Punyalan Private Limited Review: An Unfunny, Lifeless Sequel

Director Ranjith Shankar’s filmography oscillates between two poles. His Su Su Sudhi Vatmeekam (2015) was a moving drama, while Pretham (2016) was an unintelligent horror-comedy. Ramante Eden Thottam, which hit the screens earlier this year, was a well-made romantic drama that was beautifully mature. UnfortunatelyPunyalan Private Limited follows the hit-and-miss pattern. A sequel to Ranjith’s 2013 comedy Punyalan Agarbathies, this film is a lazily written social commentary that works neither as a sequel nor as a stand alone film. It lacks the infectious charm and genuine humour that Punyalan Agarbathies possessed, and worse, the best loved characters from the first part are soulless caricatures here.

For one, the lead character, Joy Thakkolkaran (Jayasurya) is no longer the adorably optimistic entrepreneur. He has strangely transformed into an irritatingly self-righteous man who dishes out motivational lines like a self-help book. His wife, Anu (played by a charismatic Nyla Usha), who was one of the brightest elements of Punyalan Agarbathies, is dead and gone in the sequel. The woman’s absence shouldn’t come as a surprise because Indian sequels, traditionally, have abstained from retaining the female lead from the first part. The new additions to the cast, Dharmajan as a lawyer, and Arya as a television reporter, aren’t effective.

The film opens years after the inception of Punyalan Agarbathies. Joy’s much successful business venture is being wound up, thanks to dire financial crisis. Joy is devastated, but the true-blooded optimist that he is, comes up with another stellar innovative business idea within a few days. Like the agarbathies business, the new one too involves elephants – to manufacture water out of elephant urine, and sell it in pretty paper bottles. Things are smooth until the day Joy and his unreliable lawyer friend Thaneesh (Dharmajan) get into a tussle with an officer at the office of KSRTC for the company’s failure to deliver Punyalan Water Bottle cartons on time. KSRTC files a pseudo criminal case against Joy who embarks on a one-man-army fight against the corrupt bureaucratic forces.

Ranjith Shankar takes on a number of civil issues through the film. But there is no intrigue or any kind of cinematic aesthetic in the narrative. Most of the time, the film resembles a radio talk or a Facebook live video where a character renders a lengthy monologue on the dismal state of the civil society. More than once, Joy’s anger, Greenu’s (Aanu Varghese) adulation and Abhayan’s (Sreejith Ravi) naivete seem exaggerated.

Vijayaraghavan plays a shrewd Twitter-savvy chief minister who invites Joy to spend a day with him. His combination scenes with Joy could have been stellar, with brilliant exchange of words, but all you get is a series of dull conversations. The dialogues are patchily written, and often, the actors flounder while mouthing them. For instance, when you see the chief minister first, he is scrolling down the Twitter feed and telling himself, “Joy Thakkolkaran is trending on Twitter.” Clearly, it isn’t the character speaking, but Ranjith Shankar from behind the curtain. If everything looked flawlessly organic in Punyalan Agarbathies, things are flat and cosmetic in the sequel.

Nevertheless, Punyalan Private Limited deserves a pat on the back for bringing back Ajayan (Guinness Pakru) on screen, in a role that doesn’t put a finger on his physical appearance. He plays a noble bank manager, and the actor has played his part to perfection.

Jayasurya’s kurtas (probably a work of his costume designer spouse, Saritha) are more impressive than his performance in the movie. He is mildly over the top most of the time, and unlike the first part, his accent or antics on screen don’t evoke laughter or a smile. The rest of the cast members are easily forgettable.

Making a sequel to a popular movie like Punyalan Agarbathies was a misstep by Ranjith Shankar, who is known as one of the most intelligent producers in Malayalam cinema. Even the town of Thrissur, where both films unfold, looks lacklustre in the sequel. If life in the city seemed like a pleasant adventure in Punyalan Agarbathies, it is a mundane exercise in Punyalan Private Limited.

*****

The Punyalan Private Liited 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.

‘S Durga’ World Premiere – Review: Where Fear Is The Protagonist

S Durga (previously titled Sexy Durga) was unceremoniously dropped from the International Film Festival of India (IFFI), a decision taken by the Information and Broadcast Ministry headed by Smriti Irani. Director Sanal Kumar Sasidharan is now planning to file a petition against the Directorate of Film Festivals (DFF).

Here’s Silverscreen review of the film which was originally published on January 28.

In Sanal Kumar Sasidharan’s S Durga, fear is the protagonist. While violence keeps lurking beneath the film’s surface, it is fear that leads the film on the foreground.

On the night of Garudan Thookkam, a Hindu religious festival in which men pierce their skin and suspend themselves from metal hooks to fly like a Garuda (eagle) to please the Goddess Durga, a young woman and her lover elope from their houses to leave Kerala and settle down in a far away city. Stranded on a deserted state highway, the couple – Durga and Kabeer – hitch a ride from two strangers in a van to the nearby railway station. The drive turns into a nightmare as the men start harassing the couple, threatening to violate Durga sexually. And the night stretches out endlessly before the young lovers who can’t seem to escape from the looming danger.

Anyone who understands the gravity of gender-based violence in India, would know how life-threatening an Indian road can be at night for a woman traveller. Every man on the road takes the shape of a beast, ready to pounce on women whose immediate identity is reduced to a defenceless object of desire. Anushka Sharma’s 2015 thriller NH10 and Sameer Thahir’s 2016 film Kali dealt with a similar plot, but Sasidharan’s narrative is cleverer on many levels.

With the camera fixed in and around the van, he weaves the plot with the help of dialogues that proceed organically. Although the violence in the film is never explicit, one could feel it everywhere on the screen, always. Even as the captors, with a sly smile, reassure the couple that they would be let off safely, the subtle ups and downs in their conversation hint that it might not be so. The fear that grips Kabeer and Durga creeps into the viewers quickly, putting them in the passenger seat of the white Maruti Van, letting them experience the unfolding horror.

***

Sasidharan builds up tension at a perfect pace, inserting narrative pauses in the right places. More than once, the couple sneaks out of the van and try to reach the destination on their own. But each time, they are forced to return to the hands of their tormentors. When the van stops at a police checkpost, one almost hopes that the couple finds some respite from the ordeal. It is interesting to see how power equations change in this sequence – the men who were perpetrators till then, suddenly become victims and the violence becomes state-backed.

The film uses the couple’s inter-religious status and Durga’s north Indian identity to complicate the situation further. “Aren’t you taking her to Pakistan?” two bike-riders on the road ask Kabeer, on learning of his Muslim identity.

***

The film cleverly portrays how baffling male egos can be – the eagerness to be protectors and guardians, and how society blindly approves of this bloated machismo. The film’s opening sequence, a show of countless bare male bodies, pierced and put through intense pain, is brilliant, although slightly long-winded. In a festival that celebrates the power of a goddess, it is masculinity that rules the roost. The men dance in scanty clothes, display their physical toughness and take the centre stage, as women devotees politely watch from a corner.

In a later sequence, this religious parade is subtly juxtaposed with the young couple’s trauma, indicating how deep-rooted is the society’s celebration of virility and machismo.

However, there are images and verbal exchanges in the film that come across glaringly loud. Like the idol of Durga kept on the dashboard of the van and the conversations woven around it. When the commentary on faith and the gender equation inside religions has already been made, this overbearing silhouette of the Durga idol becomes a jarring presence.

***

The cast, which consists mostly of first time actors, perform flawlessly. Sasidharan’s love for what could be described as ‘camera acrobatics’ repeats in the film, where he tries a lot to play with the camera movements, making it party to the whole unfolding drama than just be an observer. Nevertheless, it is difficult to say if it works in favour of the film.

***

S Durga finishes off as an edgy road thriller, the dark taste of which lingers on even after the curtain falls. That Sasidharan’s pulled off this feat on a shoe-string budget is testimony to the power of intelligent writing and restrained direction.

Cinema isn’t dying in this age of show of opulence and flashy modern technology, it is just discovering new styles of narration to stay afloat and emerge stronger than before.

***

S Durga was screened in the Havos Tiger Awards Competition section at 46th IFFR.

***

The S Durga 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.

Children’s Day Pick: Aravindan’s 1979 Malayalam Film ‘Kummatty ‘

In the oeuvre of master filmmaker Aravindan, Kummatty (1979) is an unlikely film. It belongs to children, and to those who have an eye to see things the way only children do. It is proudly naive and dares to possess a good heart. It is imaginative, deep and complex in its own right. To Aravindan, who has directed fine dramas like Vasthuhara and Chidambaram, Kummatty was a work he held close to heart. The film won a National Award for Best Children’s Film in 1979.

The eponymous Kummatty is a part of Kerala’s rich devotional folklore: A flamboyant mythical figure who wanders the villages during the season of Onam, the harvest festival. In several parts in northern Kerala, Kummatty dancers dress up in colourful masks and attires, and go from one household to another, collecting gifts and showering blessings.

In Aravindan’s film, it (played by veteran performance artiste Ramunni) is an intrinsic part of nature; a human form that appears out of the hills, forests and paddy fields, and dissolves into the same. To quote Aravindan, “Kummatty arrives like the seasons. He represents spring. He comes during spring, when the rain is over and the plants are green and in bloom.” This bogeyman has a kind and calm demeanor. He adores children with whom he sings and dances. Although Kummatty was founded on myths and folklore, Aravindan had shot the film like a piece of non-fiction. He treated magic and superstition like a matter of fact.

The film opens to a visual of serene landscape at dawn, and a folk song in a rustic voice that ushers the audience into it. You don’t see the singer; it flows on to the screen from an invisible source. It is followed by the sound of birds chirping and cows mooing. This state of harmonious co-existence of man and nature is the core of Kummatty. The camera follows the kids in the village during their journey to and from the local government school, and the playground where they celebrate their freedom from parental supervision and school every evening. There is an elderly woman in the village whom the kids love to tease a lot. She murmurs to herself that she would ask Kummatty, the bogeyman to teach the reckless kids a lesson. Amused, the kids dance in unison and sing, ‘Muthassi Kadhayile Kummatti’, and with that day’s sunset, a wayfarer arrives in the village, ringing bells and singing aloud an unfamiliar song. Like a pied piper, he draws the kids, who surround him and watch him awestruck.

The world that Aravindan tries to open up for the children is vast. At one instance, you see the kids curiously listening to their teacher who is explaining the wonders of science; of atoms and many million micro organisms that inhabit the earth. The following scene has the kids running towards the Kummatty who is dancing on one end of their school playground. You hear the kids telling each other that the man is a wizard who can fly high like an eagle and swim like a fish. These moments can warm your heart. You know that those kids would grow up soon, and master the lessons of adulthood where magic and Kummatty don’t exist.

In Kummatty, children aren’t pitted against the adults. Their little gleeful world doesn’t come under attack from outside forces. It is one of those rare films that look deeper into the psyche of children – how they perceive human virtues, nature and life.

The film features several songs, composed and rendered raw, without a tint of polish. The dance of Kummatty and kids aren’t choreographed. They dance away happily, and the camera watches them from a distance, careful not to intrude. The most important segment in the film, where the Kummatty playfully turns the kids into animals, happens with ‘Odiyodikkali Aanandakkuttikalo’ in the background. Singing aloud, Kummatty swirls his wand, casts a spell, and the children turn into a dog, deer, peacock, goat and donkey. Unfortunately, one of the kids, Chintan, who becomes a dog, gets chased away from the group by another dog. Meanwhile, Kummatty breaks the spell and restores the rest of the children to their original form, and leaves the village.

The nearest cinematic figure to Kummatty might be Totoro, the friendly giant who lives in the Japanese woods. My Neighbour Totoro, directed by Hayao Miyazaki, the founder of Studio Ghibli, was about two little sisters in a picturesque Japanese village befriending a friendly giant that lives in the forest. Both the films bear in its core, a deep compassion for the world and a childlike curiosity. No wonder Kummatty was well received when it was screened in Japan, at South Asian Film festival. One of the most renowned film critics in Japan, Tadao Sato, who was the president of the Japanese Institute of the Moving Image, was famously in awe of the beauty of Kummatty. 

One of the best parts of Kummatty is the modestly worded and melodious ‘Karukara Kaarmukil’, written by Kavalam,that creates a beautiful imagery of a rainy evening.

Karu Kara Karmukil Kombananappuratheri Ezhunnallum Moorthe

[The Lord Who Comes Riding On A Black Majestic Elephant]

This line is followed by a rhythmic Dhimi Dhimi Thatham Thei Thei – the pitter patter sound of the rain – and a plea to the lord of monsoon to bless the Earth with a torrential downpour. In the film, you hear this song sung by Kummatty, and later, by the kids, as a chorus. In early 2000s, the popular Avial band gave a makeover to ‘Karu Kara’, and its fame grew beyond the state. Yet, Avial couldn’t replicate the delicate charm that Kummatty, in Kavalam’s voice, had lent the song.

*****

‘Angamaly Diaries’ Director Lijo Jose Pellissery Releases Teaser Of His Next Film ‘Ee Ma Yau (RIP)’ At Dharamshala Film Fest

Director of Angamaly Diaries, Lijo Jose Pellissery, released the teaser of his next film, Ee Ma Yau (RIP), at the Dharamshala International Film Festival (DIFF), after screening Angamaly Diaries to a packed auditorium.

Ee Ma Yau, starring Chemban Vinod, Dileesh Pothen and Vinaayakan is a satire set in a Kerala village, set around a funeral. It’s shot by Shyju Khalid and written by veteran writer PF Mathews. The film has music by Prashant Pillai, Lijo’s favourite collaborator.

Angamaly Diaries, which released in theatres early this year, was received with a thunderous applause at DIFF. The film is a commercial success and also, has been travelling to a number of film festivals across the world.

Villain Review: A Genius Cop Lost In An Inane Plot

Imagine you are home alone one night, and you start hearing strange voices outside; footsteps, whispers. A chill goes down your spine. You muster some courage and walk to the front door to see what’s going on, only to realise it is two naughty kids from the neighborhood pulling a prank on you. Won’t you feel cheated?

B Unnikrishnan’s Villain, a crime thriller starting Mohanlal, Manju Warrier and Vishal Krishna, evokes such sentiments. It aspires to be a dark psychological thriller, centred around a genius cop who beats the villains using mind games than physical strength. But there is only so much it can achieve with an inane plot and a sillier screenplay.

Villain is highly predictable for a crime thriller. There is no intrigue, and it offers nothing new to an audience which is familiar with far superior films such as David Fincher’s Seven, Mysskin’s Yuddham Sei and KG George’s Ee Kannikoodi. The weakest element in Villain’s plot is, by far, its antagonists who act like two rogue teenagers. A brief session of counselling or a even a slap in the face could bring them back to senses, and put an end to this murderous spree. Unnikrishnan tries to make up for the lack of genius in the writing with the lead characters who dress up suavely and throw in philosophical lines every now and then, sometimes irrespective of the situations.

The story unfolds in Kochi where the concept of winter clothes is unheard of, thanks to the year-long hot and humid weather. However, when you first see the film’s protagonist, Dr Mathews (Mohanlal), assistant deputy general of police, he is wearing a wool trench coat. He is in a dump yard, staring at a the scrap car, possibly damaged in a fatal accident. A tea-seller on a bicycle approaches him. After buying a cup of tea, Mathews, in a haze, hands over his credit card to the guy. In a more rational film, the presence of tea-seller in a dump yard would have raised questions, but in Villain, the trench coat and the tea-seller are natural elements in the absurd terrain that the film functions in.

Once a celebrated officer in the police department, Mathews is now preparing for an early retirement, thanks to a tragedy that happened in his personal life seven months ago. We know he is a gloomy man because he has a well-groomed beard and a perfectly set salt and pepper mane, the famous movie short-hands to portray a gloomy man. His superior officer, played by Siddique, asks him to take up one last assignment, a case of multiple murders in the city, before he hangs up his boots. Mathews is reluctant, yet he gives in to the request.

There are quite a few interesting moments that serve as testimonies to Mohanlal’s acting prowess. Even the most contrived dialogues and situations attain a certain finesse in the hands of Lal. The grief and heartbreak that Mathews is living appear organic. Same goes for Manju Warrier who plays Dr Neelima, Mathews’ wife. There is an affecting scene involving these two actors, set inside a hospital.

Mathews relies on coincidences, intuitions and wild guesses to solve the crime. In the final sequence, an angry villain asks Mathews to stop ‘playing mind games’ with him. This can leave you baffled because all you see is Mathews indulging in a rather dull conversation with two supposedly mighty criminals. The cop animatedly tells one of the killers, “Kid, there is enough time. Leave this maze of crime and go, live your life,” and you see that she has agreed to what he said. Where is the ingenious mind game we were promised of?

Villain is an addition to the list of cop stories where the protagonist’s spouse has to bear the brunt of her partner’s profession. In Gautham Menon’s Kaakka Kaakka, the woman dies a violent death in the hands of the villain. This repeats in Menon’s Vettaiyaadu Vilayaadu and later, in Ennai Arindhaal. In Jeethu Joseph’s Memories, which was a crime thriller that did well at the box-office, the protagonist, played by Prithviraj, was a brooding alcoholic living in grief after his wife and kid were killed by a criminal. Why do our filmmakers love to unleash violence on women, make them pawns in the cat and mouse game between the villain and the hero? Does being single and celibate make it easier for the men to be taken seriously? Does such a personal loss help them solve crimes? Logically, not. Women in our crime thrillers are either dead or waiting to be dead; victims or collateral damages, and this is a rather disturbing trope.

Villain isn’t a random superstar film made with little thought. Evidently, Unnikrishnan has done some homework, especially in etching out Mathew’s love for Neelima, and his resignation from life post her death. The background score by Sushin Shyam is great, and more importantly, aptly restrained. But it takes more than a few emotional moments and mood inducing  music to pull off a fine crime thriller. When the film fails to interest you even in the crime, would solving those crimes be any edgy?

***

The Villain 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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Women, Cinema & Sexism: Fowzia Fathima On Being Passed Over In Favour Of Male Cinematographers

‘Women, Cinema & Sexism’ features stories of women who work in the film industry and documents their experiences on sets – the good, the bad and the ugly 

When Chennai-based Fowzia Fathima set out to study cinematography at India’s most prestigious film school, FTII, in the 90s – a time when there were few women cinematographers in the country – she met with a rather dissuading comment at the interview: “We wonder if it’s any use selecting girls for the cinematography stream. They will quit the profession within a few years of working in the industry.”

But Fowzia refused to get bogged down by the remark.

“The interviewers were trying to provoke me. I shot back, asking if all the male students who have graduated from FTII were successful in the field. Why blame only women?” recalls the cinematographer, who entered the industry as an assistant to PC Sriram. “He was a gem of a human being,” says Fowzia, “An absolutely great mentor. He gave me important tasks to execute on the set, and made it obvious that I was doing double the work than anyone on the set, so that people wouldn’t doubt my capabilities.”

One of the first films she worked in was Mugavari, starring Ajith Kumar and directed by debutant VZ Durai. One day, Sriram had to leave the set for a few hours, and entrusted his duties to Fowzia, a formidable disciple. As Fowzia was lighting up the shot, the lead actor noticed her. He summoned the director and let him know of his reservations to work with a female assistant behind the camera. “The director was a newbie, and he couldn’t protest,” recalls Fowzia. “I can no longer say if the actor’s refusal to have me as a DoP was due to me being a woman. However, I don’t see any of these big stars ever hiring a woman cinematographer for their films. There is Priya Seth who did two films with director Rajakrishna Menon. But otherwise, this large pool of woman technicians we have in the country are not utilised,” she says.

Pic: Fowzia’s Facebook page

Fowzia’s first project as an independent camera-person was Mitr My Friend, directed by Revathi. “That the film had an all-women crew was a coincidence. I was roped in after I was recommended by PC Sriram. The writing team had two women. Beena Paul joined as the editor, and Bhavatharini as music composer. Then, we realised it would be a novel thing to work as an all-women crew. We had a blast shooting it. It was absolute fun, and we did a great job too. I wonder why such a collaboration never happened again. Women should collaborate in projects, and grow together,” she says.

That was one of the reasons why Fowzia took the initiative to establish Indian Women Cinematographers’ Collective (IWCC), a talent pool of young and senior female cinematographers from across the country. They have a bustling Facebook group where they float notifications of job opportunities, academic papers and other relevant news around.

The group has over 90 members at the moment. But Fowzia agrees that women cinematographers still have little visibility in the industry. “I have worked in commercially successful films. So have many women DoPs I know. Yet, such successes haven’t changed our careers much,” she says.

Seven years after Mitr My Friend, she worked in a Malayalam film, Gulumaal, directed by VK Prakash who had a number of box-office failures to his credit at that time. “He asked me if I could deliver a hit. I was confident. The film was eventually a superhit,” Fowzia says. Post the success, Prakash moved on to male cameramen.

Fowzia also narrates an incident when she worked as an assistant cinematographer for a now superhit film by a renowned director. One day, she was entrusted by the DoP to take a few shots of a song sequence in Madhya Pradesh. However, the director took over the camera, and started taking the shots himself. “I refused to give up. With the entire set watching, we argued,” Fowzia says. “When the DoP came to know of what happened, he backed me for standing my ground. Later, at the editing table, the shots that the director took were deemed NG (not good).”

It can be difficult handling the ego of men on the set, she says. “Cinematography is considered to be a physically-demanding profession. Something that only men can do. That’s not true at all. I have always made sure that I lifted the heaviest of the camera equipment and did every task that people deemed to be ‘masculine’. I have been a part of filming item song sequences, which I am personally not very much in favour of. I did that because I didn’t want to be seen as unprofessional,” she says.

Fowzia, now settled in Thiruvananthapuram, goes on to narrate another stressful experience she had on one of the projects she did in the past.

“Sometimes, the men on the sets misconstrue the nature of your involvement in the project. When I join a film, my interests are purely and solely professional. But once, a director of the film I was working in gave me a hard time. He took my relationship with him as something personal, while all I was trying to be was a colleague,” says Fowzia.

The work-place harassment did affect her, and even forced her to stay away from the film industry for a while, she admits. She joined a film school as a faculty and took up the task of mentoring young girls in cinematography. “I am enjoying this job which is partially an activism. I have always worked sincerely, without showing the slightest sign of exhaustion because I knew I cannot give up, not just for my sake, but for the sake of every woman who lands in this profession.”

*****

Read Part 1: Harvey Weinstein Has Opened Pandora’s Box & We Need To Deal With It

Read Part 2: When Film Sets Are Designed For Men & Other Struggles As Reported By The Female Crew 

Read Part 3: Speaking Up Is Not A Practical Option In Kollywood, Say Actresses

Read Part 4: The Life Of A Dance Assistant In The South

Read Part 5: ‘Harassment Happens Under The Guise Of Coaching; Women Do It Too,’ Says Budding Dancer

IV Sasi Was A True-Blooded Filmmaker Of The Masses

IV Sasi, who passed away on October 24, was no ordinary filmmaker by any measure. His films were sharply and unflinchingly political. In his youth, he made films relentlessly, one after another, at a pace no one can aspire for in these days. In 1977, he made 12 feature films, including Itha Ivide Vare, a commercial blockbuster that also earned him a Filmfare award for the best director. He was 29 then.

While it was Sasi’s films such as Devasuram, and Aavanazhi that established Mohanlal and Mammootty as the epitome of masculinity (an image the actors would excessively exploit in their later inferior films), the renowned director has also made many films where the two actors played flawed men who didn’t conform to the societal notions of heroism. In Kaanamarayathu (1984), Mammootty played a middle-aged man who falls in love with a 16-year-old Shobana. Written by Padmarajan, the film was an unconventional poetic romantic drama, the kind of which 65-year-old Mammootty might not take up. In Uyarangalil, which came out the same year, Mohanlal was a ruthless conniver who did many unspeakable crimes to satiate his greed for money and women. The film ends with his suicide.

Sasi often collaborated with eminent writers like T Damodaran and MT Vasudevan to produce sharp socio-political dramas that addressed the common masses who constituted the majority of his audience. His Angaadi (1980) has actor Jayan delivering one of the most cult-classic dialogues in the history of Malayalam cinema. A head-load worker in a market, he lashes out in perfect English at the scions of a rich businessman, “May be we are poor, coolies, trolley pullers, but we are not beggars!…” Angadi, written by T Damodaran, spoke for the working class, and advocated anti-capitalist sentiments deeply rooted in Kerala’s leftist political arena.

Sasi’s films were always set in rugged male territories. His Avalude Raavukal (Her Nights, 1978), which launched actress Seema as a star, was an anti-thesis to the many soft porn films that the film industry was producing at the time. The poster of the film had Seema in a white shirt, baring her legs – an image that would shake the moral compass of the Malayali society. The film humanised a young prostitute, spoke about the economic and social conditions that landed her in a profession that treated her as an object of desire, and although the story was told from a male perspective, the film was a far cry from the sexist dramas of the same genre.

IV Sasi’s film didn’t look at sexuality as a moral sin, and didn’t adhere to the norms of the society. Anubandham had Seema playing a young widow who becomes an entrepreneur with the help of a former lover, played by Mammootty. Set in a village, the film treated the romantic relationship between this woman, a mother of a seven-year-old, and the man, a school teacher, with respect.

But at the same time, the mass-pleasing films of Sasi were far from feminist. The women, even if they were gutsy and smart, were little more than baits and collateral damages in the stories. The starkest example is Lakshmanarekha, a drama that bares the turbulence in an upper-class family that escalates into a disturbing case of rape. While it is a daring acknowledgement of female desire, the film, written by playwright PV Kuriakose, ignores the element of consent, and the lead female character, Radha (Seema) is physically violated by the film’s protagonist who calls its an act of benevolence.

Lakshmanarekha was released in 1984, one of the best years in Sasi’s career. He made eight movies – some of the most acclaimed ones in his oeuvre – that year. The film begins from the homecoming of the household’s youngest scion, Sudhakaran (Mohanlal) after spending six years in the US. He is smart and brazen, and his return to the house signals the onset of something grave and unpleasant. His brother, Sukumaran (Mammootty) is bed-ridden, after an accident post-wedding left him paralysed. Sukumaran’s wife, Radha (Seema), has a tough existence, caught between her love for Sukumaran, who is practically immobile, and her repressed carnal desires that is indicated through a nightmare sequence where she is watching a serpent resting on a tree trunk. While Sukumaran is writhing in guilt for not being able to be a proper husband to Radha, Sudhakaran goes one step ahead and rapes her one night, after tricking her into having a sleeping pill. The latter has an explanation – a neurologist treating Radha for her recurring headache suggested to Sudhakaran that the disease might be a cause of her sexual deprivation.

Nevertheless, even Lakshmanarekha is a testimony to Sasi’s craftsmanship. He was a filmmaker of the masses, and his films never underestimated the intelligence of the audience who thronged the theatres to watch them. He gave them characters who were rooted in their milieu, yet bore a great heroic quality to aspire for. Sasi loved his cinema, and he enjoyed success like no other filmmaker in Malayalam cinema.

***

Photo courtesy: The Hindu

 

Mindhunter: Not Just A Crime Thriller On Serial Killers, It’s Also A Study Of 70s America

“Venture into the darkness and shine a light into the darkness,” is what Holden Ford, the young rebellious FBI agent, sums up his job as. He is fascinated by the psychology of criminals, while his department is only interested in eliminating the weed. This conflict is where Mindhunter, the latest Netflix breakout series created by Joe Penhall and co-produced by David Fincher, starts off.

Ten episodes down, Mindhunter has proved itself to be an arresting crime drama set in the tumultuous America of the late 70s, right after Vietnam war when anti-establishment rage was fuming around. Two FBI agents decide to take the unfamiliar and rugged road of criminal psychology to solve crimes. But they have to convince their extremely skeptic bosses first.

The high point of Mindhunter is not action scenes (which are hardly there), but in scenes of conversation. Cops talking to cops. Cops talking to psychopaths. Male cops talking to women who are smarter than them, trying to gauge the emotional and intellectual distance between them. There is Ed Kemper, a character based on a real life namesake, a serial killer who murdered his grandparents and many women, including his mother, and had sex with their corpses. When we see him in Mindhunter, he is a refined talker, having spent over seven years at the federal correction facility. What can possibly come out of the mouth of a man who has mastered the art of talking to cops? It turns out that some of the best moments in the entire series belong to this man, six-foot five inches tall, bespectacled, and strangely calm. The waves of violence lurks beneath the placid facade that he has created for himself. He offers his experiences as an expert murderer to the use of FBI, and at one point, expresses a wish to write a book someday.

Parallels could be drawn between Holden and Zodiac’s Robert Greysmith, for they share an obsessive interest in pursuing the dark. If Robert was hysterically into one killer, Holden is vehemently trying to implement a new awakening that he has – that sociology and psychology can really change the way his department works. He is shrewdly self-centered, and quite unapologetic about it. The transformation of Holden from a straight-faced curious young agent to a man who grows bigger than his team, and eventually, gets demolished by his own devils, is fantastically portrayed.

Holden is based on John E Douglas, the famed FBI agent whose 1995 book, Mind Hunter: Inside The FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit served as an inspiration to Fincher and Penhall in creating the series. This isn’t the first time someone has made a crime drama based on Douglas. Jack Crawford, a character that appears in Thomas Harris’ books in Hannibal Lector series, was modeled on Douglas.

Apart from the thrills that it offer, Mindhunter is also a careful study of America in the late 70s. Does the society create the criminals, or are they born that way, crazy and genetically violent? Does a gun in the car give a potential killer a kick to start a murder spree? Does the government, which has committed far greater crimes such as the war that annihilated a generation of men and women, have the right to run a force like FBI? What does one become when the only people you are able to communicate freely is a bunch of criminals whom you consider as your ‘friends’? This is bigger than just a cop story.

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Photo courtesy: YouTube

 

Women, Cinema & Sexism: When Film Sets Are Designed For Men & Other Struggles As Reported By The Female Crew

Cinematographers, make-up artistes, assistant directors, production managers – the profile of women working in films may vary, but their experiences in the industry aren’t vastly different. Sometimes, their struggle is quite basic – like finding a toilet on sets for instance. ‘Women, Cinema & Sexism’ features women who work in the film industry and documents their stories – the good, the bad and the ugly 

Three years ago, in November 2014, Charu Khurana, a woman from Delhi, won a landmark legal battle against a law that prohibited female make-up artistes from working in Bollywood. Until then, for over 50 years, women were limited to working as hairstylists while men worked in the field of make-up. Khurana, who holds a masters degree in special effects and prosthetics from Los Angeles, was shocked to learn that Bollywood was holding on to the archaic rule that discriminated against women. Women were not issued union membership cards, and whoever dared to work without a card, or hire a female artiste, were mercilessly harassed by the film unions.

Passing the verdict in favour of Khurana, the Supreme Court said, “Why should only a male artiste be allowed to put on make-up? How can it be said that only men can be make-up artistes and women can be hairdressers? We don’t see a reason to prohibit a woman from becoming a make-up artiste if she is qualified… we are in 2014, not in 1935.”

In an interview with The Times Of India dated November 11, 2014, Khurana spoke of the malicious ways in which the film unions resisted the rise of female make-up artistes post her Supreme Court win, “The union has become stricter in the last few days. They’ve been raiding sets to search for female make-up artistes. They’re even checking vanity fans. Namrata Soni was harassed a few days ago, when she was working on a film set.”

After the ban was lifted, a few female make-up artistes from across the country were given union membership cards. One of them is Kochi-based Mitta Antony who finished a course in make-up artistry at the Pattanam Rasheed Institute in Kerala. The membership in CCMAA (Cine Costume And Make-Up Artiste Association) cost her Rs 1,00,000, and Antony reveals that contrary to what she’d thought, her professional journey has not been easy.

“Although no one tells you on the face, there is indeed a disdain towards female make-up artistes. There are few women working in the field, which forces me to hire men as assistants in my projects. Almost all the time, the male assistants would leave the project midway, citing bizarre reasons. I would then have to hire assistants from Mumbai which would be hard on my pocket,” says Mitta. She also narrates incidents when she was openly insulted by male colleagues on film location. “Recently, a stunt master verbally abused me on the set through a microphone. No one defended me. I was the only woman on the set, and the men behaved as if it was totally fine to misbehave and look down upon a colleague. Would they have dared to do that to a male make-up artiste of my experience?”

Attitude problem aside, the women in southern film industries are also troubled by lack of basic facilities while on a film set, such as the unavailability of proper toilets or changing rooms. Dundhu Renjeev, a Bangalore-based art director who has worked in Kannada, Malayalam and Tamil industries, says that ignoring such basic needs for a long time has taken a toll on her health. “Rarely have I been to an outdoor film set which had arranged proper toilet facilities for women. It is as if the authorities on the set don’t acknowledge such basic needs,” she says.

“When you demand toilets on the film sets, and a separate hotel room for female staff, it will lead to further problems. They might even stop hiring women employees,” she says. According to an assistant director in Mollywood, a prestigious production house in Kerala doesn’t allow women inside their production van citing moral reasons. “No liquor or ladies in this vehicle. ‘We don’t let even the wife of the company owner travel in the van,’ I was told by a manager of the production house,” says the AD.

Jayashree Lakshminarayanan, a Kerala State Award winning art director who has worked in Malayalam, Tamil and Hindi films, agrees that the work space in regional film industries isn’t very welcoming for women. “There might not be many cases of outright attack on your body. Ours is a society that hushes matters until it grows to the degree of rape. What about the stares, verbal abuses and the general mindset of the society towards women who work in cinema? When I am on a set, often I feel I am constantly watched by many pairs of eyes. I am judged all the time, questioned on why I don’t adhere to their idea of women – shy, polished, soft-spoken. It is not easy,” she says.

Jayashree blames it on the way the society brings up men. “We are taught that women are less competent folks right from childhood. Many people I interact on job think female artistes in cinema aren’t serious about their career. ‘Won’t they quit as soon as they get married?’ they ask.”

One of the first things that Jayashree was told when she took up her first film was that she should shed her ‘girlishness’ to fit into the industry. “I was told to man up. Be a guy, and work like a guy. Many women who work in films try to be tomboyish because it makes it easier to interact on a set, surrounded by men. I don’t get it. To be good at what you do isn’t enough? Should one also change her gender identity?”

Jayashree and Dundhu are two of the few women art directors in Indian cinema who have managed to find a steady footing for themselves. Both of them agree on the fact that right from the beginning of their career till now, they have had to brave the scorn of many a men on film sets who thought they were hijacking a profession which had been, till then, a male-dominated one.

“Once, a worker snapped at me when I asked him to finish a job. Why should I listen to you, he said. There is another man who told me I won an award for Charlie because I was a ‘girl’ and girls have it all very easily,” says Jayashree.

Dundhu holds forth on the industry’s inability to accept women artistes as an equal entity. “Once, I was at the set of a brand commercial, prepping for the day’s shoot. There were props lying around, work to be done. Then, a male colleague entered the room and said he could share the work. ‘You sweep and tidy up the room, I will finish this work,’ he told me without batting an eye-lid. It was like we were at school again, where boys would be assigned to do high-profile jobs such as fixing a projector and arranging furniture, while women would be handed the task of sweeping the room,” she says.

One of the hardest fights that women in Indian cinema continue to fight is this gender bias. Meera Thalakkottur, a production manager who has worked on a number of high-profile projects, including Bejoy Nambiar’s Solo, actor Dhanush’s French co-production film Fakir, and Roshni Dinakar’s upcoming My Story, recalls to having met men who thought she wasn’t ‘mature’ and ‘capable’ enough to lead a set. “It wasn’t a one-off case,” she says.

Uma, a cinematographer who has an experience of over six years in Malayalam cinema, says the production houses in the film industry are yet to qualify her as an ‘experienced cinematographer’, thanks to her gender. “I have seen instances when filmmakers would recommend me for their films, but the producers would slyly ask them to replace me with an ‘experienced male DoP’,” she says. Uma has worked as an assistant cinematographer in several big budget feature films and commercials, and has cranked the camera for many short films and music videos. Her directorial debut, Across The Ocean, a crowd-funded English language film, is in the post-production stage. Many a time, male colleagues, as an act of chivalry, would offer to help her carry the heavy camera and lighting tools. “I find it offensive,” she says. “I chose this field of profession because I love it. I am good at it, and I have an experience of many years. I am as healthy as my male colleagues to lift a camera. So I make sure that I complete every job that the society thinks a woman can’t do.”

“Men would sit and crack jokes about female artistes that would border on obscenity. Their sense of morality would stop them from saying it aloud in front of me, but I have expressed my displeasure. Thus, you will remain the odd one at the work place,” says Dundhu.

“I know a number of women in the industry who have faced sexual harassment. Once, a colleague shared with me screenshots of text messages that a well-known man in the industry had sent her. She had expressed her displeasure verbally many times, yet he was in no mood to stop,” says Uma, adding that it would be a long time before young women in the industry gather courage to come out in public and fight harassment. “It’s not easy to raise voices against powerful men. It means risking their career. For a young woman looking to make a career in the film industry, ignoring such creeps and going ahead is often the only practical solution,” she says.

Meera feels Bollywood film sets have attained a decent level of gender equality, for there are a lot of women working behind the camera in the industry. “On Bollywood film sets, there are many women like me, executing the most pivotal tasks. No one questions our authority. No comments of sexual nature are raised,” she says. Formation of organisations like Women In Cinema Collective has indeed spread some hope among female professionals. “I suffered a bad health issue recently, and spent many weeks in hospital. I lost many job offers, went through a financial crunch, lost hope..,” says Mitta, who is now returning to work through a documentary project. “One of the founders of WCC, Sajitha Madathil, speaks to me often. She is extremely supportive and encouraging. Another member, a filmmaker, asked me if I could join her next film as a make-up artiste. It seems like a great support system,” she says. Dundhu and Uma agree that only an organised effort will fix the basic problems that women face in cinema. “To solve everything else, more and more women should enter the field,” they say.

At a set where there are more women crew members, the job becomes organised and smooth, says Uma, whose directorial had an equal number of female and male crew members. “The difference is very obvious. A very warm camaraderie formed between all the crew members. We were well-planned. No one felt left out. I think when there are more women on sets, it becomes a better work place,” she says.

*****

Read Part One: Women, Cinema & Sexism: Harvey Weinstein Has Opened Pandora’s Box & We Need To Deal With It

Tales From The Mountains: Interview With Ritu Sarin, Co-Founder Of Dharamshala International Film Festival

The Dharamshala International Film Festival, in essence, is a compilation of little-known, little-heard stories – from areas that are well removed from the bustling metros

In November, right before winter shrouds the Himalayas, a quiet mountain town in Himachal Pradesh becomes a hub of activity. Cinephiles and independent filmmakers flock to Dharamshala, a town that houses the headquarters of the Tibetan government in Exile, and also the venue of DIFF (Dharamshala International Film Festival). The four-day event screens several independent films from the Himalayan region and the rest of the world, and organises discussions anchored by noted personalities from Indian and international cinema.

Founded in 2012 by Ritu Sarin and Tenzin Sonam, the filmmaking couple known for their much-acclaimed feature film on Tibetan exile, Dreaming Lhasa, DIFF is now entering its sixth edition. Starting November 2 this year, the line-up of films include A Death In The Gunj by Konkona Sen Sharma, Village Rockstars by Assamese filmmaker Rima Das, and the Indian premiere of Out of This Worlda newly restored version of journalist and writer Lowell Thomas’s fascinating account of his travels in Tibet back in 1949.

Sarin and Sonam met when they were doing their under-graduation in Delhi. While Sarin later moved to Europe with a job in hand, Sonam, born into a family of Tibetan refugees in India, worked with the Tibetan Government In Exile in Dharamshala for a year, before moving to California with Sarin to study filmmaking. The couple’s filmography, which has over 15 films, includes The New Puritans: The Sikhs of Yuba City, a documentary on Indian immigrants in the US, and When Hari Got Married (2013), a documentary film.

Between preparations for DIFF, Sarin manages to cram in a telephonic conversation with Silverscreen.in. The topics of discussion range from cinema in the Himalayan region, Dharamshala, to the future of the charming film festival as she sees it.

*****

What motivated you to launch a film festival in Dharamshala, which is well removed from all major metro cities where mainstream cinema happens?

I have been living in Dharamshala for over 20 years now. There is no contemporary arts and culture scene in this region. It also has an eclectic population – people from the mountains, Tibetan exiles, expats, foreigners. We thought we could put to use this diversity to run a platform, perhaps a film festival, to promote the artistic activity in the region. We first launched a charitable trust, White Crane Films, which continues to handle DIFF’s operations.

This is the sixth edition of the film festival. Over the years, how has it transformed?

When we started out, we thought we were filling a niche space, catering to a limited local audience and the community, screening films from the local filmmakers. The past years proved us wrong. We have seen tremendous growth in the number of people coming here from across the country. Also, there are a lot of foreigners. We are still very much a niche festival, but we have been able to reach a lot more people than what we had thought.

We screen some of the best independent fiction and documentary films from around the world. We also present some of the best indie films from India and invite filmmakers over. We have a short film programme and also screen children’s films.

Over the years, I have seen the growth of some of the people who were with us right from the first edition of the festival. Filmmakers like Hansal Mehta, Q and Chaitanya Tamhane, whose films we screened in our early years, have gone on to become acclaimed filmmakers. There are many people who came here first with their short film, and then went on to make acclaimed feature films. For instance, we screened Shubhashish Bhutiani’s short film in a previous edition. Now, our festival opens with his Mukthi Bhawan.

DIFF also has a fellowship programme for young filmmaking talent from the Himalayan region. How is that going?

The intention is to bring forth the stories that lie cut off from the metro cities where the big industries are based. We want to promote the little film industries in this region, and the young indie filmmakers. Over the years, many youngsters have come here, got inspired, and went back to do good work. It is too early to say how much we have been able to influence the local film industries, but I hope we contributed to their growth in some way.

Recently, Karma Thakapa’s Ralang Road became the only Indian film to be screened at the prestigious Karlovy Vary Film Festival in Czech Republic. White Sun, a film by Nepalese filmmaker Deepak Rauniyar, which is Nepal’s official nomination for the Oscar awards, and Bhutanese filmmaker, Dechen Roder’s first feature film Honeygiver Among the Dogs will also be screened at this year’s DIFF.

According to you, what kind of films are expected of the Himalayan region?

I think there needs to be more films from the mountains, narrating local stories about the villages and small towns in this region. There has to be a wider range of films. I think it’s slowly happening.

How do you envision the future of DIFF?

We are happy with the festival as an intimate space to nurture filmmaking, and be a festival to encourage open conversations about cinema. We are still very much a niche film festival, functioning from a mountain with very limited facilities. The film fraternity and audience love coming here, and they want to come back again. I want to keep DIFF running for many years, doing good work, spreading love.

On the personal front, Tenzin and I are now finishing The Sweet Requim, a feature film about a young Tibetan exile living in Delhi. Hopefully, it will start travelling to film festivals from next year.

*****

Pic courtesy: DIFF Facebook Page

The Ritu Sarin Interview is a Silverscreen exclusive.

Secret Superstar Review: This Clever Underdog Tale Is A Clear Box-Office Winner

Insiya Malik looks like an average small-town girl. She isn’t a stellar student. She sits through the classes with a dull face, sometimes humming a song inside her head. She isn’t much of a head turner. But don’t you pass her for a mouse. For one, see what she does when her teacher asks her to take a seat in a fully packed classroom where students are sitting crammed even on the floor. Insiya is late to the class, and the teacher is clearly taking a dig at her. The girl coolly climbs atop a table and starts taking notes. In a later scene, a man steals her flight window seat, and asks her to ‘adjust’ with an aisle one. She refuses to yield. “I want my seat. Get up, uncle!,” she snaps at him. It’s her first flight journey, and she is unaccompanied.

This unflinching 15-year-old Vadodara girl (Zaira Wasim) is the protagonist of Advait Chandan’s Secret Superstar. Her household isn’t a very warm space. Her abba (father), a brooding man with a white collar job, is a wife-beating misogynist. When he goes about hitting and harassing his wife, the girl and her little brother, a very spirited Guddu, shut themselves in their bedroom, trembling with fear. What keeps Insiya going even in the face of this domestic violence, is a burning dream that she has been nurturing from childhood – to be a star singer; a rockstar the world looks upto. Supporting her in every way possible is her mother, Najma (Meher Vij), a very endearing woman.

It could have been a run-of-mill story of an underdog’s journey towards her dream, but Secret Superstar pulls off a far bigger feat. It offers little details of Insiya’s life that transforms her milieu into a very lifelike space. The characters too, come across as relatable people; it’s not hard to empathise with them in their moments of joy and distress. For instance, the camaraderie of the mother and kids come to the fore when abba leaves for work. Najma, Insiya and Guddu, who are otherwise quiet and alert to not to provoke abba by any means, transform into happy and carefree people, cooking unfamiliar recipes, dancing to western music, watching horror films, and going on short picnics. It is not overtly sugary or hideously warm. The film, like an expert mind reader, tugs the right parts of your heart. Even when Insiya is delivering a much filmy line like, “dream dekhna toh basic hota hai!” it doesn’t induce cringe. The film, at right instances, grows bigger than life, giving the audience what they want. That is what a perfect mainstream film does.

Even in the scenes of domestic violence, the film doesn’t shed its likable nature. They are shot with so much sensitivity, from the perspective of an early teenager. Insiya and her little brother are sent to the next room when their father is about to unleash violence on their mother. “Do you want this little boy to see what is going to happen?”, screams the man to Insiya and Najma when they plead him to stop. But the film also reminds us that the children do not stop seeing this routine violence. In a well-written and beautifully executed scene, the film shows us how the little boy, whom the father prefers over the women, reacts to it. Even without a cue, Guddu reaches out to Insiya and Najma in times of distress, doing his best, so that they don’t hate him for being loved by the father.

This earnest affability of the film is not surprising since it’s co-produced by Aamir Khan, the blue-eyed boy of box-office who is known for films infused with hope, goodness and positivity; those that assure the audience that all is well in life. Besides, the film has Aamir Khan in a highly amusing role that lets him (and the audience) have a lot of fun.

Khan is Shakthi Kumar, a music composer who proudly creates nonsensical party songs and juicy controversies on a routine basis. He is narcissistic and big-mouthed. Not a second does he appear real, thanks to Khan who overdoes the act, like a spoof. Yet Shakthi isn’t totally cringe-worthy. He is occasionally funny. Although he doesn’t transform into a savior or a hero at any point, but Shakthi Kumar sure entertains.

The friendship that Insiya shares with her mother occupies a pivotal role in the film. We see the latter first when she is at a railway station, to receive Insiya who is returning from a school trip. They do look like two teenage friends at first sight – giggling over inconsequential things, sharing gossips during a rickshaw journey back home, and Insiya examining Najma’s black eye, the first sign that tells us about the domestic violence Najma meekly endures on a daily basis. This short rickshaw trip acts as a wonderful character establishment scene that tells us how pleasant our time with these characters – genuine and intriguing – are going to be.

Not that the characters are sugar-coated. They come with their own rough edges. Aamir Khan’s Shakthi Kumar is a proud flirt who blatantly embraces controversies. Rarely does he complete a sentence without using the words ‘babes’ and ‘sexy’. Insiya blows a fuse many a time. When she is angry, she breaks things, snaps at even the nicest people, and becomes a minor version of her father. Her Ammi’s subservience to her monstrous husband borders on unreasonable. But the film has it’s own logic in retaining these characters the flawed way they are. When stitched together, they make a fine piece of attire.

Zaira is an exceptional actress. She handles every scene with an incredible maturity, careful enough to not let any expression go overboard. But it is not just she who excels. The supporting cast, including Meher Vij, Tirth Sharma, who plays her sweet boyfriend, Raj Arjun, who plays abba, Kabir Shaikh who plays Guddu, and the actress who plays their granny, has delivered a fantastic performance.

Secret Superstar is yet another Aamir Khan film that serves as a lesson on making a perfect feel-good drama using all stereotypes available. The Muslim father is a wife-beater and the divorce lawyer is a stern-faced feminist whom men despises. The first song that Insiya uploads on her YouTube channel goes viral, and every nasty character she encounters in life (barring her dad), turn out to be good-hearted people. Yet, Secret Superstar soars high, thanks to the performances, and the intelligent editing that structures the narrative with perfect pauses and punches. None of the cliches induce a yawn. Anil Mehta’s camera work might appear clinical, but nothing in the film looks random. Everything is placed carefully to evoke drama. And it has worked brilliantly.

***

The Secret Superstar 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.

Slightly Off Mainstream: 7 Lesser Known Gems On Netflix India

Over the last few years, a number of online streaming websites have entered the Indian entertainment market. With Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hotstar, the Indian audience are no more caught between the new releases in theaters and the limited choices dished out by the television channels. From classic Hollywood and original series to Asian animes, Netflix India has left us spoilt for choice.

Here is a list of lesser known gems (not bound by any criteria) streaming on Netflix India:

Our Souls At night

Ritesh Batra’s film, set in an American small-town, might remind one of his acclaimed debut film, The Lunch Box. The films share a similar pace, and characters who are past the prime of their youth. They fall in love, defying the judgmental gaze of the society, and the warmth of this romance cheer up their otherwise lonely life. In Our Souls At Night, Louise, a retired school teacher, is taken by surprise, when his neighbour, Addie, pays him him a visit at night and puts forth a strange proposal to start sleeping together at night. “It’s not about sex,” she assures him. It turns out that both of them are suffering from a similar problem – getting through the lonely night, fighting insomnia. Their casual sleepovers make way to a deep romance that fills their life once again with adrenaline and joy. Our Souls At Night is an unabashedly romantic film that cares deeply for its characters.

Bluejay

Alex Lehmann’s monochromatic film is about two high-school flames getting back together for a day in the town where they first met. The film stars Mark Duplass, who also wrote the screenplay, and Sarah Paulson, as the former ‘lovebirds’ who were once the envy of their classmates. There are no supporting characters, or a conventional plot twist. The characters meet, treat themselves to a bad cup of coffee, listen to some old tapes, and talk. The mood is akin to Richard Linklater’s Before series, yet less romantic. Duplass is fantastic as the broken man, while Paulson charmingly hides her woes beneath a veil of smile.

Aankhon Dekhi

Rajat Kapoor’s 2014 Indie super hit is one of the best Indian films streaming on Netflix. It has an excellent cast, comprising of Sanjay Mishra, Rajat Kapoor, Seema Pahwa, Maya Sarao, among others, who bring the charming milieu of old Delhi alive on screen. Mishra is Bauji, a grey-haired middle-class man who, one fine day, decides to not take every mundane things in life for granted. This new approach to life earns him many admirers, but jeopardises his job and his relationship with Rishi (Rajat Kapoor), his brother. The old man is, however, is determined to live life by his ideals. To the men who wants to follow his views, he says, “Search your own truth. Don’t just borrow my truth.” Aankhon Dekhi is a delightful film that revels in its simplicity.

Ozhivu Divasathe Kali (An Off-day Game)

Sanal Kumar Sasidharan’s 2015 film is one of the few Indian indie movies that have managed to impress the film festival audience and box-office alike. Shot without a definite screenplay, with a non-star cast, the film starts as an unsuspecting drama centered around a bunch of friends who get together on a hartal day, to have some fun, and ends on an edgy note. It cuts open the dark interiors of the male psyche. The film bagged the Kerala State Award for the best feature film that year.

Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories

The Japanese’s affair with food is as spiritual as sensuous. Midnight Diner, a Netflix original series directed by Joji Matsuoka, is adapted from a popular Manga comics of the same title. Centered around a small eatery that runs from midnight 12 to morning 7, the first season of the series has 10 episodes. The anchor of every story is the eatery’s enigmatic chef, known to everyone as Master. He has a bunch of regular customers who treat the eatery as an adda where they can unburden their stress as well as share their happiness. Some of the customers include a female taxi driver whom other customers identify as a yesteryear television actress, and her friend, a former actor who disappeared from the acting field for his hidden identity as a cross-dresser. He comes out in public through a midnight radio show hosted by a fellow customer at the eatery. The eatery, although set in one of the busiest streets of Tokyo, has an oracular existence. One of the episodes concludes with the spirit of a customer’s mother waving at him from outside the restaurant’s window. Yet it doesn’t look bizarre, for Midnight Diner is a space where regular life blends with the spiritual world, in the most endearing style.

Amdavad Ma Famous

Hardik Mehta’s national award winning film about the famous kite-flying festival of Ahmedabad doesn’t have the aspirations of a conventional documentary. The film follows Zaid, a 11-year-old boy, is a devoted kite-flier, as he speeds through the narrow gallies and climbs precariously the rooftops of Ahmedabad with the confidence of an expert. Mehta and his crew followed Zaid for six days over a period of two years to make the 30-minute documentary film, a witty and technically brilliant work that captures the spirit of an Indian city, among other delightful things. It has great visuals – the kind you rarely find in Indian documentary films that are often sombre works by filmmakers reluctant to experiment with the form or be funny. The film is slickly edited, further enriched by Manoj Goswami’s sound design and an aptly cheerful background score composed by Alokananda Dasgupta.

Munroe Island

Munroe Island isn’t an easy watch. The critically acclaimed Malayalam indie film, directed by debutante Manu, is set in a house perched on a small strip of land, surrounded by backwaters. The old patriarch who lives in the house gets a guest in many years, his grandson, who hasn’t visited the island in over a decade. The young man is clearly disturbed, and his grandpa hopes that the island, wrapped in a solemn silence, would relieve him. There is a poetic quality to the film’s visuals that are as fluid as the water that surrounds the house. Munroe Island also features one of the best performances from Indrans, the veteran comic actor who transforms brilliantly into a frail old patriarch here.

*****

Given the gamut of choice, Silverscreen will carry a weekly review on the films/documentaries/television series available on these digital platforms. This list is a work in progress and we will keep updating it.

 

Kaattu Review: An Intense Tale Of Love & Revenge That Doesn’t Get The Treatment It Deserves

One of the most affecting moments in Arun Kumar Aravind’s Kaattu (Wind) is when a nameless old man, affectionately addressed as mooppan (leader), walks into his one-room cracker factory with a morbid sense of determination. Moments ago, he had dropped a few hints to his tightly locked up past. We realise that the ever-so-calm man might have been carrying a broken heart. But Kaattu doesn’t spend much lines on what caused it. Instead, the enigmatic calmness with which he faces the death becomes the point of focus. He sits up inside the room, surrounded by loads of explosives, and takes a final puff. This sequence has a lyrical quality. The cinematic fineness that is, unfortunately, absent in the rest of the film.

Kaattu, starring Murali Gopi and Asif Ali in the lead roles, is set in the 70s. Perhaps to emphasise on the period, the makers have chosen to paint the screen in a bizarre shade of yellow and orange. In any case, Kaattu doesn’t go easy on the audience’s eyes. It is not just the overtly cosmetic visuals that causes damage, but the editing (by Arun Kumar himself) that fails to hold the narrative together. More than often, the film evokes a sense of disarray, as if the shots and scenes are stitched together without giving a thought to it.

For one, in the initial sequence, the film traverses forth and back two time periods, to narrate the tragic love story of Muthulakshmi (a very effectual Varalakshmi Sarathkumar). She is the daughter of the headman of a village which regards racial purity over anything else. The flashback transition isn’t smooth. Muthulakshmi, forced to abandon her lover and marry her much elder and now disabled uncle, is suffering in silence. Just as we begin to take an interest in her, the film moves to a Kerala countryside where the male protagonists live, and it would be over an hour before we would be revisiting her village.

Chellappan (Murali Gopi) is a lone wolf, yet to come to terms with a lost love. He is the rustic version of the alpha men found in director Ranjith’s films; only more rooted and convincing. He assists mooppan in the cracker manufacture business. Although the wise old mooppan is a natural patriarch within their group, it is Chellappan who assumes the role of a leader for his dare-devilry and physical power. Right from his first scene, he comes across as a hero material. At a lowly toddy bar in the village, he witnesses a meek lamp of a young man, Noohu Kannu (Asif Ali), a bearer being taunted and harassed by his boss. Without a second thought, he stands up for the latter, fights off the bar owner’s thugs, and takes him away from the bar, and hands him over to mooppan as an apprentice. We are provided with many a scenes of Chellappan’s sexual adventures, and some of them are placed at the oddest spots in the narrative, leaving us wondering where Kaattu is heading to.

The naive Noohu Kannu, with a mane that resembles a hay bale, is treated like a house cat. Chellappan and other workers tease him, pamper him, and become the family that he doesn’t have. There are some fantastic moments that delineate the camaraderie of the men who spend their days with booze and women, unconcerned about future. The woman in the film are an unlucky lot, acting like puppets in the hands of men. The sex-deprived Parvathy (Saritha) and film-obsessed Ummukulsu are watched from a male point of view. The film ridicules them for their silliness; treats them as sheer objects of desire.

The only aberration is the rich and more sophisticated Muthulakshmi who is the sole woman Chellappan claims to have some respect for. Kaattu unfolds in a male territory, and whatever it attempts to say about women, sound as loud as an empty vessel.

Murali Gopi is excellent as Chellappan, a role he effortlessly nails to perfection. However, it is his co-star Asif Ali who takes the cake with his interesting performance as the village fool. The actor, a star of his own rights in real life, transforms himself into Noohu Kannu, delivering a much nuanced performance. He marvelously underplays in his combination scenes with Murali Gopi with a self-restraint which is rarely seen in Asif Ali’s films. He might not be the best of his generation of actors, but Ali, certainly, is a keen learner. Scripts betray him quite often, as it does here in Kaattu, but he is slowly upping his game, earnestly taking up roles that need him to break himself and rebuild.

***

The Kattu 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 Food Becomes A Character: Scenes That Please The Eye And The Palate

A weekly/bi-weekly column that explores the portrayal of food on screen.

There are not many charmers in the universe of cinema like a well-made food movie. For years, filmmakers across the world have served on screen scenes set around dinner tables that function as an ideal social glue, bringing people together, and helping them open up and negotiate ideas. Also, there are films that simply let their characters indulge in food, sometimes meditatively, as you see in Jiro’s Dream Of Sushi, or in the innocuous act of devouring it with no concern for other worldly matters.

Last week, Saif Ali Khan’s Chef, a movie centered around food and travel, was released in the theatres. The film has the protagonist, Roshan (Khan), and his son embarking on a road trip in their food truck from Fort Kochi, along the Konkan coast. Chef takes you on a food tour – from a thattukada (tuck shop) serving puttu and kadala in Kochi, to a restaurant serving roti-pizza in Goa – like an ideal guide.

Indian cinema’s relationship with food began long ago, in the black and white era. One of the most iconic scenes in Indian cinema is the one where Ghatotkacha gobbles up a whole wedding feast in KV Reddy’s classic film, Mayabazaar (1956). A more recent film, Angamaly Diaries, had plenty of scenes where people in a Kerala small-town gorge on spicy pork curry. Some of these films are tempting enough to nudge you to get up and grab a bite, or even cook up a storm in your kitchen. For one, Rajat Kapoor’s Aankhon Dekhi (2013), where a bunch of fun-loving folks cozy up on a roof-top house and chat while sipping endless cups of ginger tea, can stir in you an urge to brew a hot cup of chai for yourself.

Here are other Indian films that were memorable for its food tales:

The Lunch Box

Ritesh Batra’s 2013 film is centered around Ila, a middle-class housewife in Mumbai, whose daily life includes the lengthy process of cooking her husband’s favourite dishes, carefully packing them in a box, and sending the lunch box to him through Mumbai’s iconic dabbawalas. One day, however, the lunch box gets mixed up and reaches the wrong man, a somber government officer. As the technical glitch in the delivery system becomes routine, a delicate romance blooms between Ila and the stranger, and the lunch box becomes their love letter. She devotes herself more to the process of cooking, prepares every dish like it’s a piece of art, and waits for him to comment on it.

Mr Butler

In Dileep’s Mr Butler, there is a long endearing scene where the protagonist, a cheerful chef, finds himself trapped inside an elevator with a stranger, a lovely woman. No points for guessing that these two would end up being lovers, but the surprise is in the way the film makes them fall for each other. When it becomes clear that they would have to spend the night inside the elevator, the man gets down to business. He pulls out a foldable stove from his suitcase, a bunch of vegetables, a knife, and a packet of basmati rice, and like a magician, he prepares a delicious dinner of pulao and side-salad. It was this scene that made the film, otherwise a mediocre fare, a memorable one in Malayalam cinema.

Vagai Sooda Vaa

A young woman falls head over heels in love with a newly-appointed teacher at the village school. She decides to convey her feelings in the best way possible; by treating him to the tastiest traditional meals that she prepares in her tiny kitchen. In the melodious song, Sara Sara, you see her making sumptuous dishes of country chicken, fish and snails, and serving them to him lovingly on a plantain leaf. Vaagai Sooda Va, apart from being a socially-relevant film on the importance of education, is a coffee table book on rural Tamil Nadu cuisine.

Salt And Pepper 

Salt And Pepper, the second directorial of Aashiq Abu, brought to the reel world the rich food culture of Kerala. The film, a feel-good love story wrapped in crispy ghee dosas, omelettes, banana fritters and cakes, opens to a montage that features the best eateries from across the length and breadth of the state. Kalidasan, a staunch foodie, falls in love with Maya, a dubbing artiste blessed with exceptional culinary talent, over a phone call. Their romance progresses over phone conversations around food. He goes in search of the tuck shop that sells a fine variety of dosa upon her recommendation, and she prepares a rainbow cake following the recipe that he gives. When life seems to go nowhere, lonely Kalidasan seeks refuge in his kitchen filled with pickles, wines and delicious dishes that his beloved cook, Babu, prepares everyday. The scent of dosa and chutney reminds Maya of her late mother. There are not many Indian films like Salt and Pepper that have used food to touch tongues and souls alike.

Premam

It doesn’t take much for George, a baker, to fall in love with Celine, a young fashion designer. Look at him watching her relishing a lovely piece of red velvet cake – he is clearly smitten. Alphonse Putheren’s Premam, a film that is adrenaline-driven, takes a pause in this part to enjoy the sight of Celine devouring the cake. Legend has it that red velvet found a place in the menu card of hip confectioneries after the release of Premam.

Ustad Hotel

A quaint eatery by the sea-side becomes a ‘soul kitchen’ in Anwar Rasheed’s Ustad Hotel. Written by Anjali Menon and starring Thilakan and Dulquer Salmaan, the film revolves around the eatery Ustad Hotel and its founding chef, Kareem (Thilakan), who regards food as a bypass to one’s soul. His grandson, Faizzi (Dulquer), leaves his palatial home and takes shelter with Kareem, and slowly learns the secret to the latter’s signature biryani and some lessons in humanity.

Rab Ne Banadi Jodi

Shah Rukh Khan and Anushka Sharma indulge in a gol gappa eating contest in Aditya Chopra’s 2008 film, Rab Ne Banadi Jodi, making for an interesting two-minute-long scene set in one of Delhi’s old narrow streets. It is not a scene integral to the movie, yet the charm that it exudes adds to the film’s flavour.

*****

‘There Is No Handwriting Of Mine That Goes Over All My Work’: Interview With ‘Chef’ Cinematographer Priya Seth

For Priya Seth, one of the few women cinematographers in India, breaking stereotypes is a part of her job. A graduate in economics and a post-graduate in filmmaking from New York, Amritsar-based Priya started off as a cinematographer in the world of television commercials.

Priya is also one of the few underwater cinematographers in the country. In 2009, she worked in her first feature film, Barah Anna, which was directed by Rajakrishna Menon who roped her in again for his Airlift in 2015 and Chef (2016). Industry-insiders describe her as an immensely resourceful person who never loses cool on film sets.

Chef, a movie centered around food, travel and relationships, released last Friday. In conversation with Silverscreen, Priya explains what went into the making of the film, which is an official remake of Jon Favreau’s American comedy-drama of the same name.

*****

How did you approach Chef? Did the original American film serve as a reference at all?

I deliberately didn’t watch the American film before filming because I didn’t want to get influenced. I don’t look at films for reference. You can’t really do that. Everything is different in our film than how it is in the American one. There is really nothing I felt I could take from that.

One of the foremost ideas was not to make the film look like a food commercial. It has to look organic, it has to look real. I have been involved in Chef right from its pre-production stage. Raja and I have been working together for so many years now, and have a very good understanding of each other. So there is no briefing really, and it is a very organic process. We pretty much have the same opinion about how things should be shot, right from the time we start reading the script.

What was the hardest part of filming Chef?

We were travelling so much. So we needed to have a lighting plan for every single day. A good part of the film happens on a bus, so we needed rigs. You need to have a plan in place before starting the shoot because you’re not coming back to re-shoot. We worked on a very tight schedule. I think that was very tough. We didn’t have the opportunity to go back or reschedule anything. Not even half a day. We were always on the move, and there were a lot of locations. We used sync sound, and we had a little trouble in Kerala because of that. People were not cooperative in some places.

What were the preparations that went behind making the film?

Raja and I come from the philosophy of prepping very very hard. We plan every detail of the shoot a couple of months ahead, so when we are on the sets, we are only executing a plan. The lighting is already done in my head. We don’t sit and plan in the morning as to what we need to do that day. Of course, things could change on the sets, and unexpected things can happen, but at least you are working towards what you had planned. Sometimes, I go back to take a look at my notes when the final film is ready, and I smile to myself, because I can’t believe the level of detail we had brought to what we had planned. I like to work like that. It’s also important because everyone needs to know what you are doing in advance.

Tell us about the equipment you used. How big was your camera crew? 

 I used Alexa Mini with Cooke lenses. We wanted to keep a Small Form Factor because we’re always moving around. I wanted something small that I could handhold easily and could stick in small places.

I work with a small group. I don’t like to work with many assistants. I work with two assistants and a focus puller. Then of course, I have my lighting team. Bigger the crew, the more confusing it is for everybody.

Not many Bollywood films have been shot in Kochi, the south Indian coastal town. Chef was filmed in Fort Kochi, a cultural melting pot. How was the experience of shooting in a landscape mainstream Hindi cinema isn’t very familiar with?
 
The fact that Raja is from Kerala helped Chef. The state, its culture and people play a large part in the setting of the film. What is interesting for me is that I kept telling Raja that we are like foreigners here. And that’s great because it gave me very fresh eyes. I was reacting to things that was probably mundane stuff that people over there would take for granted.

For Airlift and Chef, we shot in places where there were hundred kinds of visuals available. We just had to find a universe for our characters to inhabit in, and maintain that consistency. The store they go to, the house they live in  – everything should look like they belong to one universe. We have to find a world within a world. In Chef, we have been able to find this consistency in Kerala as well as in Goa.

How do you work with your costume designers, production designers?

We sit down and work out everything in advance. We all are working towards achieving one visual. If you look at the costumes in Chef, you will see that we have used one particular palette. Chef is a colourful film, but the colours are not all over the place. We have tried to keep it in a very narrow band.

Did you work on the visuals in the post-production stage?

I graded for a month. I don’t change everything that I shot. That’s not how I like to do it. We do very subtle things that fine-tune the visuals. Everything else should happen at the time of the shooting. By the time the film reaches the grading stage, the visuals are pretty much locked. With more and more technology, the post-production process has become easier. You complicate it when you don’t understand it.

Isn’t filming a feature film very different from shooting an advertisement film?
It is completely different. For a commercial, the most important thing is to make stylish pictures. There, we are trying to communicate an idea in a very short span of time. In cinema, I think it’s more difficult because you have to communicate an idea over a longer span of time, using stylish images, and also, maintain a consistency throughout. The craft might be the same, but they are very different things.

Airlift was not a pretty film. It was very gritty and very real because the subject demanded that.

Chef is about food and travel, and we had to make the environment look pretty and pleasing. Eventually, you are selling an idea.

Do you believe that it is ideal to make the visuals look natural and realistic?
No, I don’t. We are not shooting documentaries, but films. And there is a certain cinematic quality that it calls for. We’re not going out and capturing real life. We are trying to sell something more idealistic. In terms of design and shots, it could be realistic. Yet, it has to be mounted as a film.

Do you have a preference for filming using natural light?

I think we all like to shoot in natural light. What happens is that to shoot in natural light, you will need an assistant director to sharply schedule everything according to sunlight. If we have that luxury, I would very much like to shoot in natural light.

But that doesn’t mean natural light is always the right choice. As I said, we aren’t shooting a documentary. I will light up a scene in my way to make it look cinematic, if the scene demands that. I am not married to natural light. Lighting is not about illumination, it’s a craft.

Do you consciously try to bring a signature style to your visuals, make it look different from the work of others?
 I don’t believe that my voice should stand apart. The film should look like what the script demands. What I try to get into every film is what it requires. If you see the two films (Airlift and Chef ), I don’t think you’ll see anything similar in the way they were shot because there is no handwriting of mine that goes over all my work.

These days, a lot of people depend on their mobile phones and tablets for movie watching. What do you think of this change in the way people watch films?

Actually, I ask myself that a lot, and struggle to answer it. It is true, of course. Half the films that are being shot end up being watched on mobile phones. Now, is it going to change the way we shoot? We shoot for the big screen experience, and after the movie reaches the public domain, we can’t control them. Will we have to start shooting our films like the television, I don’t know.  In television, they use mid-shots and close-ups the most because the screen is smaller.

There are cinematographers who say that their love for images comes from still photography, and there are certain others who say it’s scripts, stories and cinema that drew them to cinematography. What about you?
My interest doesn’t stem from still photography, but from filmmaking. I think of myself first as a filmmaker, and then a cinematographer. You need to have an understanding of cinema in order to be a cinematographer. Photography, for me, is secondary. I do a lot of photography, but I do it because I enjoy it. My background in reading has been art and history of art. So the idea of images and crafting images and light appealed to me immensely.

You are one of the few underwater cinematographers in the country.

That was a complete accident. Prahlad Kakkar, who is one of the foremost ad filmmakers in India, runs a diving school in Lakshadweep. I bumped into him one day, and he told me young cinematographers were not interested in doing anything different. He literally ordered me to go to Lakshadweep, learn how to dive, and start doing underwater photography. I had never dived before, although I was always a good swimmer. Anyway, I went and I tried my hand at it. I loved it. I came back and started doing underwater photography for films and TV commercials.

I consider it a great little gift because I am able to go underwater, and light up, and shoot. It just lets me do all the things that I love to do.

All three feature films you have worked in were directed by your long-time friend, Rajakrishna Menon. Is that a conscious choice to only work with people you are close to?

I would like to work with other people as well. It’s always good to work with people you get along with very well because it’s on a film set that you spend a large part of your year. And as I am getting older, I want to work with people I get along with. Otherwise, it is not worth it at the end.  I don’t want to feel miserable while creating good work.

Not just friends, but with people who create a good work environment on set. Sets where people are shouting and yelling at each other is something both Raja and I really don’t believe in. There needs to be a decorum. There is no reason for people to be yelling, shouting and screaming at each other, being nasty to one another. That’s something I am really firm about.

I have seen this tendency to control a film set with fear in film industries all over the country, not just in Bollywood. We tend to believe that filmmaking is a great calling, and we are creating some great piece of art, so that gives us the power to treat people badly. I think you can create equal or greater quality work with more dignity.

Atmosphere on the sets need to change. In the films I have worked in, we take a day off every week. I don’t think it’s necessary to work 40 days straight on a set. It is not possible. In our (work) culture, there is no respect for people’s  time or energy.

Is there a film or a filmmaker who inspires you?

Many many films. More than I can list here.  If you want one name, I will tell you about the man who inspired me the most. He is not a cinematographer, but a filmmaker whose films I keep going back to again and again. Andrei Tarkovsky.

His films might appear different when you watch it in different stages of your life. The same film offers you many different perspectives. His films are a book on philosophy, and he has a powerful visual language. Among his films, my favourite is Nostalgia.

Among the more contemporary filmmakers, my favourite is Terrence Mallick. He has a maverick way of setting up shots. He fails a lot, he succeeds a lot. He keeps experimenting. People like him are allowed to fail many times because they are always pushing something ahead. I have all the time in the world to watch his ‘failed’ experiments because those are good failures. They inspire me a lot.

*****

The Priya Seth interview is a Silverscreen exclusive.

Solo Review: A Bejoy Nambiar Film That Once Again Explores The Psyche Of Alpha-Male Protagonists

Bejoy Nambiar’s Solo is a portmanteau of stories of four different men, played by Dulquer Salmaan, who lose their women at various stages in life. Nambiar is fixated with how these men react to tragedy – the grief of the man who loses his wife at childbirth, the vengeance of the husband whose wife dies for the fault of others, the repressed gloom of the son who is separated from his beloved mother as a child, and the wounded ego of a young man whose girlfriend walks out on him one fine day.

Solo has a powerful, occasionally flashy soundscape that grows taller than the film altogether. For every moment, every situation, there is a music track, carefully composed and blended to the narrative. For the most part, Solo belongs to the 11 composers and technicians who worked in the sound department.

The writing, however, isn’t very smart, and sometimes, it slips into pure inanity. There is an absence of reason in many parts of the film, and often, you see the film’s drama punching above the weight of the situations. There is an ensemble cast, consisting of talented actors like Nasser, Suhasini and Manoj K Jayan, whose presence in the film are more or less inconsequential, for Solo is a soulless film that thrives on being flatulent.

Nambiar has inserted an exotic Shiva analogy to his stories. His characters are named after the various other names of Shiva – Shekhar, Trilok, Shiva and Rudra. The stories are linked to the four elements – Water, Wind, Fire and Earth. Blame it on the narrative that fumbles a lot, but what shines brightest in the stories is the inflated male ego of the protagonists whose obsession with their women turns out to be nothing, but an expression of narcissism. They make blatant claims to the women – “she belongs to me” and “she is mine” – throughout the film. Nambiar’s men do not need their women as much as they want to own them.

While the stuttering Shekhar is the most endearing of all characters, it’s Shiva who commands your attention. It’s in this segment, which unfolds in Mumbai, a territory Nambiar is more familiar with, that the film gains some momentum and credibility. Shiva, a brooding young henchman, isn’t much of a talker. There are intense, quiet moments in the film that testify how good an actor Dulquer has become. For one, when he is watching a CCTV footage of his father’s murder, Shiva’s face betrays the slightest hint of emotion. Otherwise, he could well be carved of stone.

The strongest moment in the film also falls in this segment. Sai Tamhankar, who plays the partner of a gangster (Qaushiq Mukherjee), turns mother to a motherless young man for a night after he witnesses his brother succumbing to gunshots. With a poignancy that is unseen in her initial scenes, she lets him sleep on her lap.

The feat of Shiva can also be attributed to cinematographer Sejal Shah’s formidable camera that moves on and around the characters, and through the dark narrow alleys of Mumbai like a wise and mature being. The frames that it captures are gorgeous.

The segment that causes the most harm belongs to Rudra; Dulquer plays an army man who has the temperament of a live wire. Like a Mani Ratnam hero, he barges into the living room of his girlfriend’s family, and lands a punch on the face of her prospective groom, a harmless young man who rightfully demands an explanation to the absurd proceedings. The girl, Akshara (Neha Sharma), delivers her share of insults to the injured man, revealing to him how ugly he looks beside her. While one hopes that these two nasty people spend their life together, sparing others of the misery, Akshara disappears later, and cuts all ties with Rudra. It is a long-winded segment that comes to a screeching halt at a self-ruinous point.

It is not just the asinine writing that does the damage. Nambiar’s lack of concern for the milieu of his characters is disastrous. The characters function in a universe disconnected from the places where the story is set in. Even when they are speaking Malayalam, dancing by the backwaters, and singing chaste Malayali tunes like, “Aalayalam thara venam“, you can see how alien they are in their surroundings. The dubbing sounds stilted. The costumes and production design look prosthetic.

The starkest victim of this shortcoming is actor Soubin Shahir, who plays the protagonist’s friend in the first segment. His local accent and fantastically-rooted mannerisms appear as an oddball in a crowd of non-Malayali actors like Sai Dhansika, John Vijay and Siddharth Menon, whose credibility as a Malayali is almost nil. Soubin makes an ardent effort to make up for the uninspiring business he is a part of, but there is only so much that an actor can do about the mess that Solo is.

Among the supporting cast, Ann Augustine stands out. She, as Annie, the wife of Justin (Anson Antony), the hapless man who becomes the subject of Trilok’s unreasonable act of vengeance, puts up a nuanced performance. Look at her throwing a subtly menacing glance at her husband while talking about the camaraderie that he shared with her father. Sai Dhansika looks gorgeous as Radhika, although the same cannot be said about her performance as a visually-impaired dancer. Neha Sharma is loud and over-the-top as Akshara, while Sruthi Hariharan’s sincere efforts as the suffering spouse of Shiva gets undone by clumsy dubbing.

Solo is yet another act of overbearing self-indulgence that Bejoy Nambiar’s films are. Clearly, he is fascinated with the dark, vulnerable and morbid moments of alpha males. He spends an unwarranted amount of time exploring them with the help of stylised visuals and excellent music. In Wazir, his protagonist, a powerful cop mending a broken heart, sneaks into the bungalow of a union minister, and assassinates him. The logical fallacies of the act take a backseat, and Nambiar naively reduces his narrative into a dark, overtly dramatic music video. Solo suffers the same fate.

*****

The Solo 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.

Bejoy Nambiar Interview: “I Would Love To Live In Sai Paranjpye’s Universe”

How would a filmmaker, who identifies himself as a Mumbaikar, cater to the growing appetite for rooted films in Kerala? Bejoy Nambiar talks about making Solo, the bilingual featuring Dulquer Salman, growing up with and around movies, and his love for silence. 

A late Saturday evening; Sreekar Prasad’s editing studio in Saligramam brims with life. It’s the day after Dulquer Salman’s birthday, when the teaser of Solo was released at a low-key event at LV Prasad Film Academy.

Sreekar Prasad and his team flit in and out of the rooms in the old, one-storeyed building. They are busy; the post-production work of Solo is currently underway, and the editing studio is a hotbed of activity.

This is where I meet Bejoy Nambiar, the man behind Solo.

I’ll never make a bilingual again, he sighs as we sit for a long conversation. “It is exhausting because you do twice the work.”

A moment passes by, and he laughs.

“But, I am sure I will end up making another after such promises.”

Solo is an oxymoronic title for a collection of four stories. Dulquer Salmaan plays the lead in every segment, and Bejoy promises that the film will feature an “entirely different side of Dulquer”.

*****

Bejoy Nambiar is a quintessential Mumbaikar. He grew up in a household of movie-buffs. “Everyone at home loved watching films. VHS library was like my second haven. Naturally, I grew up watching a lot of films, and listening to a lot of music.”

When he was in Bangalore as a student, he worked with the Theatre Club Of Bangalore, for which he directed a play, ‘Getaway’ – also the name of his production house. In 2005, he shot to fame with his first directorial, a short film titled Reflections, with Mohanlal playing the lead role. He also assisted Mani Ratnam in Guru (2007).

In 2008, Bejoy, who was 28, won Sony Pix’s Gateway, a celebrated short-film contest judged by Ashok Amritraj, Rajat Kapoor and Anurag Basu, along with Santosh Sivan. “He truly represents the Indian filmmaker of today with his style and technique,” remarked Amritraj, chairman of Hyde Park Entertainment, an internationally renowned production company. Post the win, Bejoy underwent an eight-week internship with Ashok Amritraj and Hyde Park Entertainment in Los Angeles.

His Hollywood career never took off, but Bejoy announced his entry in Indian cinema in 2011 with Shaitan, a brilliant crime drama centered on a bunch of youngsters, played by fresh faces. One of the producers of the film was Anurag Kashyap. The film won him several awards, including the Screen Award for the most promising debut director.

In 2013, he made his first bilingual, David, a drama, in Hindi and Tamil. The film had an ensemble cast – Vikram, Neil Nitin Mukesh and Jiiva among others. The film tanked at the box-office, and earned mixed reviews. However, its unconventional narrative structure, stylised visuals and great music didn’t go unnoticed. In 2016, Bejoy made Wazir, starring Amitabh Bachchan and Farhan Akhtar. A dark crime thriller, the film was scripted by Vidhu Vinod Chopra.

Solo is his first Malayalam movie, and also, his first anthology. “Shaitan and Wazir had parallel narratives. I think I prefer complex narratives to a simple story. I had done that once, for a telefilm for Zee about a dysfunctional relationship. It’s not yet out,” he says.

Bejoy Nambiar, Mani Ratnam and Dulquer Salman at Solo Press Meet

But why was Solo made in two languages?

“During one of our meetings, Dulquer said, ‘why don’t we make this film in Tamil, too?’

I liked the idea. If we could cast it correctly, it could work. And Dulquer is a familiar face in Tamil Nadu. If I’d had a chance, I would have tried to make it in Hindi too. It’s just a matter of time before he cracks it in Bollywood. I know many filmmakers in Hindi who are keen to work with Dulquer. I am pretty sure he will be there very soon. If not with anyone else, I will do a film with him there.

The film has an ensemble cast. It must have been quite a task to manage the set.

Every story had its set of cast, and we were doing it in two languages, so some stories had two sets of cast for each language. But I had an excellent team working with me. The production department made sure that things went as smooth as possible.

Are you a good manager?

I have a Masters degree in Business. Something that I’d learned there must have rubbed off here; but at the end, filmmaking is also about managing people. To convince people to follow one vision, and to get them all to help you execute it, requires a certain kind of skill that you acquire over a period of time. The first one might be rough; you learn from the first – in the second, there has to be some progress, not just with managing people, but also to get the work done.

What is the biggest lesson that you’ve learned over the years?

To work with people who are as enthusiastic as you about the project. They should want to work for the film, rather than reasons like money and fame. Also, they must possess the need to do something different – both actors and technicians. They are not doing an easy job.

Is this also because of the fact that sometimes when production gets delayed, and plans go awry, you need people with conviction to stand by you?

Most of the time, production gets delayed. Solo was supposed to be released in June, but it had to be pushed. We have two sets of actors, three different camera men; we were supposed to have four cameramen, but then, there were logistical issues. We couldn’t get the date. So Gireesh (Gangadharan) was sweet enough to step in. All that took time.

Do you rehearse and plan a lot before the shoot?

I am someone who rehearses and does a lot of workshop before the shoot. For all my films, I have tried my best to rehearse as much as possible. Shaitan, I think, was the most rehearsed film of mine. Every scene was planned carefully. That luxury, I have not had for my other films. I don’t believe in the concept of just going [without preparation] to the sets. It really helps me. It gives me an idea of how the actor’s going to do in a scene, so it’s not a surprise. We don’t work without a bound script, and a shooting script. Dialogues, sometimes we improvise [on sets] to make them better.

When scripting, what comes to you first – visuals, or the plot / characterisation?

I don’t know if it’s a bad thing to love good visuals, but it has to go in tandem with the storytelling. The moment it starts to dominate, it’s only about looking at post-cards. There needs to be balance. I look forward to what each person brings to the table. Be it the cameraman or the actors. Although we go with a shooting script, I always wait to see what they can contribute to the film that I haven’t imagined yet. You know, I wait for that magic to happen. It’s not just about clinically executing a written scene, but also to capture that one moment which may or may not be there in the script. I am someone who pushes forever, not just with actors, but with technicians and everyone else. It harks back to what I had been talking about how charged they are about the film we are making.

For instance, during Wazir, it was also about how Sanu [cinematographer] interpreted a scene, how he saw the story happening. I kept giving him a mood board, he took that and internalised it to give me something better. I have been fortunate that whoever has worked with me so far has not only matched my wavelength, but also managed to take it further. I hope that streak continues.

The Thaikkudam Bridge music video, ‘Aarachar’, was shot by Ravi Varman – but it was totally different from the kind of visuals he is known for. The music video is very much a Bejoy Nambiar work.

It was shot in one day. I am a big fan of Ravi sir. I happened to meet him at a party. I told him about this project, and he was enthusiastic about it. We scheduled it for two days, and we finished it in a day. You should see the energy that he brings to the sets. Unimaginable. I am really looking forward to working with him in a feature project sometime down the line. In fact, we worked together in Kaatru Veliyidai, and became close. That energy was channeled into the visuals, I think. I am very happy about the way it turned out. We were trying to up the bar for we thought no one was creating good music videos. We wanted to create a benchmark. Also, I wanted to work with Thaikkudam. The other music video by Thaikkudam in the Navarasa series, One – I was so envious when I saw it. It was shot and directed by Littil Swayamp. It’s a phenomenal music video. I thought I had done something great, but this one was mind-blowing. You should check it out sometime.

The sound department in your films is special.

I work a lot on sound. Even then, I feel it’s not enough. During David, I remember, on the day of the release, we were trying to refine the sound more for the prints that were going somewhere else. I never feel it’s enough. I try to make it better and better. Because, it’s one department that’s generally neglected. In Mollywood, I hear, they get a week or so to do the sound part of the film – I can never do that. That’s one department I am very obsessive about.

Where does this particular obsession, or rather fascination, with sound stem from?

Many a time, while writing, I keep a sound cue in mind. I write with music cues. I have music in my head, and I want to shoot scenes on that rhythm. When I do that, only 20% of the job is about planning and shooting a scene, and 80% work is in the sound part. They [sound engineers] have to design the sound according to how you want it. That will consume a lot of time. Some scenes will require a certain kind of sound design. So each film has its own challenges. I enjoy the process very much.

I have noticed that you make great use of silence, too.

I am a big fan of silence. In fact, my first short film had no dialogue. I like a lot of moments in films, in general, when things are communicated in silence, and as the audience, you are supposed to understand. I like that kind of narrative a lot. Somewhere, it creeps into my storytelling, too. Shaitan had a husband and wife who never spoke; in David, there was a deaf and mute girl Vikram’s character fell in love with; Neil’s character barely spoke, too. Also, just before Neil’s character is shot, there is a big question that he asks his mentor, and there is no answer. It’s silence. In Wazir, there are moments of silence that we played on. In Solo too, there are such portions. There is one big element of silence that I have used. Let’s hope people receive it well.

Our commercial films aren’t really used to silence.

Yes, unless we push the envelope. You hammer it until people say stop doing it. It’s just that. We keep trying. I am not worried about failing. As I said, there is a particular element in Solo, written with silence in mind. The story revolves around that. It’s something novel, and I was anxious to know how the first person I narrate the script to would react to it. Luckily, the reaction was very positive. Then I narrated it to a couple of other people, they liked it too. Then I narrated it to Dulquer, and he was the most excited about it. You really need that kind of encouragement to try new things. For me, it has worked beautifully in the film.

There are filmmakers who say it’s important to not use multiple composers in a film, for that might ruin its consistency. You have used 11 music directors in Solo.

This works for me. In David, there were eight music directors. I use them because I liked their music and I felt the story can take that kind of sound. While writing the script, I start collecting music. I know this song is going to be played here, in this portion. Of course, when you put [everything] together, you will need more, and then, I go around shopping for songs.

You worked with two huge stars – Mohanlal and Jackie Shroff – in two short films, Reflections and Soap. The latter had Shroff in an entirely novel avatar. Reflections has an unconventional narrative. How did you convince these stars to act in the films?

I am lucky that way. That’s all I can say (laughs). Shroff was part of the Sony show. All of us had to pitch him a story, and he picked mine. We had a blast shooting it. He was very excited to play the role of a brooding man who sees his future on a television.

Incidentally, both short films feature middle-aged men feeling insecure about their lives.

They are just stories that excited me at that point of time. Soap was supposed to be a feature. It worked well as a short. In a longer format, it might not have worked.

I made one more short film, Rahu, a 40-minute Malayalam film which isn’t out yet. That’s not about middle-aged men. That was the last short that I made.

When Reflections came out, Kerala was raving about this Mohanlal film, but it is possible that not many people understood what it really meant.

(Laughs) It was very ambiguous. You could interpret it the way you wanted to. That was the idea. It was my first attempt at doing something. I had no idea how to put the visuals together, although I knew this was the story – a man re-imagining his life as he is sitting and watching people at a restaurant. That was the one-line idea.
I narrated it to Mohanlal as such. The whole hook was that you get to know that only in the middle of the film. The initial part is invested in domestic moments – a family of three in a car. When the family walks into a restaurant, everything changes.

What was Mohanlal’s response when he watched the final output?

I will never forget what he said when I showed him the film the first time. I came to Chennai to play the film for him. In the restaurant scene, you see the character smoking. He asked me if he was smoking up, and making up stuff? I said no, he was not (laughs).

You come from a theatre background. How did the transition happen?

My heart was always in cinema. Theatre and cinema are miles apart, but theatre makes one understand actors much more. In theatre, acting happens on a gut level. It helps you judge the actors’ performances. It is a great platform for any actor to start his/her career with. I wanted to understand how the medium worked. When I was in Bangalore, I noticed an advertisement that said Bangalore Theatre Club was looking for actors. My friend and I went for the audition without reading the ad properly. They were looking for only female artistes. We didn’t get the job, but we joined the place as volunteers. The people who run the theatre club, Abhijeet and Poile Sengupta, they are my mentors. They guided me to the world of theatre. I worked with them on their plays, and over the years when I wrote a play, they helped me put it together.

What was your first play about?

The play was called ‘Getaway’, after which I named my production company. It was about three old men who rob a bank, and how it goes wrong. We had a blast. Getaway was the first feature film script that I wrote. It didn’t get made. Prakash Belawadi, who is a rockstar in Bangalore theatre circle, and now a big Bollywood star, was one of the protagonists in Getaway. He did a role in Wazir, and in Solo, he is doing an important role. I think the theatre connection I had is still going very strong. I am aching to go back and do one more play sometime in the future.

Your films have received mixed reviews.

Yes, average to low responses. David almost got no response.

How do you handle failures?

I handle it by aiming for the next, working hard for the next. I don’t waste time waiting and wondering why my film didn’t work. As long as I get to do my next the way I want to make it, I am okay.

Isn’t it difficult to stay afloat in Bollywood without a big blockbuster?

It is difficult everywhere. Even a 100 crore film director will say it is difficult.

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Before the release of Shaitan, in 2011, Bejoy hosted a private screening of the film in Chennai for his mentor, Mani Ratnam, whom he’d assisted in two films, Guru and Raavan. Such is Bejoy’s love and respect for the veteran filmmaker that he went back to assist him in his latest film, Kaatru Veliyidai. Mani Ratnam was the chief guest at the teaser launch of Solo.

You were an assistant director to Mani Ratnam. What is the most important lesson that you learned from him?

I am still an assistant director to Mani Ratnam. I am constantly learning from him. That’s the reason I went back to work with him; that’s the reason I will go back to work with him again. It doesn’t matter even if my films aren’t like his. I guess my whole approach to cinema is very close to what he does. I subscribe to his kind of [film] framework a lot. Over the years, I’ve watched all his films, so some time or the other, it creeps in. In Soap, you see Jackie Shroff watching television, and it is Mani Ratnam’s films that are playing on the TV.

You wanted to remake Agninatchathiram?

Yes. It is his most masala film ever. One of his most commercially successful films. I like the film, and also, I feel a fresh take on it will work well. It was way hip for that era. Personally, trying to adapt a Mani Ratnam film is a huge, very huge challenge. Then of course, it was a movie that was far ahead of the time when it was released. To remake it is a challenge. I don’t even know whether I will be doing it. I am focusing on Solo right now. At one point, I was very enthusiastic about doing it, was very close to making it. But it didn’t fall in place.

Being a person who has worked in the non-feature film industry, what is your take on the big debate about Netflix?

It is not like I am dying to work with them, depends on if there is a story worth saying in that shorter format. You have to find synergies, people who are enthusiastic about such a shorter format. I don’t want to get pulled into that debate. All I know is, I too go back home and binge on Netflix. I must say there are some excellent pieces of work there. We are spoilt for choice. If I get an opportunity to do something on that level, why not?

Would you make short films again?

At present, there is no revenue model for short films. Digital platforms are slowly figuring something out. There is a short film idea that I have been toying with for some time now. I will make that film someday.

Has it become easier to find producers now?

With every project, you think it will be easier now, but it’s always a struggle. I am a Mumbai guy. I consider myself very much a part of Bollywood. I don’t know if I belong to the club or not. Now, as I am doing films in Malayalam and Tamil, I try to get to that level.

Malayalam film industry, at the moment, is fond of movies that are very rooted. Being a person who isn’t familiar with the Malayalee way of life, how do you hope to get it right?

It is such an interesting time in Kerala. Very rooted stories, and the audience is accepting them. It is almost like there is a revival of sorts, a renaissance of good stories, and people are taking it. There is a surge in good content and young people are attempting novel stuff. Otherwise, there was a phase, a very strange time in Malayalam, when they were just aping Telugu and Tamil cinema. Now it’s like they are going back and starting afresh.
Let’s see how they respond to Solo. It’s not a typical Malayalam film, although it has a typical Malayalam hero who has got a target audience – the youth. I am pretty confident that the stories that I am trying to say will find resonance with them.

Do you follow the censor board issues that Indian cinema is grappling with at the moment?

That is a never-ending issue. As long as the government is silent, as long as they are not talking or taking this seriously, this issue will go on.

What are the movies that excite you?

I don’t have a favourite genre. Recently, I watched Dunkirk. I had read some mixed reviews, so I went in expecting not to like it much, but I ended up being so impressed. I loved Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum. Fahadh (Faasil) was phenomenal. Dileesh is a director to watch out for. The first film for any director is special, and in Dileesh’s case, it was phenomenal. I loved it so much and I still think Maheshinte Prathikaaram is better than Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum. And, the second movie is always the one that gives a sense of the director’s real potential. That is what Dileesh proved with Thondimuthal. It is such a clutter-breaker. Not a regular film at all. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

I have been hearing a lot of friends in Mumbai saying that they don’t get to watch southern films. There are random shows. So I wanted to create a platform through which they can get to know where these Tamil/Malayalam films are playing in the city. We started it with Angamaly Diaries, and then did films like Jigarthanda. We are soon going to do Thondimuthal.

It’s high time regional cinema breaks barriers, and gets audiences from across all languages. Angamaly Diaries, for one, deserves to be watched, for it’s really great.

Prashant (Pillai) and I are friends from long ago. Lijo and I were on that short film show. That’s where both of us started. We have stuck together since then. We keep bouncing off our work to each other. Rather than colleagues and contemporaries, we are friends. I don’t have any friends in the industry, so these are the people I hold on to.

Who are some of your favourite directors?

Many filmmakers. In Malayalam, I love the films of Bharathan, Padmarajan and Sathyan Anthikkad, among others. Then, there are films of Balu Mahendra, and of many directors in Tamil. In Bollywood, Mukul Anand is an all-time favourite. I keep watching his films. I love films of Manmohan Desai, Hrishikesh Mukherjee and of course, Sai Paranjpe. Once on Twitter, there was a question – ‘which filmmaker’s universe would you like to live in?’ – for me, it would be Sai Paranjpe’s.

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The Bejoy Nambiar interview is a Silverscreen exclusive. It was originally published on August 9. 

Scouting Lovely Film Locations Since 1987: Interview With ‘Travel Master’ Natarajan Ramji

‘Location Guru’ Natarajan Ramji says he has the best job in the world. He travels around the world looking for exotic places to shoot. Sometimes, directors change their scripts to accommodate Ramji’s suggestions.

The ethereal black sand beach where Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol sent flying all the ‘gerua‘ in Dilwale. The outlandish bridge that slices through an emerald blue lake, surrounded by mighty waterfalls, where Chiranjeevi and Kajal Agarwal dance away in a song sequence in Khaidi No 150. The bright red algae beach that set the backdrop for an intense, turbulent romantic affair between Vikram and Amy Jackson in Shankar’s I.

The credit for bringing these exotic places to the Indian screen rests with Natarajan Ramji, the Mylapore man who is the chairman of Travel Masters India Private Limited.

Widely known as ‘Location Guru’, Ramji is a veteran line-producer and a foreign location scout, with an experience of over three decades. He facilitates film shootings in picturesque locations abroad, and organises services ranging from accommodation of the crew to securing the required government permissions, and arranging filming equipment, local actors and stunt men.

As I am writing this interview, Ramji is in Bucharest, Romania, scouting for locations for a new south Indian film. A few days ago, he was in Kiev, the largest city in Ukraine, at an investment forum where he delivered a talk about the scope of film tourism and Bollywood. “Last year, we shot Winner, a Telugu film, in Ukraine. The investment forum wanted me to urge to the country’s government to be more film-friendly. The response is overwhelming,” he says.

Ramji spends at least eight months a year travelling around the world, and wandering around the most beautiful places on the planet. “That’s my job, and that’s my vacation. Isn’t mine the best job in the world?” he asks.

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Ramji entered the film industry as an actor. Fresh out of college, he starred as a hero in a Telugu film after he was spotted by actor Nagesh. He stuck around, doing over 40 films, when a sense of disillusionment took over him. Soon, Ramji took a break from cinema and found himself a job in a travel agency in Chennai. In 1987, he landed an opportunity to take a film crew to Singapore to shoot a song sequence. “It was a Chiranjeevi film. Rudranetra. Those days, flying abroad to shoot a film was unheard of. That was a different era. It was hard to convince the government authorities about it. Everything was closed and tedious. It was a challenging job. But when the movie came out, people loved what we had done,” Ramji says.

“After Singapore, I arranged another film shooting in Hong Kong. Then, Malaysia… And after 1991, when the countries opened their gates to globalisation, travelling abroad became smooth. My job became easier.”

In the 80s, there were already many individuals and firms working as film location scouts in the country. Ramji didn’t want to join the herd, but cut a new road altogether. “I wanted to be a pioneer. I was a travel agent when the first opportunity came by. So, I combined my skills and experience as a travel agent and my love for films to found Travel Master India (Private Limited).”

Finding work was not very difficult. “Since I started off as an actor, I practically knew everybody in Telugu and Tamil industry,” he says. In the late 80s and 90s, he worked in all four south Indian film industries, and Bollywood, as a location scout and line-producer.

Overseas shooting in the 90s were particularly fun, he says. “We used to travel as a small crew of 25 to 30 people in a single bus, often with just one foreign crew person who multi-tasked as our line -producer, location manager and bus driver.” In the crew of Vivegam that flew to Bulgaria from Chennai last year, there were 60-70 members. The team also used several local junior artistes for the film.

“One particular time, I was handling Rajnikanth’s Baba, Chiranjeevi’s Indra, and Mahesh Babu’s film on the same day at Zweisimmen, a village in Switzerland,” he says. Many a time, the director would shout to the bus driver to stop as they were passing through a beautiful place. Then, the crew would get down, and shoot some portions there. “We saved a lot of money shooting that way than shooting in a place like Kashmir. Logistics were simple,” he says.

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Ramji and his team have travelled around the globe and found locations at a time when there were no Google Maps or similar applications. “Even e-mail was not common those days,” he adds. “We would go to a country, make some good contacts there, drive around a lot, and find the places. A lot of manual work was involved. We worked really hard. Those days, no one wanted to shoot even in a city-state like Singapore because it was quite a herculean task to get the government clearance and to arrange logistics. But now, filmmakers do not want Singapore because it has become too common a tourist place. They ask me if they could shoot the film in places as far as Peru or Bolivia. We are now travelling to every corner of the world.”

By the end of 90s, New Zealand became one of his frequent destinations, for it had the perfect weather and diverse landscapes that allowed film shooting round the year, even when harsh winter turned Switzerland, a popular shooting location for Bollywood films, inaccessible. Ramji has visited over 150 countries, and has facilitated film shooting in around 70 countries.

I ask him about his favourite place, but he is evasive. “Every place brings its own surprises,” he says, and after a pause, declares: “Iceland. Hands down. It’s a gorgeous place. Sparsely populated. But travelling through Iceland can be expensive. We shot three Telugu films there, and most recently, we travelled there to film Gerua.”

The romantic song was the high-point of Rohit Shetty’s action-comedy, Dilwale. Although the movie sunk at the box-office, the song lived on, especially for its stunning visuals.

Shooting of Telusa Telusa at  Salar de Uyuni

“Another place that bowled me over is Salar de Uyuni in South Bolivia. It’s a stunning white salt pan. We shot Telusa Telusa, a song for Telugu film Sarrainodu there,” he says. Among the many beautiful places he has taken Indian cinema to is the Red Sea Beach in China where the song Pookkalae Sattru Oyivedungal from the Tamil movie I was shot.

“India’s regional film industry makes three times the number of films Bollywood makes, but outside India, we are all known under the banner of Bollywood,” says Ramji, “Almost always, locals welcome us enthusiastically. They would come to watch our actors dancing on the streets.”

Now, the ‘dance on the street’ trope is slowly getting outdated, and Indian filmmakers fly overseas for far more complicated tasks. For one, the Vivegam shooting in Bulgaria involved high-octane stunt sequences.

It was Ramji who took the first Indian film crew to Bulgaria. “We were the first ones to shoot in many Eastern European countries such as Slovenia, and Poland,” he says. “Eastern Europe is a very beautiful region, and better, it’s easy on our budget too. Getting manpower isn’t so difficult. In fact, for some films, we recreated Western Europe in Eastern Europe. In Thozha, we shot a car chase sequence supposedly set in Paris, in Belgrade, Serbia.”

Many portions of Baahubali and Shivaay were shot in the snow-covered Balkan mountains in Bulgaria. “After successfully completing Baahubali, I became confident about Bulgaria’s potential to be an ideal location for Indian films,” he says.

Around that time, he came to know that Ajay Devgn was planning to shoot his Shivaay in Canada, for he wanted a location that had the dark, gloomy ambiance of upper Himalayas.

“Their overseas shoot cost estimate came around Rs 55 crores, which is quite huge. I had an idea, and I went to meet the Shivaay crew and Devgn to propose it to them. I met his team first, and told them that it was not wise to go ahead with their Canada plan while there were more economic and more picturesque options. Devgn, who was listening to our conversation from the other room, joined our discussion. I told him that the entire Canada portion of Shivaay could be shot in Bulgaria at one fourth the estimated cost.” After a recce to Bulgaria, Devgn was totally impressed.

The word got around, and soon, Rohit Shetty approached Ramji for his Dilwale. “For Dilwale, we shot in Bulgaria and Iceland for 70 days.”

Unlike a regular location scout, Ramji doesn’t always look for the locations that the script demands. There were numerous times when directors changed their script to accommodate the places that Ramji suggested. The song, Kilimanjaro, in Shankar’s Enthiran, is one such. “They had initially planned it as a Samba dance. Later, we found this place, Machu Pichu, an ancient Incan citadel in the Andes Mountains in Peru, and Shankar readily changed his initial plan. Similarly, we chanced upon this place – Lençóis Maranhenses National Park in North Eastern Brazil – where the other song in the film, Kadhal Anukkal, was shot.

In May 2017, he took the first Indian film crew to Macedonia, a country that has a rich ethnic heritage. Filmmaker Atlee’s Vijay-starrer Mersal, was shot in the southeastern European country. Reportedly, Mersal will benefit from the cash rebate scheme for film and TV projects that was introduced by the Macedonian government in 2015. Iceland too, offers 20 per cent rebate to foreign productions that shoot movies and TV programmes in the glacier country.

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Of course, things wouldn’t fall in place perfectly every time, he says. “There could be customs and border issues. Sometimes, equipment could be confiscated, like what happened during the shoot of Selvaraghavan’s Irandaam Ulagam. We travelled to Uzbekistan. When we landed at the airport, they didn’t allow us to carry our camera and other shooting equipment. Ever since that incident, I never recommend Uzbekistan to anyone. We filmed three movies there, but not anymore.”

In any case, there are challenges, he says. “At first, I would consider myself lucky if I could do one film in two years. Now, I am doing three movies a month. My job is to do things new every time. It is not easy.”

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The Natarajan Ramji interview is a Silverscreen exclusive.

Actor Dileep Granted Bail By Kerala High Court In Actress Abduction Case

Actor Dileep has been granted bail by the Kerala High Court in connection with the abduction and sexual abuse of an actress in February this year in Kochi. This was his fifth plea for bail, and the third before the high court.

The 49-year-old actor was arrested on July 10 as part of the conspiracy behind the abduction of the actress in February this year. He was lodged at the Aluva sub-jail for the past 85 days. The police investigation report on the case is due for submission on Friday, October 6, before the court.

The court granted him bail under multiple conditions, including a bond of Rs 1 Lakh. His passport will be withheld by the court, and he has been strictly instructed to present himself before the court upon the demand of the investigation officers.

The actors’ fans and friends have crowded the premises of the prison to welcome him. According to television channels, the fans association of the actor are distributing sweets, and are even prepping for a road show. His latest release, Ramaleela, directed by Arun Gopi, released in the theatres on September 28, and is a commercial hit.

Sports Biopics Are The Flavour Of the Season: A Look Back At How The Genre Gained Prominence

It was in a boxing ring the world’s first feature film was born. In 1897, Enoch J. Rector shot a boxing competition between James J. Corbett and Bob Fitzsimmons in Nevada. Now free of copyrights, a part of the film – The Corbett-Fitzsimmons Fight – is available online: A blurry black and white montage of two athletes fighting it out spiritedly in the middle of a crowd. What must have been the appeal of this visibly plain montage at the time it was made, apart from the novelty of its medium?

Sports drama genre has come a long way from being solely about the players on the field, fighting it out for the trophy. Some of the best movies on sports are those that show the audience what lies beneath the euphoric triumphant moments, apart from celebrating the beauty of the sport. Hoop Dreams is not just about two teenagers playing the game of basketball, but about a whole community of underprivileged people who have invested their dreams on these teens. There is the more recent Dangal, directed by Nitish Tiwari, which is a story of grit and determination of a couple in conservative rural Haryana that endured the risk of social isolation for making their daughters wrestling champions.

In 1911, Harry The Footballer, a fiction drama, arguably, the world’s first sports drama film was released. The genre grew formidably in film industries across the world, with films like Raging Bull, Slap Shot and even Olympia, which was made by Leni Riefenstahl in Nazi Germany in 1936, however, the Indian film industry didn’t warm up to the genre for a long time.

In 1956, Tamil superstar MG Ramachandran appeared in a Jallikkattu scene in the climax of Thaikkuppin Thaaram – a sequence that was used to highlight how manly and physically strong his protagonist was. Similarly, in 1959, Prem Nazil, Ummer and Adoor Bhasi appeared as football-playing youngsters in the initial half of Shashikumar’s romantic-comedy Rest House. Although a full-fledged sports drama was nowhere in sight, in 1965, India’s Film Division produced Shanti S Varma’s documentary, Play Better Hockey, which was a guide to the enthusiasts of the national game.

One of the earliest Indian films that effectively tapped the potentials of a sports drama genre was Mansoor Khan’s Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikander (1992) which was centered around a young man, Sanjay (Aamir Khan), a reckless guy who goes through a heartbreak and a family crisis before he transforms into a mature individual. He starts to prepare himself for a coveted marathon cycle race. The climatic racing sequence of the film is dramatic and edgy, ending on a high-note.

In 2000, Ashutosh Gowarikar’s Lagaan took the centre-stage in Indian sports drama category. The film which unfolded on epic proportions, revolved around a bunch of men from a village in Gujarat who took on a sophisticated English cricket team in a cricket match that eventually changed the fate of their village. Lagaan had the right amount of drama that bears the signature of Bollywood, backed by exceptional technical and production departments. Lagaan’s protagonist, a young optimistic and courageous Bhuvan (Aamir Khan) who becomes the one-man army that challenges a mighty empire, and accomplishes it, while also winning hearts, is the perfect model hero. The film has a nail-biting climax that equals the final moments of an India-Pakistan cricket match.

Of all sports categories, boxing is, by far, one of the most cinematic. It is raw, violent and tragic as writer Bruce Babington explains in his book The Sports Film: Games People Play, lending the viewers an adrenaline rush. It can bring to the fore the grittiest and darkest of human nature; to deliver a hard blow on his/her opponent’s face, with a beastly force. Sudha Kongara Prasad’s Iruddhi Suttru (2015) featured a real life boxer, Ritika Singh, as Madhi, an underdog who goes on to win a high-level boxing championship with the help of a rogue Indian coach. Singh’s portrayal of the boxer was utmost convincing, and the film spent an ample amount of time watching her working out on and off the boxing ring. When she was frustrated and heartbroken, Madhi took ‘punches’ on her face, and when she was angry, she gave back the fiercest blows.

Most of Indian sports dramas follow the unwritten rule that the protagonist – the morally superior and hard-working individual the film sympathises with – will win at the end, no matter how physically stronger or prudent his/her rival is. Do we doubt a bit when the under-nourished villagers of Lagaan beat the much-experienced professional cricketers in the English team? In films such as Godha (Malayalam, 2016) and Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikander, the rival sportsperson is portrayed as evil and arrogant. Often, in our sports dramas, it is a fight between the good and the bad, and not between two equally strong sports persons.

Biopics, on this matter, work differently. The story is already well-known, and available on Wikipedia for the public’s perusal. All the filmmakers have to do is choose an angle, construct a compelling narrative, and choose the right actor.

In 2012, Tigmanshu Dhulia made Paan Singh Tomar, a biopic of the medal-winning athlete-soldier who went rogue. The film won a National Award in the best feature film category, and emerged as the dark horse at the box-office. In 2014, Priyanka Chopra flexed her muscles, painted freckles on her face and became Olympian boxer Mary Kom in a biopic directed by Omung Kumar and produced by Sanjay Leela Bhansali. Then followed a string of sports-based biopics in Bollywood, including Bhaag Mikha Bhaag and Dangal. 

The cinematic liberties that the filmmakers take in biopics can, sometimes, take the focus off the life of the subject, and adversely affect the authenticity of the film. While an actor from Mary Kom’s native state could have portrayed her on-screen, the makers roped in a star like Priyanka Chopra, for commercial reasons. Now, the film is largely remembered for Chopra’s make-over as a boxer, than for being the tale of a real life boxer who brought laurels to India.

The greatest dangers of making a biopic of a living person is that the film is likely to get reduced to a brand-building exercise instead of an honest film-making attempt. The most striking example is Neeraj Pandey’s MS Dhoni: The Untold Story, a biopic of the Indian skipper that was released in 2016. One of the scenes that was received with the loudest cheers inside the movie halls is where Sushant Singh Rajput (playing Dhoni) approaches Sachin Tendulkar, whose face is hidden from the camera’s gaze, asking for an autograph. There is nothing extraordinary about that scene, except for its placement in the script. The film was made with the wholesome cooperation of its subject, cricketer Mahendra Singh Dhoni. The film was presented by the Rhiti group, which is run by Dhoni’s associate Arun Pandey. The film’s team had roped in Dhoni for the promotions, and the result was that MS Dhoni ended up as a mediocre film that presented Dhoni as a perfect individual who never erred in life. The movie portrays him as a dutiful and obedient son, a responsible colleague, a well-oriented sportsman, a dependable friend, a loving husband and an intelligent, level-headed team captain. Anything that didn’t agree with this polished image of the Indian skipper was deleted from the film.

Star sportsmen like MS Dhoni have a huge fan base that got translated into box-office numbers. Biopics on low-profile sports stars like Buddhia Singh and Paan Singh Tomar rely on their unique life-stories that borders on myths. Soumendra Padhi’s Budhia Singh – Born to Run,  was a well-researched film on the incredible story of Buddhia, a five-year-old from Odisha who owns the credit for being the world’s youngest marathon runner. Unlike MS Dhoni and other mainstream biopics, Buddhia was a director’s film. Padhi, apparently, didn’t rely on Wikipedia facts, but did a deep ground work, pooled the many versions of Buddhia’s life history from people around him, and chose his narrative carefully.

Now, a biopic of badminton star Saina Nehwal, and another on cricketer Mithali Raj, are in the pipeline. Bollywood actress Shraddha Kapoor, who is known more for her family name and her good-looks than for any acting skill, will be portraying Nehwal in the biopic directed by Amol Gupte. It is also known that actor-producer Sonu Sood is producing a movie on PV Sindhu, the badminton star who won a silver medal at the recent Olympics games. There are rumours that a biopic on tennis star Sania Mirza is also on the cards. Ranveer Singh will be portraying former Indian cricket capton Kapil Dev who brought home India’s first World Cup trophy.

Tharangam Review: Quirks That Don’t Quite Work

In the opening sequence of Dominic Arun’s Tharangam, a Dileesh Pothan-sized God wakes up from sleep in a bitter mood, and cusses the nasty human beings who are making the silliest prayers to him. He is right about it. How on heavens is he responsible for the mess that the mortals create on the Earth? “I can only keep a tab on birth and death,” he says.

Pothan’s God represents the film itself. Tharangam is founded on chaos that spreads like waves. The protagonists get entangled in several problems simultaneously, and they never quite solve any of them. But the film isn’t bothered by their plight. The film is besotted with the fun that oozes out of this bigger picture of chaos.

The film’s makers list in the prologue directors such as Priyadarshan, Coen Brothers and Guy Ritchie, whose films served as an inspiration. It is a comedy of errors that shifts its gear at times to be a comic caper. Also, there is a song sequence that elaborates the deep romance between two of the protagonists. Kallan Pavithran, the character that acts as the film’s anchor, is a nod to Padmarajan’s 1981 film of the same title. There are similar nods and tributes throughout the movie in the form of names and ideas. But at the end of it all, none of these hold the film together.

Everything that Tharangam does to be funny and quirky ends up as an act of firing blanks. The narrative loses focus many a time, and stays for too long in places where it shouldn’t be at all.

Pavithran, a thief, is lynched to death by an angry mob in Kerala during World War II. Now leading an unhappy (after) life in paradise, he complains to God of a curse that his family has been reeling under for generations. Unable to take the tantrums that Pavithran creates, the almighty promises to dissolve the curse, but with one condition.

Now this sequence in heaven, despite being oddball, is neither funny nor of serious consequence. As you wait for a quirky fantasy tale to unfold, the film coolly moves on to a story of three lesser mortals on Earth, leaving us scratching our heads to find the connect between Pavithran and the rest of the film. And finally, when the film reveals the connection, you only want to let out a yawn. The story isn’t exceptional, and worse, the narrative is an ugly jumble that can lull you to sleep.

The core plot is centered around Pappan (Tovino Thomas), Jose (Balu Varghese) and Malu (Santhy Balachandran), three youngsters living in Kochi. Pappan and Joy are traffic cops newly inducted to the crime division. When we see them first, they are assisting a senior police officer (Manoj K Jayan) on a high-risk operation to thwart the smuggling of an antique idol. The two men know nothing about working in a crucial mission, and naturally, they mess things up, resulting in their superior officer killed by the smugglers. The man, fatally shot, succumbs to his injuries lying on Pappan’s hands, uttering a precious last word, “bullshit!” This placement of the irreverent word is sure odd, but not funny as it intends to be. Pappan and Joy get suspended from work, and cash-strapped, they take up the lowly job of spying on a millionaire’s wife. The gimmicks and twists that the film puts forth as slapstick comedy are too weak to be rib-tickling. The young men, educated and supposedly reasonable, make the silliest mistakes.

Malu, a college guest lecturer, starts off as an interesting character, reminding you of the over-bearing sharp-tongued women in vintage Priyadarshan films. One of the few humorous instances in the film involve her lecturing her live-in boyfriend, Pappan, on being responsible and selfless in life. However, in the muddle of a plot that follows, Malu gets reduced to a meek shadow of the fiery woman she promised to be.

None of the cast members make an impression. The only man who emerges successful from this chaos is, perhaps, Saiju Kurup. He plays Siju, a smuggling kingpin who has a penchant for stage-acting. He is an excellent actor who has the ability to find his footing even in a weak script. Siju’s body-language, mannerisms and dialogue rendering are funny in itself, regardless of what the situation or the lines are.

After a fatal fight sequence in the second half of the film which he gets dragged into, a clueless Siju is handcuffed and taken into the police vehicle. Along with him is a load of criminals whom he has never met before, and his primary school sweetheart, Omana (Neha Iyer), who is now a dreaded gangster. The movie is rolling to a happy ending, and the focus is on the lead characters, Pappan, Joy and Malu, who are now happy and relieved. However, you might only want to look at Siju who is grinning wide at Omana, oblivious to everything happening around him. If not for little moments as this, Tharangam is a wildly and tastelessly foolish film that passes its own blandness for style.

*****

The Tharangam 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.

Udaharanam Sujatha Review: Feel-Good Drama Supported By Excellent Cast

Udaharanam Sujatha, directed by Phantom Praveen, is the tale of a single mother’s efforts to ensure that her only daughter, a 15-year-old, studies well, gains a good job, and doesn’t end up as a domestic help like her. The film, a remake of Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari’s Nil Battey Sannata/Amma Kanakku, is essentially a feel-good movie that trudges a careful middle path to never get too complicated or dark.

Sujatha (Manju Warrier), a domestic help, takes up multiple jobs, and saves every penny carefully, so that her daughter, Aathira, can go to school regularly. However, Aathira has eyes only for her movie idol,  Dulquer Salmaan. She refuses to study, despite her mother’s constant egging. Sujatha is crushed when the girl tells her that no matter how well she studies, she can only end up as a domestic help because ‘children always take after their parents.’ With the help of an employer, a well-revered veteran writer, Sujatha gains entry into the school where Aathira studies, and joins her class, so that she can keep an eye on her and draw her interest to studies.

Udaharanam Sujatha isn’t as corny as a Vineeth Sreenivasan drama, but works like one of those good old television films produced by the Doordarshan that promises people that their life would fall in place if they worked hard and believed in the government. In the film, there is Mamta Mohandas playing the district collector who is passionate about her work. Sreekumar (Joju Joseph), the principal of the government school where Aathira studies, is a strict taskmaster with a golden heart. He acts as a good shepherd to all the students in his school, most of whom are from poor households. There are no rough edges to these characters. Sujatha is a perfect mother to Aathira. She is kind and utmost sincere in her job as a perfect domestic help to George Paul (Nedumudi Venu). There is a gentleman in her neighbourhood who likes her, but Sujatha, the angelic single mother, puts her daughter’s life above her own, and rebuffs the man’s advances.

What saves the film from being reduced to a mere moral tale is its eye for detail. It is well shot by Madhu Neelakantan whose camera captures the fascinating mess of colours that Sujatha’s city is. The social milieu of the characters is flawlessly established. The one-bedroom house of Sujatha on the wall of which Aathira has pasted Dulquer Salmaan’s pictures, her relationship with her neighbours and relatives in Chenkalchoola slum of Trivandrum, Aathira’s friends at school, and the young boy who juggles school and his job as a mechanic at a vehicle workshop – the film paints a vivid picture of life on the margins.

The film, inadvertently, looks down upon those working in the blue-collar sector when a character, an IAS officer, says, “I worked towards becoming an IAS officer because I didn’t want to be a domestic help.” This elitism that it displays is insensitive – something that makes every heart-tugging feel-good moment that we had been watching till then look like a farce.

In Sphadikam, one of the biggest commercial hits in Mohanlal’s career, he was the only son of a tutor of mathematics. His father, Chacko, believed that a student was only as worthy as his score in maths exams. He despised his son, Thomas, for the boy was bad at studies, and was into artistic things that didn’t require algebraic equations. Sphadikam took into account the fact that life is one complex tapestry. Chacko’s favourite student, a geek whom Thomas envied so much, dies in the prime of adulthood. Thomas, a maverick inventor, ends up as a goon. This complexity of life is terribly absent in Udaharanam Sujatha. Do we always end up where we want to in life, despite having done everything we could?

Manju Warrier is excellent in the role. Even better is Anaswara Rajan who plays the immature and headstrong Aathira. Look at her perform in the scene where she first screams and then pleads with her mother to not join the school. The young actress is a natural talent. Joju Joseph often becomes a caricature, but his cheerful presence adds to the film’s charm.

Udaharanam Sujatha is not path-breaking cinematic work, or a story that tugs your heart forever. But it’s a neat level-headed portrait of a Dalit woman’s life in a city, something that our commercial films rarely focus on. The feel-goodness that it dishes out is too sugary sometimes, but is charmingly natural.

*****

The Udaharanam Sujatha 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.

 

 

Rama Leela Review: A Flippant Political Thriller That Stays Loyal To the Lead Actor

A high-profile politician has been murdered, and the police is investigating the case. The suspects, two lower-rank politicians from the slain man’s rival party, are on the run. Look-out notices are everywhere, and the police is under immense pressure to nab the culprits at the earliest. At this crucial juncture, a new website starts uploading videos from the suspects’ hideout, and circulates them among television channels in the state. The videos have visuals of the two men talking to each other about the murder case, claiming to be innocent, and making assumptions and inferences on who could be the real killer. The state’s dutiful police force, parliamentarians, and the public, sit in front of their television, and watch various channels’ telecast of the videos, and cool their feet.

This ‘sting operation’ and the subsequent public reaction, utterly unreasonable by all measures, occupy the entire latter half of director Arun Gopi’s Rama Leela, a political-thriller. Writer Sachy’s script is proudly silly, and is uncannily similar to his previous work, Joshiy’s Run Baby Run, a thriller centered around two journalists wrongly indicted in a political murder. The film proceeds in an old-fashioned style, dealing with the subject of politics the way Joshiy’s Lion did. It is loud and overtly dramatic. Politicians back-stab, threaten each other, and indulge in physical assault.

Rama Leela releases at a time when its lead actor, Dileep, has been lodged in Aluva sub-jail since July this year, accused of conspiring to rape a young actress in February. The film has many a scene and dialogues that resonate with the actor’s humongous fan base in the state that sympathises with him. One of the songs in the film has lyrics that laments the plight of the protagonist (and the actor playing the role) who has to go on an exile for no fault of his, comparing him to Lord Rama. By far, it is on this sympathy wave for the actor that Arun Gopi and producer Tomichan Mulakupadam have built the film.

Ramanunni (Dileep) is a cunning politician with a dubious moral side. Born and brought up in a household of communists, he joins the party at an early age. When we see him, however, he is a changed man. He now calls communism an ‘old bad habit’ that he has foregone. He has changed his affiliations, and has joined the Congress party after a violent tussle with his former party chief. Moreover, he is a candidate in a forthcoming by-election. One step at a time, Ramanunni is learning the tricks of the new trade with the help of a new Man-Friday, Thomas Chacko (Shajon). Things turn dark after he gets embroiled in a murder case that he didn’t commit.

The film’s characters are poorly written caricatures, not the kind a political thriller of gravity would demand. For one, Radhika Sarath Kumar’s mother, a staunch communist, might remind you of the countless mother roles that actresses like Kaviyoor Ponnamma played and got ridiculed for. She pretends to hate her son’s guts, but every night, she waits for him at the dinner table, with a plate of his favourite food. Shajon’s Thomas Chacko is a goofy friend who loves alcohol, and supports the hero in his pursuit of the heroine. There is Prayaga Martin, hamming it up as Helena, a media entrepreneur whom the film wants you to take seriously because she can down a glass of alcohol as if it is water. She is named after a song from Anand Shankar’s Iru Mugan in which Nayanthara played a formidable female protagonist, Prayaga’s Helena is as unimportant and silly as the technical staff in the film’s police force who can’t locate the IP address of a website that is ruining the reputation of the state police.

Compared to Dileep’s filmography over the last few years, his Ramanunni is a tremendous improvement. He is adequately restrained in the role, and the cringe-worthy loudness that has become his signature style is, thankfully, less audible here. However, the slyness in Ramanunni’s nature is jarringly absent in his performance. The actor doesn’t look at ease. His body-language is stiff, and his diction and accent sound put on.

And, there is music director Gopi Sunder’s score which bears an uncanny and unabashed resemblance to Sam CS’ work in the recent Tamil hit, Vikram Vedha. It is this score that keeps the film going in the initial portions which are, otherwise, a cliche-ridden high school skit.

Rama Leela is a forgettable film that toys with the serious subject of a political assassination; and as a crime and investigation drama, it displays no exceptional intelligence.

*****

The Rama Leela 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.

‘I Didn’t Want Fan Associations In My Name; Cannot Afford To Get Stuck In Petty Fights’: The Tovino Thomas Interview

Tovino Thomas’s acting career had an unceremonious beginning. A software engineer, he quit his job to try his luck in cinema where he always wanted to be. He started off as a model in television commercials, and later, assisted Roopesh Peethambaran in his debut directorial, Theevram (2012). His first major role came in 2013, as a cunning politician in Martin Prakkat’s ABCD (American Born Confused Desi), a film that drew attention mostly for its lead actor, Dulquer Salmaan, who was just one film old then. But, Tovino sure caught the eyes of many, for his spirited performance and conventional good-looks. He played a negative role again in Prithviraj’s 7th Day, and the same year, appeared in Koothara – a dark drama woven around three young friends – directed by Sreenath Rajendran. In 2015, he played a pivotal role in RS Vimal’s Ennu Ninte Moideen.

Five years since his debut, Tovino has his hands full. This year, the actor has had three releases – Ezra, Godha and Oru Mexican Apaaratha – out of which the last two were his solo lead projects. Arun Dominic’s Tharangam (Waves), another movie in which he plays the lead, and which also marks actor Dhanush’s entry to Mollywood as a producer, is up for release tomorrow. He has finished shooting for Abhiyude Kadha Anuvinteyum, a Tamil-Malayalam bilingual directed by BR Vijayalakshmi, and is currently filming Vishnu Narayanan’s Maradona, and Aashiq Abu’s Mayanadhi, which he describes as a ‘beautiful pure romantic drama’.

A day after our conversation, another project of his is announced – Luca, directed by Arun Bose. “I have around eight to 10 projects coming up,” he tells me, promptly adding that the films belong to many genres. “I don’t want to get trapped in a safe zone. That’s not my thing.” The example he cites is the eponymous character, Tovino, from You Too Brutus. He was a goofy gym trainer in the film that came out at a time when he was doing dark shaded roles. “I wanted to do a comedy. You Too Brutus‘s Tovino was a character entirely different from the roles I had been doing at that point of time. I spoke to Roopesh, and together, we shaped the mannerisms of the character.” The character’s forte were his chiselled body and a handsome face, always let down by a lack of intellect, almost like a spoof of macho hero roles.

In 2015, Oru Mexican Apaaratha, an action drama directed by Tom Emmatty, launched him to the top league of actors in Mollywood. He played an underdog who eventually fights back against the physical and emotional harassment he suffers on college campus. “I didn’t take up the role in OMA just because it had the capability to make me a star. It was a great team to work with,” says Tovino. “In every star’s life, it’s a Friday that stirs the change. OMA‘s release Friday gave me my due. I don’t think my stardom happened overnight. I was around for over five years, and that experience helped me play the role convincingly.”

Tovino plays a policeman in Tharangam. The trailer and a song from Tharangam (Waves) are already out on Youtube. “The response is great,” he says. “It is a very interesting comic caper. In fact, its humour reminded me of the vintage Priyadarshan films and Guy Ritchie,” says Tovino. “The slapstick comedy we have used in it is subtle, and unconventional. I found the script very intelligent. Arun’s short film, Mrithyumjayam, was a noir film. I was very impressed with it.” In Abhiyude Kadha Anuvinteyum, Pia Bajpai is his co-star. “I loved the film’s script. It has a twist that you might not have guessed from the trailer. Moreover, it’s BR Vijayalakshmi helming it. The first woman cinematographer from Asia!”

Both Tharangam and Abhiyude Kadha Anuvinteyum mark Tovino’s entry to Tamil cinema. This comes at a time when his contemporaries Fahadh Fazil and Nivin Pauly are also preparing for their Tamil debut. This is the right time, says Tovino. “Now, there is a huge audience for Malayalam films outside Kerala,” he says. “When I travel outside India, I notice that many people identify Indian cinema with Bollywood. Most of them aren’t aware of the fact that there is a huge regional film industry, which is making films as good as Bollywood, or even better than Bollywood. I hope in the future, language barriers will no longer decide a film industry’s fate, and pan Indian films will be possible. That’s how it should be. With subtitles, co-productions, and content that goes beyond a certain region, we will be able to overcome barriers like language and culture,” he says.

*****

Over the years, he has faced many a setback in the form of box-office failures. Films such as Style in which he played a suave villain bit the dust without a trace. But the flop that hit him hard was Guppy – in which he played a bullet-riding engineer who touches many lives in a village. The film received a lukewarm response in theatres at the time of its release, and later, when a copy of the film landed in torrent websites, the audience in Kerala showered praises on it in social media. Tovino’s performance in the film won him a number of awards and accolades.

“I am partly glad that I have had enough flops to keep me grounded. Success can, sometimes, blind you,” he says.

“Some films work, some don’t. I can’t make sure that every decision I take is perfect,” he declares, admitting that the failure of Guppy had a deep impact on him. “I choose a script if I feel I have something good to do, and also, if I find the team interesting. For me, the process of filming is as important as how the film turns out to be. That experience is important. I have worked a lot with youngsters of my age, who are just starting out in the industry. In several films, I have been a part of the project right from the pre-production stage. I ask a lot of questions on the sets. I want to be an actor whose biggest assets are experiences, and not a star whose worth is decided by the number of hits he delivers.”

Nevertheless, Tovino is a celebrated star in the state now. There are fan associations formed in his name, and there is unprecedented hype around his new releases. “I haven’t changed. The people around me have,” says Tovino. “The way they perceive me must have changed, but I am still the person I always was.”

It’s very easy to handle stardom, declares Tovino. “The only difference is that I have become a more recognisable face, and a more bankable actor. I am unaffected by stardom. Time and again, I have been accused of being rude in the public, when I was just being honest. Those are people who don’t know me enough, but make assumptions on my character.” He isn’t very fond of social media for the negative energy that it generates. Fans associations are something he doesn’t like either.

“It is cinema that I love,” Tovino says. “I watch all kinds of films. I go to cinemas and watch even the film that has got the worst review. There is no specific genre that I like. I want to explore new experiences, new cinema, meet new people. I didn’t want fan associations in my name. But I yielded to it later on a condition that it should never become a platform for fan fights and virtual abuses. Watch my films if they are good, I have told fans. I have a long way to go. I can’t afford to get stuck in petty fan fights.”

*****

The Tovino Thomas interview is a Silverscreen exclusive.

Anna Rajan Trolled For Comment On Mammootty: It’s Time Male Stars Reined In Their Abusive Fans

A young Malayalam actress was verbally abused and trolled on a social media platform earlier this week, for expressing a harmless wish to act as the daughter of a 65-year-old superstar

In a recent programme aired on a private television channel, actress Anna Rajan – who played a popular role, Lichi, in Angamaly Diaries, and appeared in the recent Lal Jose film, Velipaadukalude Pusthakam – was asked whom she would like to act with.

Mammootty or Dulquer?

The 25-year-old actress replied that she would like to play Dulquer’s love-interest, and Mammootty’s daughter.

But little did Anna know that mega-stars like Mammootty are immune to the phenomenon of ageing. The actor’s fans soon mercilessly attacked her using the most derogatory language, for failing to see that their star was not yet ready to play a father on screen. The actress, later, appeared on Facebook Live and expressed regret for having said what-must-not-be-said, and broke down in tears.

The superstar’s ‘fan warriors’ were delighted to see her cry, but were in no mood to ‘pardon’ her completely. “You were such a fool to think our ‘lord’ would want to act with a second-rate actor as you. We have, anyhow, forgiven your mistake. Never repeat it,” read one of the moderately civil comments to her live video, while the rest of the ‘fan’ responses were highly sexist and abusive.

The superstar in question, Mammootty, is yet to make a public statement on the violent attack that his fan boys unleashed on Anna Rajan.

Mammootty, once a reigning superstar who delivered consecutive hits and critically-acclaimed films in Mollywood, enjoys one of the biggest fan bases in the industry. He has acted in six Indian languages, and has bagged numerous awards, including five National Awards for Best Actor. Although the actor’s poor choice of films has led to his career coming to a grinding halt in recent years, he continues to be one of the two most influential personalities in south Indian cinema. His son, Dulquer Salmaan, who is in his early thirties, is a busy actor with films in Malayalam, Telugu, Tamil and Hindi.

On Tuesday, September 26, Anna Rajan posted a happy note on Facebook, stating how grateful she was to actor Mammootty who called her on the phone and consoled her. The actress wrote, “I was nervous about how to speak to Mammookka, and now he has called me and talked to me. It all seems like a dream… The power that his words have given me will help me endure any adverse situation!”

Did Mammootty also call up the heads of his fan clubs, and give them a tip or two on how to be civil on a public platform? We don’t know yet. He has not, however, released a public statement on the highly condemnable issue. Dulquer Salmaan, who has an active presence on social media, has not commented on the incident either.

Actress-danseuse Rima Kallingal was the only cine-colleague of Anna Rajan to speak up for her on social media.

“Lichi was trolled for saying a 65-year-old actor could play her father’s role? Why?? These people don’t think Mammootty can carry that role? I think he can rock it.. like a boss.. remember KouravarI think he is a super brilliant actor and we will accept him playing a 70-year-old or a 30-year-old just like we will accept super brilliant actors like Shobhana, Urvashi and Revathy playing 70-year-olds or 30-year-olds… alle? How absolutely non-hypocritical, non-sexist, non-ageist lovely beings we are. Who is ruining our name by trolling lichi? What is the problem here? And why and what is Lichi apologising for?” wrote Rima.

The responses to Rima’s post weren’t any different. She was called an ‘aunty’, a ‘femi-nazi’, and even a ‘drug abuser’ by the superstar’s fans. Curiously, it is not just Mammootty’s fans who are abusing Rima Kallingal and Anna Rajan, but fans of actors such as Dileep, who is one of the accused in a high-profile sexual abuse case, and also, Mohanlal.

In his last release, Pullikkaaran Stara, Mammootty played lover to Deepti Sati, who is in her early twenties. In White, he pretended to be a chic metro-sexual, a young grandson of KPAC Lalitha, and a lover to Huma Qureshi. Both films were panned by the critics, and sank at the box-office without a trace. In media and social media platforms, Mammootty is termed as the ‘most handsome’ Malayali man. Plenty has been written about his flawless fair skin that has bizarrely defied age, and his near-perfect physique. Even as his films were bombing at the box-office one after another, and critics were panning his performance in asinine films like Thoppil Joppan and White, tributes to his handsomeness flooded the media. To top it all, he formerly endorsed Indu Lekha ‘white soap’ that claimed to have the capacity to make anyone ‘fair’. “Beauty will come in search of you,” he’d earnestly said in the TV advert. (Last year, a  67-year-old villager from Wayanad, Chathu, earned Rs 30,000 as compensation from the soap company, after he filed a complaint against the company and Mammootty for using a misleading advertisement. He said the soap didn’t make him fair as the actor had promised.)

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This isn’t the first time the fans of male stars have joined hands to attack actresses and women who speak up about unpleasant things. In October 2016, Mohanlal’s fans verbally abused a woman on Facebook for posting a negative review of the star’s Pulimurugan. Some of them even threatened to rape her for ‘insulting’ their idol. There was, however, no public statement from the star who is known for writing blog posts on nationalist issues. In several instances, actresses like Sreelakshmi and Rima have been subjected to abuse on Facebook for their remarks on Mollywood, which is ruled by the male stars.

But, young male stars like Fahadh Fazil have consciously refrained from encouraging a fan frenzy, even at the risk of commercial success of their films. On several occasions, Fahadh has declared that ‘fan associations adversely affect the youth’. Actor Prithviraj, recently, wrote an open letter to his fans, requesting them to stop ‘spreading negativity’ on social media. While there are fan associations for budding stars like Tovino Thomas and Unni Mukundan, who has been around for some time, sans a commercial hit to his name, none of the actresses in the industry have the backing of a fan club. Manju Warrier, who has a considerable fan base in the state, is also one of the most bullied and trolled actors in the industry, thanks to her failed marriage with actor Dileep, and her involvement in women-oriented films and the recently formed Women In Cinema Collective. But, there aren’t many male actors who dare to speak against cyber-bullying and trolling of their female colleagues, and their silence is nurturing a community of dangerously unreasonable – and abusive – fans.

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Read: Who Are Tamil Cinema’s Abusive Fans On Twitter? An Inside Look