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Hemalkasa Review Liff 2014

In true tradition, the closing night of the 5th London Indian Film Festival featured one of the biggest and highly anticipated movie premieres of the festival – Samruddhi Porey’s biopic Hemalkasa. Based on the life of renowned social worker and Magsaysay award winner Dr. Prakash Baba Amte, the highlight of this feature was not just its subject matter, but also its top notch star cast – Nana Patekar and Sonali Kulkarni in the title roles of Prakash and Mandakini Amte. And there’s veteran actor Mohan Agashe as well, portraying the role of Prakash’s father, Baba Amte. With such big names, and a big story to tell, one would expect nothing less than a spectacular closing to the festival. Unfortunately, all of that expectation comes crumbling down pretty soon, right after the movie begins.

It was quite unfortunate, that the screening began with a short – Director Shubhashish Bhutiani’s Kush selected by the Satyajit Ray foundation as this year’s Best Short Feature). I say unfortunate, because as soon as that short concluded, and the opening titles of Hemalkasa rolled onscreen, I could tell that it wasn’t going to be at par with any of the movies I had seen in the festival, including the short that preceded it. Blame it on the extremely disturbing choice of font styling for the titles (which made me think if the director had got her young nephew to do it, who had just learnt about WordArt on PowerPoint). Or perhaps it was the unnecessary addition of laughably awful CG explosions. But wait, there is more.

The intro scene of Nana Patekar features him doing a sheersasan, with his upper half submerged. The director chooses this scene to be the best moment to let us know that Prakash Amte is perhaps a cross between Singham and Doctor Dolittle. So, just next to Patekar, there is a tiger washing himself. I love tigers. Onscreen ones to be precise (read my review of Ulidavaru Kandante). But this tiger, my friends, is the worst CG copy-pasted tiger to have ever existed. Patekar rises from underwater and walks out like a Bond girl. And accompanying him, is CG-Tiger. And in that moment, I knew that Hemalkasa is not going to be a movie that I’d like. And this was just the first 10 minutes of the movie.

In the course of its unbearable 117 minutes, Porey depicts the tale of this relentlessly generous man, and his many struggles and how he overcomes them. The narration is mediocre at its best, and extremely irritating at its worst as it jumps through the different stages in Amte’s life. I can see Porey trying hard to squeeze in as much detail as she can, as if she is begging for the audience to applaud at how unreal Amte’s sacrifices are in comparison with the cynical world we live in. But she hardly leaves any breathing space on a specific event for the audience to feel connected. The editing could be the culprit here. There are way too many events jam-packed into this, and yet, each one feels stretched out, or sometimes repetitive. I felt like I was compelled to watch an episodic TV series, albeit a boring one.

I can understand the underlying sentiment of the filmmaker might have been to genuinely show her reverence for Prakash Baba Amte. And nothing that I say here will take away from what Baba Amte’s influence is on people in India and all across the world. Neither does it undermine his efforts in any shape or form. But there is a clear distinction between the story and the story-telling. When asked in the Q&A section, what the real Prakash Amte’s reactions were on watching his own biopic, director Porey responded that Amte’s reply was – “I felt as if a camera was left on from my childhood to my present day, and I was watching it all on the big screen”. As a cinema lover, I cannot translate that to be a compliment.

This is a classic case of a filmmaker falling too much in love with the source, and failing to say “Cut”. There are numerous attempts by its stellar lead pair – Patekar and Kulkarni, who give earnest performances, and try to save this sinking ship. But it is too late by then. There are “Gods must be crazy” inspired scenes featuring the local tribes of Hemalkasa. You know the kind where they discover modern medicine, radio etc. But even these scenes failed to charm me. And the amount of bad-acting provided by its extras could put Farah Khan’s extras to shame. By the time the director decides to make Sonali Kulkarni and Nana Patekar give one-last-push with a breakdown scene when their domestic pet Leopard passes away, I was rolling my eyes. Looking at the audience around, I could see most attendees staring at their watches, or fast asleep. It is hence ironic to see that this feature won the runner up Audience Award.

 

This journey to Hemalkasa had the entertainers on the list, but was boring all the way.

 

For more info head on over to http://www.londonindianfilmfestival.co.uk/

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OneKnightStands Bollypop | 9E3K | @9E3K

Santosh Sivan MasterClass BFI LIFF 2014

London Indian Film Festival brought with it the golden opportunity to spend an evening with ace Indian cinematographer/director – Santosh Sivan. As a fan of his work, this was something not to be missed, and I went in with high expectations. Held at the BFI Southbank, the Santosh Sivan Masterclass was being conducted by BBC Radio Presenter Nihal.

It started off as a QnA session on Sivan’s early inspirations that drew him towards the visual medium. Sivan’s stories clearly depict his childlike enthusiasm at nature’s offerings. And unsurprisingly enough, that enthusiasm is still alive, and is quite obvious in the way he narrated his stories, and also from the fondness that is conveyed. Most of his quirky experiences have somehow translated into his cinema.

Later on, we moved to the milestones of his career. To name a few, Mani Ratnam’s Roja, Iruvar, Thalapathi, and Dil Se, and his own directed features – Asoka, Terrorist, and Before the Rains. Sivan’s passion for storytelling, whether in feature film format, or documentaries was also one of the discussions in this masterclass.

His latest work – Ceylon, was met with a few controversies, and was pulled from the cinemas. Hopefully, we should get to see Ceylon in the near future. Here are 15 quotes from his masterclass.

On his early inspiration: My grandma always use to narrate me stories in a very cinematic way. The moon rose, then the night lit. So that has been my visual inspiration.

On why he chose cinematography: I used to love taking black and white pictures. If I wasn’t a cinematographer, I would be a farmer. Because I’d be very close to nature.

On how he deals with child actors: You don’t try to change child actors, but adapt yourself to them. Otherwise  you’d be changing the reason why you took them in the first place.

On Chhaiya Chhaiya: Sharukh Khan was the fastest thing on that train.

On his favourite scene: The complexity and lighting of the scene in Iruvar when Mohanlal wave shis hand and there is a crowd cheering loudly, that reminds me of the hard work we put in to achieve that. So that scene is special to me.

On actors and their insecurities: I often tell actors to act as if the camera is their best friend. And put as less makeup as possible.

On whether it is possible to be a director without being a cinematographer:
I disagree with that. Because it is not good too much of everything. A director can have a visual sense, and an idea of his end product, without knowing cinematography.

On his favourite international film: Bicycle Thief is one of my favourite films. Because it is a very little, and very real film.

On perceiving beauty visually: I wake up in the morning at 5 am, and see the world in monochrome. Then the first rays of sunlight appear, and you see the world in soft light. Then the bright light starts to appear. It is like the universe is putting on a show for you.

On how he handles his sensory overload when he sees beauty all around you: Smoke some cigarettes and a drink.

On Asoka: Even now I feel very proud of that film. It was inspired by my school teacher, who wanted to be a theatrical actor. And he used to teach us of Asoka.

On his collaboration with Mani Ratnam: He is an old friend, and a creative ally. We do have differences on set, and even fights. But at the end of the day, we just want to make the best film we can.

On why he chooses to make documentaries: It is like telling a real tale of how it was set in time somewhere. That excites me.

On his most embarrassing work : I don’t have any such list of work that I should be ashamed of. In the same way, I do not have a favourite project. I cannot sit on my past achievements. My best is always coming next.

On the controversy surrounding his next feature Ceylon: It got pulled because I did not want any tension around the election period. I am releasing it again, after getting an approval from those who objected to it without even seeing the film. I will be showing it to them.

For more info head on over to http://www.londonindianfilmfestival.co.uk/

@9e3k

OneKnightStands Bollypop | 9E3K | @9E3K

Ulidavaru Kandante Review LIFF 2014

Ulidavaru Kandante_01[Disclaimer: Due to messed up scheduling at the screening venue (for London Indian Film Festival), I missed the first 30 minutes of Ulidavaru Kandante, as I was still watching Goopi Gawaiya Bagha Bajaiya (review link here). This post is hence, more of a rant on the remaining 4/5th of the Ulidavaru Kandante experience.]

So, as I walked in straight into the world of Ulidavaru Kandante (UK, As Seen By The Rest) at 00:30:00, I was met with the end of Chapter 1, and a journalist called Regina (Sheetal Shetty) talking about something that went wrong, referred to as “the Incident”. I was left confused, and yet curious about what this incident was, and if I had missed it in the first 30 minutes. But at the same time, I was glad I that I came in just in time for the beginning of Chapter 2 – the story of Richi. Cue smoke machines, theatrical spotlights on, and through the smoky mist, enters our hero – director Rakshit Shetty as Richi, the cocky cop who oozes testosterone in every frame. This is one of those alpha male leads that’s part Tony Montana, part Vijay Dinanath Chauhan, and part Chulbul Pandey, sans the Sonakshi pyar-thappar angle, or the drunk sillyness. At first glance, Shetty looks like a long lost brother of Mahakshay ‘Mimoh’ Chakraborty, but one who can actually act, and commands attention, and minus 20-30 kilos (to be confirmed). Richi is not a do-gooder or a Robin Hood. He has a reputation to take care of, and even in a lungi, gulping down on local desi-daaru, with an unkempt moustache, that reputation brings broken noses for the unlucky ones. And that tiger dance, oh yes, I get that Singham metaphor. Richi does not walk, he has the gait of a lion, make up or not.

Coming back to the story, or stories rather, the trailer is quite spoilerific in my opinion. There is an incident, which we don’t know of, until the climax i.e. There are multiple witnesses, and their multiple/conflicting point-of-views, a Pulp-Fiction-esque MacGuffin red bag with shiny contents, and many bullet shots. There’s tiger-painted people dancing(I like tigers). If that sounds like UK borrows a lot from cinema pop-culture, yes it does. Does it look like a copy? No, it does not. Shetty’s influence is visible, but UK is a beast of its own. You can smell the authenticity in the environment, and it is quite obvious how comfortable it is in its own skin, and yet does not shy away to flash its influences – from Kurosawa’s Rashomon, to Scarface, to even Frank Miller’s Sin City. The director expertly hides the details, and patiently peels off each layer. With cliffhangers at the end of each chapter, and each chapter serving as a teaser for the final reveal, UK works because of its sharp editing, its crisp script, and the believability of the world that surrounds these characters.

Kudos to the DOP Karm Chawla to have presented Malpe in its most stunning onscreen version – from the warm views of the washed clean sea and sandy beaches, to the amber nights lit with fire. Painted tiger faces never looked this great. The hustle and bustle of Janmashtami festival in temple city Udupi errupts with its vibrance and is a colour overload of sorts. And that entry scene of Richi through the smoke (mentioned above), as he says “Phata Poster Nikla Hero” is a wolf-whistle worthy one. Coupled with a loud drum-heavy background score, UK does not go easy on your senses.

Donning the acting jobs, the supporting cast do pretty well. Worth mentioning are Tara as Ratnakka – that scene when she sees her son after 15 years, and bursts into tears, gave me goosebumps. Little Sohan Shetty as street-smart kiddo Democracy steals the show in many scenes. And Kishore as Munna, is the missing piece in the whole puzzle. He provides the much needed gravitas, the heart that glues the tale. His wide-eyed dreamy stoner romance makes you chuckle, and also leaves you sad. But of course, above all, this movie belongs to Rakshit Shetty. Not only as the onscreen lead dude, but also as the offscreen one.

On the surface,it looks like yet another South-Indian alpha male hero rescuing damsels-in-distress. But UK is not content with that template, and breaks the norms. It is a tall rebel, heck it’s the “Rebel Alliance” on its own, which even though has a vernacular language, its speech is loud and global in all respects. Shetty’s attempt at marrying the two, often looks effortless, but only shows the confidence in his craft. It is nothing short of groundbreaking. I am highly curious of what is coming up next on his filmography. If this is what the new wave of Kannada cinema has to offer, count me in. I will drive that hype train.

This has been the best of the London Indian Film Festival’s offering this year.

5 Tigers Out of 5. ROAR!!!

[Footnote: I have deliberatley tried not to tell you much about this movie, and would rather have you check it out for yourself. Ulidavaru Kandante is available as PPV on ReelBoxTV.com. However, it does not have any subtitles, but they are working on it. Follow them on twitter @ReelBoxTV to find out when this would be done.
 
 The subtitles at my screening were quite funny. The swear words such as bastard and the like, had the vowels replaced with corresponding Greek symbols. That probably is because Director Rohit Shetty has not been able to completely get over his Engineering past!
 
Contact the director @rakshitshetty on twitter, make some noise, and probably he will bring this to a screen near you. It is definitely one to be experienced on the bigger screen, with booming sound. Or for you influential people out there, make Netlfix pick this gem up.]

The London Indian Film Festival has screenings all over London until the 17th of July.

For more info head on over to http://www.londonindianfilmfestival.co.uk/

@9e3k

OneKnightStands Bollypop | 9E3K | @9E3K

Qissa: The Tale Of The Lonely Ghost Review LIFF 2014

Qissa_01There are some films that remain with the viewer long after the fade to black – Qissa: The Tale Of The Lonely Ghost one of them. This haunting tale tells of Umber Singh (Khan) who is uprooted by the Partition of 1947 along with his wife and three daughters. Displaced from the newly created Pakistan to the Punjab in India, Singh believes having a son will bring the stability he has lost. So when his wife gives birth to another daughter, Singh creates an elaborate delusion that has far reaching and tragic consequences for all.

There is so much to talk about in Qissa that it is impossible to know where to start. Whether is the debate of nature versus nuture, the unforgiving nature of patriarchy or the search for one’s true self, all these issues are neatly referenced without feeling laboured or clumsy. Anup Singh (the writer and director) manages to weave a very complex story that insists on keeping its characters at the heart of the action and even has the audience colluding with Umber’s vision (no spoilers here).

Mention must also go to the cinematography and original score; there are some stunning visuals here, with the lighting and composition giving an eerie feel – at times, one feels they are looking at a magnificent oil painting in a deserted haveli (mansion). Similarly, the score is subtle and underplayed, yet the way it heightens the dramatic impact is at once impressive and moving.

Performance wise, Khan does the impossible again; playing an unpopular character with a sympathy and dignity which leaves the viewer conflicted but with a grudging understanding of the circumstances that lead to the character’s motivations. Chopra is very restrained as the mother who suffers for her children whilst Raskia Dugal is a revelation as Neeli, fully embracing the journey that Neeli goes on and pitching it with conviction.

However, it is Bengali actress Tillotame Shome who astonishes here as Kanwar, the girl brought up as a boy – it is rare to see someone imbibe a role so fully and make something that could easily go wrong with one nuance seem so effortless and natural. Everything from her expression to her body language is faultless and she is the true nucleus of Qissa which is no mean feat.

Qissa is the perfect film to watch as part of a festival but it is also heartening to know it will have a general release in India. Not only are the LGBT themes handled with sensitivity and tact but also with a timely relevance for today’s audiences. In fact, though this is a period piece, there is no doubt Qissa has a modern sensibility to it and deserves to be seen and appreciated by diverse audiences across the world. Quite simply, hauntingly beautiful.

Qissa: The Tale Of The Lonely Ghost is now playing at the LIFF,  will have a limited release in Germany in July 2014 and a general release in India from September 2014 (TBC).

Qissa: The Tale Of The Lonely Ghost

Directed by: Anup Singh

Cast: Irrfan Khan, Tisca Chopra, Tillotame Shome, Raskia Dugal

Bhushan Kumar is a Hindi film and fashion obsessed being living and working in London.

Follow Bhushan on Twitter: @bogeyno2

Blog: http://bogeyno2.wordpress.com/

Happy Birthday Alfred Hitchcock!

Hitch, in one of his lighter moods

In honour of what would have been Alfred Hitchcock‘s 114th birthday this August, Upodcasting is delighted to shed some light on the great man’s films, legacy and influences.  Kicking things of for us, is this wonderful introduction by Elizabeth Eckhart.  One or two more articles celebrating Hitch will appear in the coming days.

Few filmmakers have had the sort of enduring influence that Alfred Hitchcock has had. He was innovative, contemplative, and it’s clear that he understood that film was truly the synthesis of all artistic practices. He understood, with seemingly greater clarity than anyone who came before or after, how technical and narrative devices could operate in tandem with one another to heighten drama and make for a more engaging (and believable) cinematic experience for the viewer.

For instance, he demonstrated a sophisticated understanding of how camera effects could illustrate something about the perceptions or internal struggle of a character on-screen, such as the “zolly” or “reverse tracking shot” he pioneered for the film Vertigo (See here.) But beyond merely his technical achievements (and certainly, he made many of those) the things that make Hitchcock truly fascinating to modern students of cinema are his more abstract flourishes.

For example, Hitchcock films were often self-reflexive and toyed with notions of reality. He reinforced, perhaps more than any other filmmaker ever, what the term “diegesis” truly means when describing the various layers of artificial reality within the film world.

Diegesis relates to the narrative sphere within a literary or cinematic work. As a theatrical term, historically diegesis may be differentiated from mimesis in that diegesis deals with narrative details that are given to the audience orally (through narration itself), whereas with mimesis, pieces of the narrative are articulated through action or movement.

Within the context of film specifically, diegesis is commonly used to discuss a self-contained internal reality inhabited by the characters; it may encompass the narrative “space” and may include fragments of the narrative, but also histories and events that are never depicted on-screen – such as events and actions which preceded the action of the story, or characters who are discussed, and thought to inhabit the artificial reality within the film, but may never be shown.

When we talk about “diegetic sound” in film, we are talking about sounds which are being made “actually” within the sphere of action in the film. In other words, if a character sits down to play a piano, or you see and hear a choir singing, or if a character plays a record on a record player, the sound is diegetic. If the sound is being superimposed over the film, and a sound cannot be traced to a “real” source within the constructed “reality” of a film (i.e., music that is being played over credits at the beginning or end of a film) than the sound is either “non-diegetic” or “extra-diegetic.”

Consider Hitchcock’s film The Birds (1963) does not use any non-diegetic or extra diegetic music. Sure, he used analog synthesizers to create the screeching sounds of the birds, but those sounds are all attributed to “natural” occurrences within the narrative sphere of the film.

The film Rear Window, which is itself largely a commentary on media consumption and discusses film, TV and mass media as having inherently voyeuristic qualities, ironically features diegetic sound almost exclusively — all of the sounds and music the audience hears are attributed to some sort of “real” source within the narrative sphere of the music. This is interesting, as it presents diegetic sound mimicking the function of non-diegetic sound and music in film and television. James Stewart‘s character is spying on his neighbours, but look at how it plays out! Look at the highly stylised dramatic nature of the supposedly “real world” occurrence he is watching!

Hitchcock will be forever treasured by filmmakers, viewers, and scholars alike for his innumerable contributions to the world of cinema – which makes it all the more tragic that so many contemporary makers seem to fixate on the most titillating and intellectually pedestrian pieces of his body of work (namely, sex and murder). Let us hope that, in years to come, more filmmakers will produce works that reveal a more complete understanding and appreciation for the complexity of his craft — which would mean that they, essentially, have a better comprehension of what the medium has the potential to do.

Author Bio: Elizabeth is a film blogger for Direct-ticket.net where she writes about film, television, and sports. She is an avid film watcher, and among her favourite directors are Alfred Hitchcock, Ingmar Bergman, and Werner Herzog. Elizabeth lives at home with her tabby cat named Mochi.

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