more aware and careful.”
The film was censored with an A certificate, and had a small theatrical release. Set in Goa, Love Wrinkle Free is an adult-comedy about society’s fixation with good looks. “The A certificate, and the mistakes I made as a first-time indie director affected the film’s satellite rights business. That’s when I decided to stay away from all those hassles of mainstream filmmaking, release and distribution,” says Sandeep.

And thus, ‘The Great Indian Travelling Cinema’ was born. For his second feature film, Hola Venky, an adult-comedy set in the United States, Sandeep made use of the online crowdfunding platform Indigogo. His friends chipped in, too. It was made by a three member crew on a Rs 10 lakh budget. “With the help of my friends, I was able to release the film in some screens in San Francisco; I was also able to arrange many screenings in the US and in India. I was able to recover a decent amount of money from those shows. It was a great experience. I stayed in the US for over a month, flying from one city to another, screening my films. I got a sense of the real US during that stint.”

The film’s reception in the US was warm, he recalls. Many people, who hardly knew anything about India, let him screen the film at their place. “Once, an American lady hosted the screening. She had a great place, but the wall she chose was made of bricks. Since it was impossible to project the film on that wall, I went to Walmart, bought a white bed sheet, and taped it to the wall. When the film got over and I stood up for the Q & A session, the bed sheet fell off,” he laughs.

Hola Venky was soon famous in the independent film industry.

*****

A screening in Pune

The money that he makes from these screenings isn’t great, Sandeep admits. His craft survives on donations. A box kept at the screening venue is where donations happen. “I tell the audience to donate any amount of money – if they want to. This helps me foot my travel expenses, and also sustain [my filmmaking],” he says. “In some cities like Kolkata and Gurgaon, the response is great. A lot of people turn up for the screenings, actively take part in discussions, and often, are ready to pay a decent amount. I am not worried about the money I get from this, though. I am still working on the travelling cinema concept.”

Sandeep, who is also a seasoned badminton player, competing in state-regional level matches, says his aim is to create as many alternate spaces for cinema as possible – all over the country. He was part of a panel discussion on Alternative Indie Film Distribution , held as part of the Film Bazaar at International Film Festival of Goa last year. “As an independent filmmaker, I should be able to release and distribute my film on my own.” Also because, festival circuits in India aren’t fair spaces, he adds. “You need good agents and programmers to get your film noticed and selected. The competition is even higher these days due to the surge of online movie watching spaces.” He has been rejected by several festivals. “Perhaps if my films had darker themes and a darker language, they might have had better chances at the festivals. I know I might be able to pull off darker films, but this is the kind of cinema I want to make. I want to express my ideas with a touch of humour.”

With the advent of online streaming platforms like Amazon and Netflix, independent directors now have more opportunities to create the kind of films they want, Sandeep explains. “Like any artiste, I want my films to be watched by a wider audience. I am trying to collaborate with online platforms and see how far they can help me with that.” Shreelancer will soon be streamed on a website. “The discussions are on. But I cannot reveal more about it as the deal isn’t final,” he says. “The online streaming platforms are getting a lot of applications these days. Everyone wants to be there. The competition is high. So they now have a more rigorous quality filter.”

While the Indian Government censorship hasn’t entered the online space yet, some of the companies still insist on going through a censor procedure to make sure they don’t get into trouble. “I don’t mind adding a few beeps to my film,” Sandeep says, “as long as the concept doesn’t get diluted.”

*****

What’s perhaps of immense help to the filmmaker is that, he loves to travel.

It brings the kind of creative satisfaction that money doesn’t.

He’d screened Shreelancer in Patna recently, – only because Sandeep had never been to the city before. The screenings – both planned and unplanned – were interesting enough.

“While the scheduled screening was in the evening, a person came to my hotel in the morning, and asked me if I had the time to do a screening now. I was astonished. It was for a B.Ed. classroom in the top floor of the building. The teacher had given the students a day off for the film screening. I took my projector and screened the film in the classroom. Just like that,” he says, “They were entirely different from my usual audience. Many of them were from remote parts of the state, and barely knew English. They didn’t know what a freelancer was. After the show, one of the boys asked me if the film was about drug abuse, which made their teacher angry. So he ended up explaining the whole film to them in chaste Hindi. He told them the film is about artistes. ‘They are not like us,’ the teacher said. That was a very different experience.”

Shreelancer will see a boutique theatre release in June.

*****

The Sandeep Mohan interview is a Silverscreen exclusive.

Actor Prithviraj Apologises For Celebrating Misogyny Even As AMMA Forbids Women Artistes From Travelling Alone

On Saturday morning, ahead of the official launch of his next film, Adam, actor Prithviraj Sukumaran did something unprecedented. Through a lengthy note posted on Facebook, he apologised for mouthing sexist dialogues in his films, and for being part of movies that celebrated misogyny. In the note, titled ‘Courage’, the actor said:

“And to those voices I apologise..for at an age and time when I wasn’t wise enough..I have been part of films that celebrated misogyny..I have mouthed lines that vilified regard for your self respect and I have taken a bow to the claps that ensued. NEVER AGAIN..never again will I let disrespect for women be celebrated in my movies! Yes..I’m an actor and this is my craft! I will whole-heartedly trudge the grey and black with characters that possess unhinged moral compasses…but I will never let these men be glorified or their actions justified on screen.”

Prithviraj was one of the first actors in Mollywood to speak up in support of the actress who was kidnapped and assaulted by a gang of men in a moving car in Kochi last week. “…As a man who has to share the responsibility of a society that bears this shame, I hang my head! But please..the most we can collectively do at this moment..is to respect the guts of this girl,” he wrote in a note that was posted on Facebook on February 19. The actress, who was cast opposite Prithviraj in Adam, had backed out from the film after the incident. “I was supposed to start work with her in a week, and she told me that she’d not like to come back in front of the camera so soon..and so is pulling out of the film. I know this girl..I know how brave she is…if it’s affected her enough to make her stay away from what she loves the most..I can only imagine how harrowing it must have been,” said Prithviraj in the statement.

However, on February 23, the film’s director Jinu Jacob announced that she would join the film on the scheduled date. 

At the official launch of Adam on Saturday morning, Prithviraj also asked the media to respect the privacy of the actress who, according to him, has legal and personal difficulties in issuing a public statement at the moment.

Prithviraj’s public apology comes at a time when Malayalam cinema is facing heavy criticism for its misogynist content. The top male leads in the industry, over the years, have mouthed some of the most sexist dialogues in their films, demeaning women and other gender. In Prithviraj’s 2007 super-hit film Chocolate, his character warned a woman onscreen that he would rape and impregnate her; a dialogue that was cited many times by the media and the public on social networking sites, in response to the actor’s February 19 Facebook post.

While Prithviraj has apologised for being part of scenes that celebrated machismo, his male co-stars, senior and junior, who are responsible for similar or worse faux pas, are yet to speak up. Actor Mammootty, whose 2016 film Kasaba drew brickbats from all over for its highly sexist content, is the secretary of AMMA (Association Of Malayalam Movie Actors), an organisation that recently advised its women members to avoid travelling alone, in the wake of the incident. AMMA held a meeting in Kochi on February 22 ‘to take concrete measures to ensure safety of female artistes in the industry’. In the meeting, it urged female artistes to stop traveling alone. Many artistes, including director Aashiq Abu, and actress Sajitha Madathil, have slammed the association’s stance. “This has left me without a hope… Is AMMA saying that the safety of a woman artiste, who is working day and night, is not the association’s responsibility? Isn’t it the responsibility of the employer to ensure the safety of its employees in work-spaces?” asks Sajitha Madathil in her Facebook post. “It hurts to see an organisation in Kerala taking such a regressive anti-women stance in 2017!” 

*****

Sakhisona, A Tale Of Time & Space, Wins Tiger Short Award At 46th IFFR

Is past really dead, or is it alive, breathing the air around us, invisible to our naked senses?  Kolkata-based filmmaker Prantik Basu’s Sakhisona is a wrap where past and present, myth and reality traverse and co-exist seamlessly. The film unfolds between two scenes – One in which a group of folk musicians are singing the ballad of Sakhisona at night by the side of fire, and an epilogue where a set of archaeologists are unearthing an ancient monastery and its surroundings where the characters from the ballad must have walked on in flesh and blood. The mood is profoundly serene.

Sakhisona is a fascinating tale of love, witchery, and despair, with sharp undertones of feminism. Set in an alluring West Bengal village, it is about a young woman who elopes with her lover, to live in a dense forest which is home to an enchantress who casts a spell on women to steal their men and turn them into goat. The breathtaking monochromatic visuals and the brilliant audiography constructs a mystic ambience, making the movie a compelling watch. A shot of a lone woman roaming the forest with a herd of goat. A fruit that appears in the pictures that she makes on rocks. A shot of a tree that whispers secrets to Sakhisona, slowly fading into the dark woods.

It’s the space that inspired the film, says Basu. “While we were doing recee for the film, the landscape of Tamhini Ghat seemed suitable for a fictional rendition of the tales from Mogulmari and that was the starting point for Sakhisona,” he said.

After graduating from FTII, Basu was was working independently on various short films and documentaries. The excavations at Mogulmari caught his interest, and he developed a documentary project on it. “I was applying for grants, both nationally and internationally to support the production. Then I got a call from FTII to make a short film for them as an external/guest director.”

The film won the Tiger Award for the Best Short Film (shared between two other winners) in the ongoing 46th International Film Festival Of Rotterdam.  

Sakhisona was (perhaps) the last student project at FTII to have been shot on celluloid. “We were lucky to have been given a choice between digital and celluloid and it was an easy decision. The story is about excavation, memories, myths and their remains. It is like unearthing buried stories, in fragments. Like cinema, archaeology also unfolds in a spatio-temporal setting. In excavation, one doesn’t know what one would eventually discover,” he said.

The crew used old stocks and push processed the negative to enhance the grains in the visuals. “We wanted the visuals to seem as though they were some archival footage. The choice of Academy standard film aspect ratio seemed suitable in this regard. Since we used some super-impositions (both on camera and on post) and stills, we eventually had to opt for a digital output, though we tried really hard to get a married print for the film,” he said.

Basu is currently busy with the post-production works of his first documentary feature, Jungle Mahal, funded by Tata Institute Of Social Sciences, Mumbai. The film will be completed in April. He is also working on his first feature film, Nectar.