A Death in the Gunj Review

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You have no idea how much I had been looking forward to A Death in the Gunj, written and directed by Konkona Sensharma and starring some great actors like Kalki Koechlin. I saw some wonderful reviews of the film online before it even released in mainstream cinemas, as some people had the chance to see the film in screenings at film festivals early on. This further increased my anticipation of what I expected to be an impactful film at the least. If you are just as excited about the film, haven’t seen it yet and would like to form your own opinion of it, I suggest you stop reading the remaining part of the review.

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The matter of fact is, A Death in the Gunj was disappointing. It was shockingly underwhelming and predictable, and not the least thrilling if you ask me. There is only one point of mystery in the film, which I admit was delivered effectively and connected the very first scene with the very last one. But the middle of that story, was nothing special.

A Death in the Gunj is about a young man struggling with life after the death of his father, and how his depression and emotional struggle reaches a sad climax amidst indifferent and selfish relatives with whom he is spending the holidays.

While I enjoy slow-paced  but meaningful films that create a sense of comfort and ease, like Piku for example, I believe it only works when we are able to establish a genuine and positive connection with the characters early on in the story. I was unfortunately not able to connect with any of the characters in this film. In fact, I felt the film did an excellent job of making the characters repugnant, not just to the lead character Shyamal, but to me, the audience. Maybe that was the point. But the issue is that, I also did not feel any connection to Shyamal.

I think the struggle of Shyamal remained as much of a mystery to the audience as it did to his relatives. Shyamal as a character is such an unbearing personality, that it is easy to dismiss him although he is the eyes through which we experience the story. He is much like an object in the film, represented by his father’s old sweater, his notebook, a moth… but the meanings and emotions that he attaches to those objects were never quite explained to us. So as I watched his turmoil intensify and grow on screen, I did not understand him and his reasons, and after a while, it was just watching a man who has lost his mental stability and getting ever yet closer to the edge without anyone else noticing.

When I read my own words describing the film, I wonder if this was Konkona’s intention all along? –Making the Shyamal character so unimpressive that even we would nearly forget his presence… Could it be that the film  has been implemented so utterly realistically that I’ve failed to get the point? Perhaps… I’m not sure.

I AM sure that knowing the excellence of Konkona’s art may have increased expectations a little too far for this film, but it doesn’t change the fact that the above mentioned drawbacks disappointed me. When the film ended, I just felt so underwhelmed.

The ‘Half-Spirited’ Half Girlfriend

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(I did not read the book, so there will be no comparisons between the book and the movie in this post.)

A college love story. A guy desperate for love and following the girl everywhere like a puppy, with sad puppy eyes and puppy fat. It seems like they will never get together. He has to struggle, and pine, and pine some more, and hope for a miracle.

Does all of this sound familiar?

I will not beat around the bush for this one. Half Girlfriend is a sadder, blander version of Chetan Bhagat’s 2 States. 2 States was an enjoyable film, lighter in mood, and spiced by comparisons of North and South culture, and a watchable chemistry between the leads. Half Girlfriend is a “half-spirited” version of the former.

The story is very similar, but somehow, it doesn’t work. From the first moment until the last, it feels superficial and unconvincing. Actually, if the chemistry and acting had been better, it might have worked. I mean, objectively speaking, every hit film doesn’t have an excellent story. Much of the time, it’s the chemistry and convincing acting that carries the film through and achieves its aim. For example — the classic Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (even Karan Johar admits it), and the overrated Aashiqui 2 (yes, really). Unfortunately, these were missing in this film. It felt like the leads themselves weren’t convinced about their characters or the story, you could see that they did not fully invest in the portrayal.

Also I’m starting to see a trend in the writing of Chetan Bhagat with 2 States and Half Girlfriend, a kind of inferiority complex in the boy. In both stories, the boy feels unworthy of the girl. He doesn’t believe he is good enough for her, and yet still wants her? A “Phir Bhi Tumko Chaunga” phenomenon? Shall we ask psychologists to add a new term to the medical dictionary? Jokes apart, why is the male character so under-confident and why does he constantly feel sorry for himself? It’s kind of difficult to get the audience to root for you if you don’t have the sensibility to root for yourself.

The music is very nice, especially Baarish and Tu Hi Hai. Tu Hi Hai is delightful. In fact, I’d rather consider the film a 2 hour and 15 minute music video. After all that’s said, do I even need to tell you not to watch this film?

On a totally different side note, throughout Half Girlfriend, I kept wishing that it was Neha Sharma on screen instead of Shraddha Kapoor. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against Shraddha. I enjoyed her performances in Haider and Ek Villain. I admit she has potential but she doesn’t deliver consistently. Either she doesn’t try hard enough, or maybe requires certain criteria, like a feeling of connection with the character or excellent direction, to encourage the artist inside her. Sadly, in many of her films, all that’s present is an innocent pretty face.

2017’s Best and Worst Patriotic Films

I have been on a patriotic film spree lately. From re-watching classics like Rang De Basanti, watching ones that I missed at release, like Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey, and catching up with patriotic films of 2017, I have the tri-color running in my veins. So what are the best and worst patriotic films of 2017?

ghazi-attack-review-1Best: The Ghazi Attack

This is by far the best film I have seen this year. With seasoned actors like Kay Kay Menon and Atul Kulkarni, and a great performance by Rana Daggubati, the story of Indian submarine S21’s efforts to destroy a Pakistani submarine before it destroys them and launches an attack on the Indian mainland, is impressive. There is not a dull moment in this edge-of-the-seat film and you will find yourself clenching your teeth and praying for their success. You must watch The Ghazi Attack.

RangoonBest: Rangoon

I don’t understand why Rangoon didn’t perform well at the box office. I found the Vishal Bhardwaj film portraying the Indian independence movement through the perspective of the entertainment industry very impressive. Based on the real-life stuntwoman and actress “Fearless Nadia,” referred to as Miss Julia in Rangoon, played by Kangana, the film displays how the entertainment industry became part of British military propaganda and how Miss Julia found herself in the middle of it all. The original scenes, the perfect fusion of art and war, and wonderful chemistry between Kangana and Shahid, I enjoyed every minute of the film. I admit the ending was a bit far-fetched, but I can easily ignore this for the many other pluses. See it.

begumjaanposterWorst: Begum Jaan

A 2017 film that was supposed to have a patriotic message was Begum Jaan. Yes, the film notes the violence against civilians during the Indian partition. But more so than send a message about the dark side of history,  it is a fairly meaningless film that spends much of its time romanticizing brothel characters and boasting violence. Skip this one.

Raman Raghav 2.0 Review

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I do my research. So when I saw Anurag Kashyap’s Raman Raghav 2.0, inspired from a 1960s serial killer in Mumbai, I felt that the filmmaker took too many creative liberties in the script. The film is of course not a biopic and not intended to be. But the story, inspired from real life events, has been distorted and taken in a whole new path. So that at the end of the film, I felt that it was quite something else. Spoilers next…

To dramatize the story and use irony with the creation of a police character who is just as much of a criminal and psychopath as the serial killer is one thing. But to turn a serial killer’s homophobia into love and acceptance is quite another. It was not unbelievable to learn that the policeman investigating the murders of a serial killer indulges in some crime of his own, and ironically using the same method as the man he is pursuing. But it was quite unbelievable that a character, inspired from one who is claimed to have expressed strong homophobic fears in real life, announces homosexual love uninhibitedly. I think Anurag went a bit too far in the galaxy there. What is stranger is that he gave the character such a self-righteous monologue at the end of the film that we understood, and almost even accepted, a ruthless murderer. That’s probably the last thing you want to do when you make a film about a serial killer. Unless one wants to hit home a deeply sub-conscious message that the evil we search for is actually in ourselves? Well, this film would surely be a poor platform to deliver that message. Not even the Cannes jury will get that, let alone the regular cine-goer who is used to being spoon-fed life-altering lessons in the cinema hall. I think Raman Raghav 2.0 is too ambitious, strange and complex for most.

Although the film was made on a limited budget and gave the disclaimer that “this film is not about him,” I think that it does not excuse such a colossal offense by the filmmaker. But all is not bad with the film. The music is out of this world (too far in the galaxy indeed). The contrast of the soothing voice of the singer and the adrenaline rich beat in Qatl-e-Aam, coupled with all too perfect picturization, will put you in a trance. An on repeat one.

Everything Wrong with Samrat & Co

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At the risk of upsetting the few but very devoted fans of the film and its hero, I have decided to have a fun but equally harsh discussion of this ridiculous film. It doesn’t really make sense to review it as one can offer few praises and many criticisms. And to review it means to give it some level importance, and that surely Samrat & Co does not deserve.

So what is this largely unnoticed film from 2014 about? It would be an insult to the valuable adaptations of Sherlock Holmes stories, to say that it is one of them. Let’s just say that the film is an amateur and sad attempt to join their privileged class.

Before I dive into discussing things wrong with this film, let me start by commenting what was done well. The background score was very nice. From the very first scene of the film, the background music sets the stage and tells us of the mystery, horror and sadness that awaits. The use of cameras and cinematography was also effective.

Sadly, that’s about all I can mention about what is good in the film. The next scenes introduces us to the most irritating Watson character “Chakradhar” that is to be found. He’s supposed to be a murder TV show host but is a clueless irritating man who keeps making cringe-worthy remarks and unnecessary repetitions of “that’s the point!” that has absolutely no contextual purpose in the dialogue. His voice and facial expressions are just as irritating and instead of being a companion to the “Sherlock” character, he is but a fool whose whole purpose in the story is to praise Samrat and his abilities. Maybe except that he refers to Samrat as STD many times. I don’t even have words to describe this cheap and amateur attempt at word play.

And of course, there is the “Sherlock” character itself– Samrat. Again, it’s an insult to compare this character to the detective sleuth of so many adaptations. This is by far the slowest and most ridiculous detective portrayed. I appreciate the writers attempt to portray a mystery classic, but they failed utterly by assuming the audience to be low witted, easily entertained creatures who have no reasoning skills whatsoever, and who are smitten by cheesy and stupid dialogues.

The Samrat character proceeds to show off his skills with series of deductions in several instances. For example, he makes various claims about Dimpy’s character and life at the first meeting and later in the flight, explains them. He claims that the scratch marks on her phone explain the confusion of her relationship. What utter nonsense! In another instance, it takes our so-called bright detective 30 seconds to figure out that a text message is referring to the break, gas and clutch of a car, what took merely a second for the audience to understand. So much for ‘sharp, teekhi, drishti.’

In other scenes, the writers display the character reaching various conclusions without explaining how he reached them or by giving very poor and illogical explanations. For examples, we’re expected to believe that he is able to read a small writing quite far off from him in a dark, dimly lit room, without even moving his head to look in that direction (when he says the line is from Shakespeare’s Hamlet play.)

What was and has always been so impressive and loveable of the Sherlock Holmes stories and adaptations is that there is always a good, realistic and understandable reasoning behind the deductions of the detective. It’s a true skill that is being put to use, and when it is explained to us step by step, we are able to reach the same conclusion. And yet we are amazed at the speed and efficiency in which the detective reached them. That has always been the secret behind the success of these stories. And one cannot expect an adaptation that lacks this to be successful.

As Sherlock Holmes says in the original stories, “crime is common, logic is rare,”… films are common, logic in films, not so much, as Samrat & Co so well displays.

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Let me leave you with a recommendation of another film, a Bengali film from 2013 called “Satyanweshi” portraying the Indian Sherlock Holmes “Byomkesh Bakshi.” Now this film, despite being a bit too slow, is a revelation in that the characters are extremely well displayed and solve an intriguing mystery. What I love in this film is that it stays true to the relationship between Holmes and Watson. Anindya Chatterjee plays one of the most endearing Watsons I have seen, and is an intelligent character that assists Holmes in solving the mystery, just as it should be. I find the brainstorming discussions between the characters in this film very refreshing.

Rustom Review

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Rustom is categorized as a mystery crime, but there is really nothing mysterious about it. I’m disappointed with the film, which I expected to be similar to a Special Chabbis. I assume Akshay accepted the script with the same idea.

Spoilers next

Unfortunately, the story of the film does not make too much sense. There is no excitement or intrigue in the way it is written. If anything, Rustom’s defense in court is the only bit worth watching. Otherwise, the incidents are as clear as day. The poor writing prevented any sort of mystery. It was also illogical as we were never explained why an otherwise honest and respectable Navy commander decides to hit up a corrupt money deal involving Navy commanders.

I was also nauseated with the way romance was woven into the story. Although I expect feminists to approve of how Rustom reconciles with his unfaithful wife, I did not find it realistic. Actually the concept is quite right. How many women forgive their husbands’ unfaithfulness and continue their lives with them for the sake of love and family? Why can’t a husband do the same? Surely he could. But he generally doesn’t. I have never seen an example of such big-heartedness and compassion in a man, that he would forgive and continue to love a woman who had a sexual relationship with another man. Therefore, I couldn’t help but find this aspect of the film ludicrous at best.

An additional negative point is that the performance did not demand anything unique or special from Akshay who could have done wonders with a better written character and story. Therefore, you will not miss much by not watching Rustom. A Special Chabbis or Airlift is better worth your time.

Baar Baar Dekho Review

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The trailer of Baar Baar Dekho was very promising. It was clear that it was a very different and interesting script. I’m happy to say that I really liked the film and that it lived up to my expectations.

I read some criticism prior about the acting and the story of the film. But frankly, after seeing the film, I don’t see what anyone has to complain about. The script is very fresh and interesting. The acting was satisfactory and I felt that the actors were well suited for their roles.  I found both Sidharth and Katrina less inhibited in this film. Both actors’ performances are influenced by the equation with the director and co-stars of their films. It’s clear in Baar Baar Dekho that these things made the actors comfortable and perform with a little more ease.

The film is about the relationship of Jai (Sidharth) and Diya (Katrina). They’re about to get married, much to the disappointment of Jai who feels overwhelmed and wants to concentrate on his career instead. He breaks it off with Diya and drinks himself to sleep. But when he wakes up the next morning, he finds himself in another place and another time. Jai continues to travel between different points in his life and slowly understands not only how important Diya is for him, but also how he is going to mess everything up if he continues to behave the same way. But can he make amends before it’s too late?

What’s most important is the message the film has to offer. The film teaches us how to value our time with our loved ones, and how to live in the present rather than sulk over the past or worry about the future. And indeed, the film fulfills this goal most effectively, as I found myself giving my mom a hug as I  watched Jai regret his mistakes and the time he has wasted.

A film that makes one to think about this concept–that our time in this world is shockingly short and that it’s easy to ignore the things that are truly important in it– is definitely worth watching.