Bangkok

Umrika Review: Opening Night LIFF 2015

The yearly London Indian Film Festival started with the usual festivities and since we don’t take half measures here at Upodcast. We decided to give you 2 different perspectives by our good buddies Bhushan Kumar (@bogeyno2) and Sujoy Singa (@9e3k) on how the screening of Umrika went down.

Umrika

Bhushan:

Directed by: Prashant Nair

Starring:, Suraj Sharma, Tony Revolori, Smita Tambe, Adil Hussain, Pramod Pathak, Rajesh Tailang, Amit Sial, Sauraseni Maitra, Prateik Babbar.

In the Q+A following the screening of Umrika at the London Indian Film Festival (LIFF), director Prashant Nair explained how he wanted Umrika to reflect the character of rural India – as Nair rightly pointed out, when it comes to depicting village life on the silver screen, poverty and hardship are often the facets we see presented in Indian cinema by both mainstream and independent films. So Umrika is definitely unique in consciously trying to explore a rather sombre tale with a touch of lightness and humour.

Set in the 80’s, Ramakant (Sharma) idolises his older brother Udai (Babbar) who has left the village and is living in America (or ‘Umrica’ as it is often pronounced in the sub-continent). At first, Udai does not make contact with his family and the village but when he does start sending letters, Rama is fascinated by the ‘exotic’ American culture that his brother is living in. But as time goes on, it emerges that the postman of the village has been forging the letters to pacify Udai and Rama’s anxious mother. As Rama takes over the letter writing duty, he decides to track down his brother and find out the truth for his own peace of mind.

Umrika touches on so many issues at the same time that it could easily collapse under the weight of its own ambition but Nair multitasks with efficiency, managing the different strands of the story with care and clarity. Whether it is a timeless issue (sibling rivalry) or topical (immigration), Umrika is a film about both these things and a lot more all at once. The emotional core of the film is Udai and Rama’s mother who may not have much screen time but looms large in every frame, driving the story forward and representing a strange paradigm – even though she cannot bear to live without Udai, she seems content to send him miles away to a foreign land by himself and live vicariously through his letters, not realising the effect her behaviour has on Rama.

Performance wise, Sharma shines as Rama, depicting the character’s journey of self-discovery with a confidence and poise that carries the film well. Hussein is suitably menacing as the smuggler whilst Pathak and Tailang play their supporting roles of the father and postman respectively with conviction. The two biggest surprises for me were Revolori, an American actor who plays Rama’s best friend Lalu – whether it was his body language or expressions or dialogue delivery, I had no idea it was an American was playing a rural Indian village boy. The other standout is Tambe as the mother who effortlessly manages to show a gamut of emotions from grief to joy and whose actions and expressions remain in the mind long after the film ends.

Umrika is exactly the kind of film a festival like LIFF should be championing and deserves a thump on the back for bringing such great cinema to the world stage. Thematically, Umrika reminded me of another film festival hit done good, The Lunchbox which also had universal themes and forged an instant and intelligent connection to its audience. Having said that, Umrika marks out Nair as a director to look out for and the film is certainly worth watching a few times to enjoy all the nuances and quirks weaved into the story. Highly recommended.

 

Sujoy:

Director Prashant Nair’s “Umrika” seems to borrow from the many Bollywood movies of the 80’s – of lost brothers, of rural family values, of naive ambitions, the stark darkness of city life, and the yearning for loved ones. Rama (Suraj Sharma) is a young man who lives under the shadow of the elder son of the family, Udai (Prateik Babbar). Udai has gone off to Umrika for work, in search of a more prosperous life. It is Udai’s letters that tell the tale of a land so exotic and mystical. After a period, when the letters stop coming, Rama’s mother becomes depressed, and distances herself from her family. The letters pick up again, but when Rama discovers the secret behind these letters, he has to leave his family behind to unravel the mystery behind the American dream. Revealing anything more than this basic description would mean to delve into spoiler territory. But in my humble opinion, Umrika is not about the build up, or the culmination of its protagonist. It is perhaps about the many journeys that its array of characters take.
It does seem like a very conscious choice on the part of the director to choose name-dropping familiar historical names and events and references to songs and sights of that era. And it did help in making one believe in the world that surrounds these characters.  From Amitabh Bachchan’s infamous accident on the sets of Coolie to national events such as the  Emergency, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s assasination, and even the Challenger space shuttle crash, Umrika weaves these historic events seamlessly into the story, hinting at the era and its eccentricities. These were simpler times, and also times when the only image of America are ones that are coloured in shades of brightness and prosperity.
It is however interesting to see how American culture and lifestyle, which is so much taken for granted, is presented from the eyes of a complete outsider – a young villager from India, who has only read about it from newspaper cuttings. What irks me a little however, is that how our protagonist Rama, in an era of no Google or Wikipedia, and with limited education, has been able to dig out so much information about America – from food, to festivals, to even the Cold War.
The cinematography by Petra Koner is absolutely on the money. The bright hues of Jitvapur’s scorching summer have been presented in stark contrast to the decayed blue indoors of the city. Because in the city, the Sun of hope never seems to rise. There’s despair in every move, with everyone filled with greed and deceit. Koner’s camera narrates a tale of its own.
The acting talent here is in top form – Be it Suraj Sharma, who gets to show off his acting chops a bit more after Life of Pi, and does not disappoint at all. He does look like MTV VJ Rannvijay Singh, which made me wonder what if Rannvijay would have played Udai’s role, instead of the mostly forgettable Prateik Babbar. Rama’s friend Lalu, played by Tony Revolori (The Grand Budapest Hotel) is an unconventional casting choice. And yet, it works. Even though the dubbing can seem a bit jarring at times, Revolori’s relentless loyalty to his chidhood mate is reminiscent of the many onscreen Bollywood bromances.
And like most loved Bollywood movies, this one also has a Maa. And thank God for that. Because, it is the Maa who provides the emotional hook to the story. Smita Tambe has one of the most expressive eyes that you will see onscreen all year (perhaps, second to Ramya Krishnan in Baahubali). Her love for her son, anguish, and sorrow makes up for all the pacing flaws and almost left me gasping for a breath.
With Umrika, Nair attempts to bring in a lot of elements and promises under one roof – the horror tales of illegal immigration, the struggle of life in the rat race of the city, and yet, a beacon of hope that shines bright to keep things moving on. Umrika shines.
Rating: 3 Hot dogs out of 5.

 

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/

Check out more of Sujoy’s work at OneKnighStand and Bollypop!

Follow Sujoy on Twitter: @9e3k

Akshay Kumar Boss Media Interview

There is always a slight reluctance on my part to post these PR- Media interviews with actors. On the one hand it keeps feeding the PR bullshit machinery which none of us really want, but having done enough interviews I also realize that most of the actors are so coached anyway that it’s hard to get any honest moments from them anyway.

So here is a media interview done with Khiladi Akshay Kumar for his forthcoming Boss, which I am honestly looking forward to.

(also I am loving the Party All Night Track)

     Q: How would you define your character in BOSS? And what made you sign this movie?

           A: ‘BOSS’ is a very colourful Haryanvi character and that’s exactly what appealed to me.

He is a larger-than-life figure from Haryana with his own distinct style and attitude.

That forms the Masti [fun] part in the film. But there are some things he will neither

forgive nor forget, highlighted in reference to a particular situation involving the most

dearest people in his life. You don’t mess with BOSS and that message is very clear.

When Ashwin (Varde) and Tony (D’Souza) came to me with the film’s concept, I loved

it. BOSS is about fun, high octane action sequences and stunts and a good sprinkling

of romance (not for me though!).

 

       Q: How is BOSS different from other action movies?

A: It’s different in many ways. The main reason is that we are offering the audience a different type of action movie that has a unique panache and style. Every action sequence is designed differently. BOSS is an intense film with a strong action backdrop, needed to drive a powerful story forward.

      Q: You shot some major parts for BOSS in Delhi and Bangkok. How was it returning to these places that played such an important role in your life’s journey?

A: I grew up in Delhi and worked as a chef and learnt Martial Arts in Bangkok, so both places mean a lot to me. It was emotional returning to Chandni Chowk in Delhi especially though as we were barely 200 meters away from my old house. Due to the excitement around the film I was unable to go and visit my old house during the day, but managed to drive past in the early morning recollecting my happy childhood memories.

When I was shooting in Thailand, where I studied Martial Arts on the streets of Bangkok, I was also accompanied by my family. I took my son (Aarav) and niece to the kitchen I used to work, eat, sleep and train at in Bangkok when I was 17. Just seeing the small room where I used to rest my head after a tiring day of street fighting for extra money brought back so many memories. I had to fight back the tears in front of my son when I stood in the doorway of the kitchen I once worked so hard in, wondering how different my life is now. One day I was frying noodles, the next I was frying my brains over learning lines for my first film. Never say it isn’t possible. I’m proof that there is nothing more powerful than fate itself, even when the world thinks you’re just a plain boy wiping tables and cleaning dishes.

      Q: It took a little while before the industry and the audiences started taking you seriously as a star. How would you describe your journey?

A: My journey has been both difficult and fantastic at the same time but I guess that’s part of life. It may have taken time for people to accept that I was more than just a struggling actor. I was also very determined to succeed and you can never achieve success without working towards it and adopting a diligent, positive and honest approach to this. I was Akshay Kumar, born with nothing but good parents and God’s hand on my shoulder!

      Q: You worked with Ronit Roy way back in Sainik. How was your experience and how far has he changed now in BOSS? 

A: When Ronit and I worked in Sainik, we were both very young. There was a lot of affection and respect for each other even then. Working with him again in BOSS after so many years was a wonderful experience. He is a fantastic actor and BOSS will showcase him in a different way. He has worked very hard on his role in BOSS and the audience will be nicely surprised by his performance.

      Q: You are perhaps the first actor to ever play a Haryanvi character. What are your thoughts on this, was it a fun role to play?

A: Every character comes with its own identity. I was excited about playing a Haryanvi character in BOSS because that’s something I haven’t done before. And I always like to re-invent myself and present to fans a side of my persona they may not have experienced before. The character fitted so well with the story. It was a great experience.

      Q: How was the experience of doing action scenes at 47° Celsius? Is BOSS your best action film according to you?

A: I would say it was my toughest shooting experience when we shot in 47 degrees. But full marks to the entire unit for bearing it and giving the best results. I would like to believe that in every film, I try to give my best shot. As far as action is concerned, I like to set new records every time. BOSS features a variety of high octane action sequences – the best part is that some of the scenes were very new to me and I haven’t performed these in any other films before.

Q: Which is your favourite song from BOSS?

A: Please don’t ask me to pick out just one favourite track because I simply love them all. I genuinely believe that the BOSS soundtrack is a complete package. Each song has been shot in a unique way. But yes, the Pitaah song is somehow closer to my heart because it’s about a father-son relationship. Har Kisi Ko’ is another classic treat for everyone who grew up in the eighties.

BOSS, releases on 16th October 2013.

 @asimburney

Enhanced by Zemanta