The Tree of Life Review

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The Tree of Life (2011) is not an entertaining movie. It’s utterly realistic, short on explanations, deliberative, existential. The film begins with its premise, of death. The universe, natural landmarks, oceans, volcanoes, cells. Everything separating, clashing, gushing, dividing, merging, forming.

One cannot directly dive into the story in this movie. First, it becomes an issue of understanding the filmmaker’s vision. His preferred way of presenting information to us. Which is not primarily through narrative, but rather through images– a series of remarkable, meaningful, often breathtaking, images. As much as one contemplates the story, one contemplates how it is presented.

The use of the camera and its angles are unique. The camera is very dynamic, always moving, and the angles, unusual. It creates a feeling as though we are moving through the character’s lives, observing them, without their awareness. It makes everything more natural, because the odd, disordered angles that concentrate on specific things, seems very similar to the way we use our eyes. How we tend to pay attention to specific objects, and its details, rather than observing the bigger picture. At the same time, the dynamic movement which follows the character’s movements, who also happen to be constantly moving around, creates a sense of attachment to them, as we are repeatedly urged to see things through their view.

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Periodically throughout the film, there is a low-angle shot. It forces us to reconsider things from a new position, a new perspective. It also feels like a reminder, of how small we are in comparison to everything else. As the film progresses, we also progress, through different landscapes, and different eras of the world. We are made to attain a greater perspective, a grand perspective, yet without detaching from the feeling of loss, which we are reminded of through the narration. The narration is an existential one, people trying to understand loss, through which they also appear to be understanding bonds, and love. But the narration, is bare minimum. Its the images, which are telling us the story.

The lighting is bright and realistic, but with very little sunlight, and often resembling a documentary. There is an abundance in green, the characters generally being outdoors. The crispness of the colors, the emphasis on nature, adds a harsh quality to the vision of the movie. A slight feeling of insecurity, but also of freedom. The seasons, all seem to be the same. Comforting memories are characterized by a greater use of yellow lighting.

The sounds and the music, just as the use of the camera, are disorienting, alarming, threatening. Telling us that what’s happening, is natural, yet dramatic, and difficult… as death. What loss feels like is portrayed through the struggles in nature, through the natural cycles in all existing things.

The movie shifts, from fragmented memories, to nature and existence, and again to memories. Not all memories are alarming, some are comforting, calming, even fun. Until when one sees, the reality of the situation. This family, which appeared perfectly happy until now, does not seem so happy anymore. It’s not a household devoid of love, but one of rules and boundaries. Of pressure, and intimidation. Everything is enforced, even love and affection. One feels, as those boys do, worried, frightened, and unsure. Their desire to be free, from the restrictions with which they live. Their mother, a flying fairy, of goodness and love. Then comes horror. These boys are not prepared for the horrors life has to show them. They’re good at heart, and wish to remain good; protected, yet curious to know more.

Their father is very strict, disciplined and keen to teach his sons. One can tell he has high expectations from them and wants to make sure they live up to it. But his harsh demeanor, his aggression, is hard for these boys to handle, they react better to the loving compassion of their mother. Grown men in pain have a hard time showing love to vulnerable children.

The boy who died– there is a strong impression throughout the movie, of how out of place he feels, almost all the time. The way he observes his world, in doubt and hesitation. One can sense the comforting he needs but is unable to ask for. It is clear that he desires to be accepted and loved for what he is, and not what his father wants to make him into. The rules and warnings constrict him, make him feel helpless, and unwanted. His first feeling, which doesn’t involve self-judgement, appears to be longing, when a girl throws her long brown hair.

Then, he witnesses death. He thinks about death, and what it would be like to lose someone he loves. The movie, and their life, appears to take on a more and more gloomy nature. This little boy, is too young for existential thoughts, but he has them. He talks to God, prays to God, then questions God, unable to understand why things are the way they are. He’s fascinated with his mother. It’s not that his father is unable to see his sensitivity, or his need for care, but he doesn’t know how to provide it. His father is frightened to be or to appear weak, even to his own children. The disorientation of the boy’s character grows, and takes on more intensity. Meaning he seeks, but is unable to find.

Their mother is as helpless as they are. A homemaker, she stays quiet during family dinners, as her husband intimidates their children. Isn’t it utterly devastating that these boys feel freedom and happiness, only when a member of the family is no longer there? That they feel like a guest in their own home? When a home becomes a personal prison? His return, the return of hopelessness? When one is so utterly desperate, that death seems to be the only solution? Either his death, or one’s own?

The boy’s strange attraction to his mother, presents a more complicated view of him. It becomes clear, that the attachment he feels for her, is too intense, and possibly a little unnatural. Is he clinging to her more, for his need of affection?

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His frustration is slowly transforming into rage. So much rage, that he even starts having outbursts in front of his father. His father dumbfounded, for he has no clue, of the kind of effect he has on him. Utter and complete constriction, the farthest edges of helplessness he now feels. Yet, a slight feeling of satisfaction, of peace, of believing in his bond with God.

The father’s remorse, we get a view of it, in the beginning of the movie and at the end. But how we see his remorse, changes in between the two. And slowly the movie quietens, calms, into greater peace. The music changes, the fear reduces. This is where mourning is completed, and wounds start to heal. Where, somehow, you start to find hope once again. Albeit, not without feeling lost every now and again. The vast, barren landscapes generally fulfill the feelings of being lost in this movie.

And we return to creation once again. To flowing hot lava, the dust storms of outer space, a plead to their creator, for eternal guidance. This is where endings and beginnings merge, in a sort of beginning of time. Where light shared, illuminates the paths of many. The endless journey, continues.

The movie, which began in chaos and upheaval, its sounds, alarming and worrying, ends, in en inexplicable peace and content. A kind of divine conclusion, to hurts once felt. A triumph of forgiveness and compassion, and the reuniting of loved ones, in a place where there is no fear. Where we get to embrace them, and ourselves. Our self, the young and afraid one, and the old and afraid one. And finally, we’re left on our own, for that last journey, the last few steps, into eternity.  THIS is a story of acceptance.

Watch this movie, only if you feel it would resonate with you. It’s too unique and abstract I think for most people, and in most situations. It requires intent and a specific type of mindset. Watch it only if you found this description of it meaningful.

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Jab Harry Met Sejal Review

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The premise of Jab Harry Met Sejal, although it appears quite ridiculous for the most part, is one of great potential. Where Imtiaz went wrong, was that he should have told the entire story from Sejal’s point of view. While Sejal’s character and life leads this story, it’s still the man who needs to be “completed” at the end and the woman who needs to prove herself as “worthy” of his love. It should have been the opposite. Because this is not a story of a man looking for himself, it’s actually a story of a woman looking for love. Is that not obvious?

A woman looking for a ring while she has it all along, and finding something else entirely, one that she didn’t even realize she had been looking for. She’s the one who is engaged, but not satisfied with that relationship. She is the one who gets off a plane at the last minute and pressures Harry to guide her back through the places she had visited. She is the one who crosses limits with him, encouraging him all through the journey, to be closer to her, to open up to her. She never hesitates with him. She never doubts him, despite the womanizer image he pushes in her face. She trusts him, and reaches out to him repeatedly to return the affection she offers.

And yet it’s Harry who has the void? One that she must fill in order to be completed herself? And it’s Harry who proves her worth to her?

Imtiaz created a vivacious, strong-willed, charming Sejal, and then “killed” her in the conclusion, right in front of our eyes. This was not meant to be a story of a lost middle-aged man finding himself, but a story of a woman finding a companion. A woman who had the void, and who was being completed. A woman who doesn’t need others to tell her her worth, but who needs to remember it, and believe in it herself.

This is not the first time that Imtiaz has subdued a female character to the inner-search of a male one. It happened too in Rockstar, and in Tamasha, where the female character– who was the inspiration and soul of the story– was sacrificed for the other to complete his journey.

This was not the case however, in the best known and most adored film of Imtiaz– Jab We Met. In that story, both the characters had a journey to complete, voids to fill. And they filled it for each other, helped each other reach their destinations, and united along the way to a mutual destination. When Imtiaz remembers to focus on his female’s characters’ hopes and desires as much as he does on his male characters’, that day, he will produce another Jab We Met. Or just forget about that, and let the woman find herself for once!

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.