Friday, March 07, 2014

Drishyam, Mollywood, movie myths dispelled and other random thoughts

Forgive me if this sounds patronising but it definitely is not meant to be.  I'd always heard that the market for Malayalam movies was not big (monetarily) and so I'd imagined that their movie budgets would be low (discounting for the star salaries) resulting in poor production values. Not true.

I was also under the impression that Mollywood either churned out loud, trashy, nonsensical films or boring, arthouse flicks. Not true. 

A 165 minute thriller. With just 2 songs. A second half which is significantly longer than the first. An overall lazy and languid style of film-making. It just wouldn't work for me. Not true.

Meditative silences randomly interspersed with long, dramatic monologues characteristic of  radio shows / TV serials of the 80s (remember them??). How can it succeed? It just did.

Drishyam released in December and ever since, I'd been hearing nothing but rave reviews about the film. It seemed to be one of those rare Malayalam movies that seemed to have won over both the fans and critics in equal measure. Racking up an incredible 50 crore, the movie's success was attributed to the fact that besides connecting with the die-hard Lalettan fans & the important family audience, it pulled in a lot of non-Malayalam speaking crowds outside of Kerala and even abroad. With this as the context, I had been meaning to see the film for quite some time but my only concern was the language barrier. Bangalore does not have a Sathyam cinemas to screen movies with subtitles & so as I dithered and the movie crawled into its 7th week of running, it finally came down to just one 10 am show at PVR, Koramangla....and that's when I heard Kamal was planning to remake it in Tamil with Gautami and Nadia. *shudder* Flashback to Unnaipol Oruvan and A Wednesday *shudder shudder*

My mind was made and I finally saw the movie this week. WOWWWWWWWWWWWWWW....Yes, I got only 80-90% of the dialogues and would have loved to see it with people who know the language better but the film absolutely lived up to the hype.

What worked for me:

The script & screenplay: Whoever thought a thriller with strong human drama elements could keep an audience hooked for 165 minutes. Despite the slow pacing, I never found myself getting restless and could hardly wait for the next scene to unfold and the story to move forward. The twists were logical and the attention to detail was meticulous. The only complaint I had was the excessive amount of explanatory scenes but I guess that's a compromise the director had to make the film more accessible.

Camera-work: Sujith Vasudev's cinematography was top notch and the very first scene shot inside a rickety local bus itself was an apt pre-cursor of things to follow. Lovingly mounted shots of life in small town Kerala and some innovative framing (angles, lighting) techniques made this movie a soothing sight for tired eyes.

Characterisation: Every single character was very well fleshed out and they stayed in my mind long after the movie ended. While you can never justify why some of them reacted/behaved the way they did, you could understand their motivations for doing so and that was where the writer won. There was no clear but overly simmplistic black or white, there was grey and various hues and shades of the colour.

The casting & performances: I'm not familiar with the works of most of the supporting cast but there wasn't a a single over-the-top or off-note performance from anyone in the cast. The supporting actors be it the rich industrialist (Siddique) or his IG wife (Asha Sarath), the in-laws (Sreekumar and Shobha Mohan) of the hero or even his two young daughters (Aansiba and Baby Ester) were consistently brilliant as were the canteen owner & the office assistant. Meena as Rani George is quietly competent but the show-stealers are Mohanlal as Georgekutty (another chameleonic act) and Kalabhavan Shajon as the lead antagonist Sahadevan. These two alone are reason enough to merit a repeat watch.

The direction: All things aside, the real hero of the film is the man at the helm, Jeethu Joseph. This film is ample proof that we have in our midst, a man with genuine story-telling prowess, one with exceptional control over his craft and an ability to keep us engaged without any needless gimmicks.

A movie as successful as this cannot be without its share of controversies and I am not talking about the plagiarism part here. There has been an incredible amount of heated arguments and internet chatter on the propriety of Georgekutty's actions but here is how I see it

There is always a correct/right (legally of course) way of handling a problem or a crisis and then there are other ways. What Drishyam does not DO is take a firm stance in one side or even justify the choice its protagonist makes. Different people put in the same spot might react differently and since the movie is a work of fiction, the director just makes a choice on which route Georgekutty takes. They say "Art imitates life and vice versa" but it would be ridiculous to blame the director for propogating the view that it is fine to take the law in one's hands as long as the ends justify the means.

I've never ever tried to put myself in the shoes of a fictional character and decide at a moral crossroads but if I had to, I swear I would have done exactly the same (or even more) as what Georgekutty does. Parenthood sure does strange things to you !!!

Final words: This is a must-not-miss movie. I could not give it a more ringing endorsement than what I have hopefully done above. Catch it in a theatre asap before you miss out

Thursday, March 06, 2014

Oscars 2014 - a roundup

Come Feb/Mar, it is the Oscars season and I try and watch as many of the nominated movies in theatres as possible. Of course, I've already seen few of them through 'other sources' but if you're eager to catch up with these flicks, now is the time to do so as studios typically try to cash in on the Oscar Buzz and release these films in Indian halls. This year has been really good with virtually all the interesting films being screened, including off-beat ones like Nebraska, August: Osage County, Inside Llwelyn Davis and Saving Mr. Banks.

Here are my quick thoughts on some of the films that I've managed to see and some of those I've deliberately given a skip

American Hustle: I enjoyed this film, really did but cannot for the life of me fathom how it could get 10 Oscar nominations. This is commercial, mainstream, fun cinema. I thought it was as entertaining as the Ocean's Trilogy. Almost. Still, doesn't take away the splendid performances. I loved Silver Linings Playbook as a novel and was quite disappointed by the movie version. Obviously, I wasn't particularly thrilled by Jennifer Lawrence's win last year but she's the current Hollywood darling and its not dificult to see why. She's a hoot as the completely cuckoo Rosalyn and is reason enough to pay Rs 220 at PVR to watch the movie. Jeremy Renner is good too as is the incredible Christian Bale whose physical transformation to play this role almost had me gasping for breath. Go for it

Captain Phillips & Gravity: I've already covered these in brief here

Her: Spike Jonze’s  movies are usually bizarre. His collaboration with that genius Charlie Kauffman (whom I finally "got" thanks to Eternal Sunshine) gave us the universally acclaimed Being John Malkovich and the delicious Adaptation neither of which were particularly liked by me when I first saw them.....and then, Where the Wild Things Are happened. This was a brilliant and hugely under-rated (73% at RT, you've got to be kidding me) film that actually worked for me the second time I saw it. And so, when I first heard about the idea / concept of Her, I was utterly, intrigued. This coupled with a starcast of Rooney Mara, Amy Adams (ok, there is Joaquin Phoenix also but he's actually good here) meant that I HAD to see this one.  Sweet, funny, soul-stirring, insightful, even melancholic in parts, this is a fantastic film. It is actually genre bending and a must-see for people

The Wolf of Wall Street: Finally a 3 hr Hollywood movie with no song and dance which actually justified its running time. Completely entertaining though I do wish I had seen it in the hall..but then, I wasn't sure if I would or would not be bleeped out. Leo will get his Oscar one day just like Scorcese did but it will be a real pity if he gets it for a not-so-deserving film in the end.

Dallas Buyers club: Not really my kinda film as I tend to stay clear of biographical dramas. I am going to get a lot of flak but I really used to like Matthew McConaughey in his braind-dead rom coms (read: How to lose a guy in 10 days, The Wedding Planner etc) that I am loathe to see him in this new avatar. I've been meaning to catch up with Mud for a long time now but from what I hear, he's awesome in Dallas Buyers Club and with True Detective also in his kitty, the McConassance is truly gathering steam.

12 years a Slave: Lincoln bored the hell outta me last year and if I don't know much about heavy, historical subjects like this, not sure I will care much for this film so skipped this one. If i still have to see a film on slavery, I'd rather revisit Django :-) 

Side comments:
  • I USED to like Meryl Streep. For one, she could act (18 nominations and counting) and she had genuine screen presence...and I absolutely adored her in The Devil Wears Prada for which she deserved an Oscar....but then I saw Doubt, Julie & Julia and caught parts of The Iron Lady. Jeeeeeeeeeeez. This woman is like the Major Sundarrajan of Hollywood. She can still ACT but she is always the same Meryl Streep. She KNOWS she can act and there are scenes which scream out 'Hey watch me ACT"....and, as my mom recently observed, if you go back and watch her old films like Kramer vs. Kramer or Bridges of Madison County, she's been doing it for ages. I just cannot stand her now.

  • Cate Blanchett won Best Actress for Blue Jasmine. She was the clear favourite by a country mile and won comfortably in the end and all the critics were happy that their prediction came true. Except that there was nothing extra-ordinary about the performance. I'm not dissing it, just saying I've seen similar stuff from Saritha and Rohini in Tamil films and I never heard anyone raving about them. A lot of this for an Oscar?? Just because it is a Woody Allen film, do people need to go so overboard?? Uffffffffffff

I'm usually not enamoured by the acting honours and tend to focus on the Best Picture and Best Screenplay (Adapted and original) categories but this has been a year of sterling, breakthrough performances by relatively new faces so do give some of the above movies a dekho.

Tamil film music - Light at the end of the tunnel

If you, like me, have been frustrated with the general quality of Tamil film music over the last couple of years and the lack of fresh talent, here is some good news for you. There are a couple of really stand-out composers in the scene and these two 30-something talents look like they are very much there to stay....Wait to know more about who I am talking about.

With YSR finding 'new' religion and thankfully sparing us of his Thamizh kolais, Harris Jayaraj continuing to create templatised music that sounds good for 2 months and then completely fades away, Anirudh rehashing idli maaavu to create dosa and uthappam already in his short 4-5 movie innings, DSP continuing to be DSP and Imaan refusing to let go of his 80s Ilayaraja hangover, TFM buffs have been starved of genuinely new material. Enter Ghibran and Santhosh Narayanan from Coimbatore and Trichy respectively :)

I've already waxed lyrical of Ghibran and how much I loved the score in Vaagai Sooda Vaa and Naiyandi. Of course, Vatthikuchi was what brought him firmly to the limelight but my personal favourite amongst his efforts is Thirumanam Ennun Nikah. His ability to take a classical raga and then create commercial magic out of it is what makes me really look forward to his next 2 efforts, Viswaroopam 2 and Uthama Villain. As long as he doesn't get Kamal to sing much in these films, he's got me waiting with bated breath. If you've still not heard about this guy or his music, sample this, this and this - these are my personal favourites currently.

‎Santhosh Narayanan has been another gem I managed to chance upon thanks to Karthik here. First off, I must confess that I did NOT like Attakathi (the film) one bit which meant I wasn't open/willing to take away any positives from the film  - it didn't help that the Aadi Pona Aavani song which was all over the airwaves absolutely drove me nuts. Since then, I've had a chance to revisit the album a few times over and even I cannot deny that it heralded the return of Gaana as a cool genre and gave us that man, Bala. Pizza had an excellent score but it was with Soodhu Kavvum that Santhosh blew me away. The album was a quirky mix of rock, trance, rap and even techno fusion elements & his choice of unknown (to me atleast) singers to deliver this rollicking sound track was a brilliant move - absolutely mad, zany music that had me oooohing and aaaahing. Come Na, Mama Douser and Kaasu Panam attained cult status and ensured that the world sat up and waited for his next....and then came Jigarthanda. This one will divide people straight down the middle - you'll either looooooooooove it or hatttttttttttttttte it. No prizes for guessing which camp I belong to.

I've never been a fan of the logic that music has to be judged in the context of where it fits in the movie. If you're releasing a full fledged album and I pay hard-earned money for it, I want to enjoy it stand-alone. Period. (This is where ARR's Highway failed but I digress). Having heard so much already about Jigarthanda being an urban gangster film, I was keen to see how Santhosh would treat this and boy, does he deliver. The effort is as good as Pudhupettai which is the Holy Grail in this genre and Jigarthanda feels more of an OST than a regular album. Each track is stand-alone wowwwww, unique and feels like nothing I've heard before which is saying a lot. I'm not able to put a finger and tell you exactly why this is awesome but awesome it is. Its just been a couple of listens and the tracks do grow on you.

PS: Technically, Cuckoo came before Jigarthanda but I've not listened to it much so more on it later.