Friday, June 24, 2016

Film Review: KRITI

Just got here from watching Kriti, and I can't help feeling astonished. That Shirish Kunder could come up with something like this is simply unbelievable. As a Twitterzen, he is all wit. And no one can believe that he is the same guy who tortured us with films like Jaan-e-mann and Joker. Here he shows style and class. 

Of course he receives great support from his two main stars. Radhika Apte is brilliant. As is Manoj Bajpayee. The others are important only in relation to these. The film is about Sapan (Manoj), a writer, who is talking to his therapist and childhood friend, Kalpana (Radhika) about a woman, Kriti, with whom he is in a relationship. After that I won't tell you anything else, because I don't do spoilers.

I was quite impressed with the film. The sets are beautiful (and rather unreal). The wide open spaces, the profusion of white, is quite a treat for the eyes. Radhika's house reminded me of Alice in Wonderland for some reason, the whites on his side of the room, the reds on hers. The music, which is vaguely threatening, adds to the effect. It is suggestive of the faintest whiff of something about to go wrong.

The mannequins all over Sapan's house, the painting with the bloodied tears, they all added an unreal quality to the film. I actually felt disconcerted as Sapan walked through the house looking for Kriti.

As a writer, I know well the importance of names and i see it underscored here. Once again, no spoilers.

Once the film ends you begin to see the clues and you are better able to click things into place. Manoj’s nervous laughter as he speaks, his shyness, the hood he wears, all of them and many other things begin to strike you. 

You get clues but you don’t see them as clues. Not at the beginning. At that time, they are only serving to build atmosphere.

The film is short, just under 19 minutes. Just right, if you ask me. The pace is ratcheted up midway through.

Halfway through I suspected part of the truth, but the whole twist at the end still came out of the blue.

Of course it is Bollywood. So a writer can afford a house like that. So urbane and perfect. No boho chic here.

Also, because it is Bollywood, agoraphobia is reduced to the phobia of stepping out of the home which might beg the question, where did Sapan and Kriti meet? Must have been out of the house. Didn’t she suffer the Bollywood version of agoraphobia then? And even if they met at someone else’s house, how did he transport her from there to his house? In a pizza box? Also, zero marks for research. The psychologist shares the half-baked information on agoraphobia as though that is all there is to it.

Some things are too simplistic. Which writer would use a typewriter these days? Only someone totally clueless about the availability of something better like a PC or a laptop. More real. Try writing a first novel on a typewriter. All that plotting and character delineation that needs to be done – if you tried click-clack-click on a typewriter, your head would burst. Either longhand or word processor is the way to go, for the joy of cancelling and drawing arrows across the page, or deletion and cut-copy-paste.

Sapan's house didn’t look like it was set in Mumbai. It actually looked like a picture postcard snow-covered (snow? Global warming is really playing havoc with our climate) house. And then a Mumbai policeman dropped in.

It reminded me of K3G (Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham), where the palatial London style mansion with its own football field attached was supposedly based in Chandani Chowk. 

None of that takes away from Radhika and Manoj. This was the first time I saw Radhika on screen, and she was just brilliant. She looks sophisticated and fabulous despite the Over-the-top makeup and the large eyes that cause you to step back a pace or two. Clearly, she has left her contemporaries far behind. 

Manoj has always been good, and here he proves his worth yet again. He looks gaunt, like someone who has found love after a long time. He looks damaged in his own way, right at the outset.

Neha Sharma as Kriti doesn’t have much to do even though the film is named after her. 

The writing is good. The details are given out bit by bit. Despite the thread of tension, I laughed when the inspector says to Manoj, "You’re not my wife that I should listen to you."

Great production effects. No shoddy work here. Perhaps other filmmakers ought to adopt the short film as a genre.

You can say so much in such a short time, sort of like the short story as opposed to a novel. In the hands of the master, less can be more.

And that is what Kriti turned out to be.

The last shot with both Radhika and Manoj looking into the camera is too cute. Manoj, especially. Once again, no spoilers.

The biggest surprise is Kunder. I’ve never liked his films. On the cringeworthy scale, they are only marginally better than those of his brother-in-law. But here he might cause you to do a re-think on him. Provided he doesn’t undo what he has achieved here.

PS: Just heard that a Nepali short film maker, Aneel Neupane, has alleged that Kunder has plagiarised the idea from his film, BOB. You can watch Bob and figure out for yourself. Incidentally, Bob was released on May 13 and Kriti on June 22.

Too close for comfort.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Book Review: DHANAK

Title: Dhanak
Author: Nagesh Kukunoor, Anusha Ravishankar
Publisher: Duckbill
Pages: 136

Dhanak (rainbow) is a story of hope in the midst of difficulties. It is a feel-good story about two little orphan kids, Pari and Chotu, and their determination to make happiness for themselves. 

The children live with their Chacha and Chachi. The uncle is loving yet helpless when it comes to show his love in the face of his wife’s disapproval.

Chotu relies on Pari for he is blind, but he isn’t going to be dependent on her forever. He will turn 9 in just 2 months, and Pari has promised him that he will begin to see. But just how will Pari go about fulfilling that promise?

When Pari sees SRK’s poster, urging people to donate their eyes, she is filled with hope. But her letters to SRK are never sent to him. What’s a loving big sister to do, particularly when Chotu’s 9th birthday is just a week away? Learning that SRK is shooting in Jaisalmer, the children run away from home to go meet him and plead for Chotu’s vision.

Along the way they face many adversaries. Other than Chachi, who resents their presence in her home, there is Bhanu Prasad, the bully, and his goon, among others.

As they set out traversing the deserts of Rajasthan in search of SRK, there follow a medley of minor characters: a truck driver, Shamsher and his father, the godman, the policeman, Shira Mata, Mohini, the dancer, Dadisa, Pratap Sharma, Doug, and Badrinath, the funny fat man.

There were so many things I enjoyed about this book and so much I wished could have been better,

What I enjoyed was the bond between the siblings. One can sense the affection between them. He depends on her to smooth his life, and she lives to ease life for him. Together they are each other’s world.

The banter between the kids is refreshingly real and fun, not to mention colourful, particularly when Chotu, the little blind David that he is, dares to take on the Goliath that is Bhanu.

I can only imagine how much more colourful this is going to get in its original rustic Hindi.

I also found Chotu’s character refreshingly childlike and real. Like his screen idol, Salman Khan, he imagines himself sailing though difficult situations armed with his imaginary muscles. Chotu’s hunger is an entity that pushes the plot ahead too.

You can’t help but be touched by the innocence and naivete of these children.

And then there is the 1 Re coin, reminiscent of Sholay’s coin, although it plays no such stellar role here. For these kids, it’s just the means of deciding which of two Bollywood leading mean will make their imaginary screen scenarios come alive. His choice: Salman, hers: SRK.

The style is simple, almost as if somebody were narrating the storyline of a film to a friend.

But there were some things that were a trifle hard to believe. Two kids on the run and nary a villain in sight. There are so many minor characters, and any one of them could have been a menace, but even the few villains that prowl around are cardboard cutouts at best. Neither Pari nor Chotu are required to display any of the pluck and courage that I have no doubt they possess in ample measure.

Gardu Bana is one grownup who treats them well. I wish he’d had a meatier role to play.

With the children leaving, the equation between Chachi and Chacha undergoes an alteration. Chacha speaks up for the children for the first time and Chachi’s customary feeling of negligence seem affected. I would have liked to see a little more of that alteration. Perhaps if her back story had received more attention. A childless woman, Chachi has suffered her own brand of torment at the hands of the world, and she chooses to resolve her issues by lashing out at the children.

I would also have liked to see Chotu get his vision and fight Bhanu Prasad effectively.

These issues apart, Dhanak is a sweet story that sails entirely on the shoulders of the children. We love this story because of the children, and because of what it teaches us.
Along the way, the children learn lessons about magic and about trust, often the hard way.

We, in turn, see through their eyes and learn that the world is full of magic for those willing to see it, that bad things happen, but good things follow, and that it’s difficult to judge people correctly.

(I received a copy of this book from Duckbill.)


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