Udta Bollywood!

Udta Punjab (2016):

Irrespective of what a film is about, what firstly strikes me and lastly moves me is how beautiful it is. Amid the head-turning hype, amid censoring controversies on violence and vulgarity of the film, and in a larger sense of any film seeking release in the country, what I noticed is how beautiful Udta Punjab is. Its beauty cutting through all the slangs, all the squalor of its depicted reality.

The film made primarily to showcase the state of a state, how drugs have captured the lies and imaginations of a Punjab languishing far from its prideful past, where the youth who once fought for Freedom is now seeking it in the powders and syringes of a free-falling ‘Ecstasy’, succeeds in wrapping its motive in a segmented plot that makes its ends meet in the end and refrains from the excesses of melodrama altogether. The movie oscillates between its three separate stories with seeming effortlessness, jumping from one to the other without once over-complicating it or tangling the emotional threads it so poignantly weaves. What we see as the end-product is far more than an authoritative stance on the topic, and far extraordinary than the typical Bollywood our imagination is used to.

Where the film really has you shaken is with the acting (this word actually seems contradictory) of the actors (again, they are beyond it). Such fearlessness and freedom of acting is not only rare of ‘glamorous’ mainstream actors, it is simply stupefying. With carefully-crafted dialogues and accurate portrayal of slang-culture, they could have kept me eyes flowing without a shred of plot. Shahid and Alia shares screen in only a handful of scenes, and in the first of them, they render, in near-zero background music, what can arguably be called the best duet performance of modern Indian cinema. I repeat: I have not seen such courage and perfection in acting. I have not been more affected than when Alia’s character was blurting out the entire span of her journey in one breathless go, in one burst of a lifetime’s agony. I reached out and felt it. I was there, she lives somewhere in the vast stretches of my Motherland, she is not one, rather many, and she screamed her pain to me. I, the audience saw. I, the audience touched her wounds, felt the power of honest cinema. Then to top it all with words that meant, I have not broken, I am still standing. I am still standing.

Alia Bhatt delivers the performance that is worth infinitely more than her career’s ultimate earnings, her family’s name, and a lifetime of glitz, glamour and fame. She transcended it all, she won’t talk about it too much as it won’t make headlines in the Gossip columns that the glamour-chasing youth devours, ‘entertainment’ cinema will soon overshadow it by the sheer power of its quantity, but she delivers at the age of 22 (it probably won’t rage the glamorous private award shows and politically-correct government one) an actor’s dream, an artist’s pride. The nation will still find pleasure to call her ‘dumb’, ‘stupid’, even ‘uneducated’ (it is the same nation I’m taking about that still does not see what force Indian Cinema is becoming) but for all I care, she is an actor and she is awfully good at what she chose. I didn’t imagine I’d have to say, Highway was only a beginning. Now I believe, Udta too was just scratching the surface.

Shahid Kapoor delivers unquestionably the second-best performance of the movie, but those who are acquainted with the names Kaminey and Haider already know the potential of his acting, and by all means, his rendition of the drug-addict, misguided popstar Tommy is as memorable and as stirring. He owns most of his scenes and the one where Tommy breaks into a song in the hospital is another distinct example of exudation of simple cinematic beauty I’m obsessing about. Kareena delivers her worth distinctly in her final scene, showing all what the experience of years culminates to. Diljit Dosanjh wears the skin of his character consistently throughout and lends the measured heroism that the character asks. Prabhjot Singh as the suffering image of Punjab’s youth, Balli strikes a heavy chord and shows a world of promise for the young actor.

Udta becomes the face of Bollywood that is gradually surfacing but is still suppressed. Such honesty of a topic delivered with such coherence and maturity is still rare. The fight with the CBFC was completely worth it. For once at least, cinema won over every reason, every effort to hide what unsettles. By it, Udta can claim its importance in shaping a small dawn of a larger change of India and her art, pending after every election, every corruption, every campaign, throughout the long years, since the lengthy echoes of the bells of Independence rung 68 years ago on a midnight, and the first reel that rolled in the hands of Dadasaheb Phalke a hundred and three calendars back. In a few minds, a few scenes and images simply stands.

Subham Basak

(June 28, 2016)



Movie Review: Court(2014)- The ‘Drama-less’ Drama

This official Indian entry to the Oscars is bound to make you look at new-age Indian films in a different light. What can easily be regarded as the epitome of the new wheels that parallel Indian cinema is riding on, the Marathi movie ‘Court’ demands of you a mindset that trite Bollywood films do not have the slightest requirement for.

At the onset, it is necessary to mention that this movie does not have a conspicuous background music or a fashionable cinematography. Yet the movie manages to arrest your attention by the sheer power of simple dialogues and the remarkable patience in the natural depiction of scenes of life. Centered on the plight of the tution teacher-cum-folk singer Narayan Kamble (Vira Sathidar), the film seamlessly and significantly peeks into the lives of the two confronting lawyers and the judge (Pradeep Joshi) of the sessions court so as to draw the complete picture of their mentality, lifestyles and prejudices that have subtly played a hand in the case. The portrayal makes it indispensable to note how each of the given three, upon whom rests solely the conviction or acquittal of the prosecuted, takes the case as just another errand in their prosaic life, and tackles with professional indifference. Even the accused seems to have lost the urge and emotion of combat against injustice, and deals with his fate as unsurprisingly as he deals with his day-to-day life.

Here emerges the distinct microcosm of the lower-middle and middle class Indian Citizen as the helpless enduring puppets of the Indian Judiciary, whose resignation has inevitably taken the form of an inanimate acceptance. Herein lies the distinct irony of the lack of dramatics in the movie and its proven necessity. Herein gets scripted the victory of the adopted style of ‘naturalism’. The traits of resignation are best found in the eyes and mannerisms of the wife of the deceased man-hole worker, Vasudev Pawar, whose supposed suicide is alleged to be the result of Kamble’s abetment. She feared the harassment of the law more than she mourned the death of her husband, and had not the food in her stomach to afford the luxury of grief before she found work. That the lack of any protective equipment and poisonous man-hole gases caused the loss of an eye of late Vasudev, is turned a blinder eye by the judge and dismissed as assumptions immediately. The only one in the film not accustomed to the perennially prevailing prejudices governing justice is the young defending lawyer (Vivek Gomber) with hints of affluent upbringing.

I must mention my favourite scene where loyalists of a minority sect ‘Goyamari’ captures the lawyer outside a restaurant before his family and blackens his face for ‘insulting’ their practices before court. We only hear screams of his family and Goyamari slogans as the name of the restaurant “Chetana” (Conscience) is captured in the empty frame.

The irony heightens when after bailing out Kamble for lack of evidence, he is arrested again on grounds on sedition, an ill-defined crime that he again did not actually commit. He only sang his songs that he knew he was forbidden to.

The film is successful in its criticism of the Indian Judiciary and Indian Society, though the unabashed disregard for all usual rules of entertaining film-making might cause slight discomfort. It opens the Indian audience to the raw non-commercial style of cinema and earns the unforgettable niche of the true cinema-loving hearts. Since an art form must only be classified as good or bad, this piece would undoubtedly near the former.

Subham Basak

(May 10, 2016)


The Film You Cannot Forget

Today, I watched Schindler’s List. Today, I saw the muscle of a movie, the delicate yet indelible ability of art.

There am I, writing posts in an ostentatious blog and there was Oskar Schindler crying out that he could have saved some more lives if only he had wasted some less money, after having saved not mere men but a hopeless humanity. A film that explores the change of a man against the gory backdrop of history’s cruelest war, and shows that the human mind is a work of such beauty that it has all the power and reasons to turn empathetic and kind, when all reasons apparently betray the notion, and maybe just enough to change the world. At a juncture when power was waging wars, overturning lives and instilling fear, Schindler tells Goeth that “Power is when we have every justification to kill, and we don’t.”. This legendary scene impersonates the movie, and seemingly implants the seed of the new Schindler and a new humaneness in Schindler and the generations of audience alike.

Schindler only had the power of money.With power comes responsibility, and in trying times, for a Schindler, often the responsibility amounts to saving a world by saving a life, even when you’re a German in a World War, and more so because you’re a German in the 2nd World War.

In the beginning of ninetees, while there were know-all’s criticizing politics, cricket and the degradation of movies, there was one man who was making this movie. This movie that is unforgettable, this movie that must leave the eyes bathed and generations moved.
Today, I begin to be grateful to him who planted anew the future of generations and to him who recreated his deed and made it visually immortal. Today, I am grateful, thankful and respectful not to God for this tiny inconsequential life of mine, but to the real Gods of humanity much before. We once had a Schindler, who was but a human like me and today, I watched his story.



So! Me and Earl and the Dying Girl…

Well, what would I say about this movie besides that it was the best teenage movie that I’ve watched so far. Well, I may not have watched many from that category but yes, this movie had a heart. You’d fail to understand when you’ve started enjoying the silly jokes of Greg and your sympathy for him might just have silently turned into empathy and liking as he has just gone to embody the unreasonable, irrational craziness in you. You might just realise that he was not making bad imitation films, he was only giving uninhibited vent to the furtive, unspoken desires of every movie-lover. A misfit, self-exiled outcast, it was only inevitable that he found a fitting soul mate in the dying Rachel. (In Olivia Cooke, I have found mine too, but that will require a separate mention.)

In their first visit, in Rachel’s room, she simply uses her silent stares to absorb Greg’s infinitely stupid antics and finds in him an amicable companion. Greg, too understands in silence that he has been understood. You’d find yourself equidistant between the two, enjoying and celebrating the movie, while wishing to have a relationship like this, of your own. They never quite become romantic, there never quite appears the inevitable puberty-fuelled kiss, and yet they love each other and value each other in a way only they could. The space that the movie leaves you in, wondering whether you’ve watched a story about two friends or a disguised love-story is the space the film owns, and proudly claims to be its own.

In many ways, the film reminds you of the more popular “The Fault in our Stars” and it is in all those ways, it also understates, what more it has achieved, which begins with you wishing yourself dead before Rachel and ends in instilling in you, memories, of the frames you loved with the people who loved you. The end speaks of all the ways in which a life can defeat the apathetic Time, sending you new meanings, new windows, if only you’ve loved them enough to be paying attention.

In ways more than it mocks sentimental squishy love, it will have successfully spun a spell over you, from celebrating the rawness of the craft of making movies to implanting deathless seeds of love and friendship. Simple words, simpler rendition, yet clinging faithful to originality, this piece of cinema will carve its niche in a heart willing to love, willing to be different. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl sure doesn’t die easy.