Tuesday, June 28, 2016

അനന്തരം (Anantaram) (1987)

Director: Adoor Gopalakrishnan
Writer:    Adoor Gopalakrishnan
Cinematography: Mankada Ravi Varma
Cast:        Asokan, Mammooty, Shobana
Language: Malayalam

Ajayan was an orphan boy who was left at an hospital, the place of his birth. He is adopted by a widower doctor who also has a much more elder son (Mammooty). The film is told largely through monologues by the Ajayan character as he tries to narrate how he became what he is now.

The younger version of Ajayan is played by Sudeesh and the older version by Asokan. The last shot of the film has Ajayan as a boy counting the steps to a pond by using only odd numbers and just after that him doing the same but this time with even numbers. That essentially explains the film or what Adoor is trying to do. The first half of the film goes in a feel good fashion as it is mostly good things that Ajayan narrates. But second half is like a psychological horror with Ajayan choosing to tell all things that he left out initially. So the film is basically about storytelling and how our perceptions about things are shaped by what is revealed to us.

The sad thing about the film is that while the concept is really good, the execution is not that great. Film suffers with some poor performances in first half with extended silences that doesn't look natural and you feel as if actors are not sure about how awardishly they should behave. It would have aided the film a lot more if the behaviour was quite normal in first half as it would have made for an even more impactful second half when the nature of the film flips. It is hard for me to take Shobana seriously in her earlier roles because we got so used to the voice that dubbed for her in the latter part of her career. Mamootty is quite good throughout but Asokan is not consistently good. Overall it is still a good watch but could have been a much greater film with better execution. It just doesn't get past its conceptual greatness. It did win Adoor a national award and he is said to have modeled the protagonist based on himself- a dual personality who is both an introvert and an extrovert.

Rating: 3/5

Thursday, June 23, 2016

ഒഴിവുദിവസത്തെ കളി (Ozhivudivasathe Kali) (2015)

Director: Sanal Kumar Sasidharan
Writer:    Unni R 
Cinematographer: Indrajith S
Cast:      Nistar Ahamed, Arun Nayar, Pradeep Kumar, Baiju Netto, Reju Pillai, Abhija Sivakala
Language: Malayalam

The film follows five middle-aged men who get together for a booze party during an election day in Kerala. Their main intention is fun and refreshment but as time passes, they open up to their own true wild nature and starts getting really honest about things. Tired and bored of arguments, they decide to play a game that they used to play in their childhood.

It is based on a short-story by Unni R and was filmed without a screenplay. So what you hear is mostly improvised dialogues with the actors probably knowing where to go broadly based on the story. The portion after the interval, which comprises of around 52 minutes, is a single long take and is really an achievement for Malayalam film industry. Most of it happens within a room but you do have them going outside after an argument in pouring rain (artificial). That said, the trick you have to pull when you go for these extreme long shots is that you shouldn't make the audience feel conscious about it. That is not the case here as the camera sometimes follow very slowly some of its characters into other rooms and you get shots of walls lingering too much. Still, it is a commendable achievement when coupled with the fact that dialogues are improvised. 

The five friends in the film represents all Malayalees. You have a Brahmin, a newly rich NRI guy, a pseudo-liberal government officer, a middle caste bourgeoisie guy and finally someone from lower caste who is dark in complexion. All of them, despite being friends, gradually behaves in the manner they are expected to behave based on their caste and economic background. In Kerala, due to land reforms and all, Brahmins don't exert power like they do in the rest of India as economic heft is not their anymore. It is usually the non-Brahmin upper caste and middle caste people, who got rich, that behave in the most odious way when it comes to propagating the old social order. That is not to say that it is restricted to Hindus because caste system pretty much works across all religions in Kerala. The five characters in the film more or less adhere to their own social hierarchical place and the Dalit among them is named Dasan, which translates as servant. It is him that is made to do difficult jobs like climbing a tree to get a jack-fruit and kill a chicken for them to cook. He is also the one who is interested in politics while the remaining ones have a contempt for it. The NRI guy boasts about voting for NOTA, while the Brahmin guy procures a bottle of alcohol on the false promise that he will get his family to vote for a party. Some of them also longs for the good old days of Emergency when the trains ran on time and files moved quickly in Govt offices.This is another argument that one hear from idiots who think a dictatorship is something thing that India requires.

Finally, the game that they play involves drawing lots to determine who will be the Judge, King, Minister, the Police and the thief with the Police having the duty to declare him as such and find the thief among them. Even though they are drawing lots, all of them end up with the role that they are expected to play in terms of their position in the social hierarchy. The game then becomes a reflection of the state of corruption and social justice in India. Over the course of the film, they discuss various topics in an alcohol fueled manner including their attitude towards women and their own patriarchal selves. They use sync-sound for the film and some of the dialogues are a bit hard to decipher. It is highly recommended to watch it in a theater with good sound equipment.

The title of the film translates as 'An Off-Day's Game'. It won the state award for best picture in 2015 and it is very nice to see it getting a good release and response. It was made with a budget of just 14 lacs. Good thing about the film is that it doesn't shout its politics from rooftops and you can gleam whatever you want to from it. The performances are excellent from all concerned and it is a must-watch.

Rating: 5/5     

Monday, June 20, 2016

സ്വപ്നാടനം (Swapnadanam) (1976)

Director: K.G. George
Writers:  K.G. George, Pamman
Cinematographer: Ramachandra Babu
Cast:         Dr. Mohandas, Rani Chandra, Woman
Language: Malayalam

A guy turns up in Madras in a very fragile mental state. He ends up with a psychiatrist who subjects him to Narco-analysis, through which we learn about his past, background and his marriage.

Narco-analysis in a 1976 malayalam film- Yeah, you read that right!! The protagonist is a doctor who is sort of bought off by his uncle as an husband for his daughter. And there is a lost love from campus that haunts him. Mohanlal starrer 'Pakshe' had a similar premise but the major difference is that unlike that film, the characters in this are not binary. When you apportion blame in this film for the state of their marriage, both husband and wife gets it in equal measure. The basic story is quite universal and timeless and so the film hasn't aged one bit. One minor gripe would be the performances which can sometimes seem a bit dramatic. But when you consider the time the film came out, it must have still been revolutionary in all aspects including acting. There is a tendency among Malaylees  to water down the influence of Mohanlal and Mammooty by saying that they just got lucky with the directors that they could work with. The thing is, without the naturalism that they bought as protagonists, amply supported by a huge array of great supporting actors, their films wouldn't have become this great and that too with commercial appeal.

Swapnadanam was K.G. George's directorial debut and it won the state and national awards for best malayalam film that year. Dialogue delivery by the protagonist is at its acerbic best and it turns out that K.G himself dubbed for that part. Overall, it is a great watch with some surreal dreamscape imageries thrown in as well. It is ludicrous to learn that this film was a commercial success as well and I guess the Malayalee audience were not brainless bunch of pricks back then.

Rating: 4.5/5

Sunday, June 19, 2016

മറ്റൊരാൾ (Mattoral) (1988)

Director: K.G. George
Writers:  K.G. George, C.V. Balakrishnan
Cinematographer: Ramachandra Babu
Cast:        Mammooty, Karamana, Seema, Urvasi
Language: Malayalam 

An upper middle class family is torn apart when the middle aged mother elopes with a car mechanic. Their family friend (Mammooty) is trying to get the husband (Karamana) and wife (Seema) back together.

The husband is a Govt officer of significant stature who likes to restrict his wife into a homemaker. They have two kids and it is pretty evident from the early interactions that they don't have much chemistry anymore. I was thinking it would be more of a divorce case scenario and it was quite shocking when the central event in the film revealed itself. As is usual with K.G. George films, the interactions between its characters and their behaviour are very real.  He is certainly the best on that. However, my problem with this film is that it comes off as a bit regressive, especially coming from someone who made Adaminte Vaariyellu. He specialises in playing on clichés but the problem with that is that there is only a very fine line between it being a success or failure. Even though Karamana's character is shown as a bore early on, the film becomes quite one-sided later on with his character attracting a great deal of sympathy. The ending also ruins it further as  a hopeful one could have been truly path-breaking.

Despite my reservations about the ending and overall moralising tone of the film, it is still a good watch with excellent performances. I don't think there have been a film dealing with this subject matter in a real sense before and after this film in Malayalam. You are bound to get something out of a K.G. George film even if it is a lesser film of his.

Rating: 3/5

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Udta Punjab (2016)

Director: Abhishek Chaubey
Writers:  Sudip Sharma, Abhishek Chaubey
Cinematographer: Rajeev Ravi
Cast:        Shahid Kapoor, Alia Bhatt, Kareena Kapoor, Diljit Dosanj 
Language: Hindi 

I really don't think a synopsis is necessary for the film because of all the controversies surrounding it due to Pahlaj Nihlani's infamous 89 cuts. It is set in Punjab which is facing a severe drug crisis with an estimate that 70% of its youth is affected by it.

Rather than having the drug problem as a backdrop for the story, the film is just about it in the most unsubtle way. Then it becomes a big problem if you don't have any depth. You have a drug fueled rock star, who sings about the stuff he takes, getting reformed of sorts when he meets a couple of his fans who killed their mother for drugs. Then there is the hilariously naïve police officer who also grows a conscious after he finds out that his brother is also hopelessly addicted. He has got for company, a very blandly portrayed doctor character played by Kareena Kapoor who also moonlights as an exposition device. Then there is this tremendously irritating, whenever she has to deliver more than two lines together, Alia Bhatt as the token representation from the lower economic strata. The best way to describe the film would be is that it is incredibly sterile. It works like a Doordarshan sermon with very high production quality. The tone doesn't change as we move from the tobacco warning ads, sanitation advise etc to the actual fucking film.

I was not planning to watch this film but decided to give it a go after the certification body copy of it was leaked, presumably deliberately to sabotage it. Guess, I've another reason to hate Pahlaj Nihlani for. A friend of mine, with whom I watched it, quipped that Nihlani might have done it a favour with the 89 cuts of his. I agreed.

PS: I hate the fact that I was able to watch it in my hometown when I have to travel 35Kms tomorrow to catch the Malayalam film that was deemed the best from last year by the state jury. It is a sad state of affairs.

Rating: 1.5/5 

Monday, June 13, 2016

ആദാമിന്റെ വാരിയെല്ല് (Aadaminte Vaariyellu) (1983)

Director: K.G. George
Writers:  Kallikkad Ramachandran, K.G. George
Cast: Sreevidhya, Suhasini, Soorya
Language: Malayalam

The film is broadly about the plight of women in our patriarchal society and is told based on the lives of three women from three different economic strata of the society.

I generally abhor clichés in films as they basically pander to the laziness of the audience in engaging their minds. It is especially sinful when used as a tool to mask lazy and poor making. K.G. George is someone who revels in using clichés and running with it. His films generally include characters who are exaggerated versions of these clichés and he uses them to do social commentary and criticism.

Aadaminte Vaariyellu is no different in the above sense. Sreevidhya plays the role of a rich Christian woman who is club going, alcoholic and a bit loose. Suhasini plays the role of a middle class office going woman who is abused emotionally by her mother-in-law and physically by her drunk husband. The third leading lady of the film is the poor and young domestic help in Sreevidhya's house who is exploited by her master. The film basically shows that no matter which economic or social strata that one belongs to, you're screwed if you happen to belong to the female gender. The title of the film translates as Adam's Ribs and refers to the biblical story of God creating the first woman from Adam's ribs as an afterthought.

I think this one is K.G. George's best film out of what I've seen of his and it comfortably sails into my top 5 Malayalam films of all time list, if I were to make one. The closing sequence of the film where it shows various women from a rescue home staring at the cameras in a glazed manner will certainly well you up. What happens after that is glorious with what must have been the introduction of breaking the fourth wall into Malayalam cinema. I do remember seeing that in a documentary about K.G. George ages ago. The moment that I realised that was that was very cathartic indeed.

Rating: 5/5

Sunday, June 12, 2016

യവനിക (Yavanika) (1982)

Director: K.G. George
Writers:  S.L. Puram Sadhanandhan, K.G. George
Cast:        Bharat Gopi, Thilakan, Mammooty, Kalanjal
Language: Malayalam

A tabla artist (Bharat Gopi) from a drama troupe, who is hated by everyone, goes missing and police starts investigating the same. He was living in with a co-artist (Jalaja), about whom he was very possessive and naturally there are many suspects who had an axe to grind with him. Bharat Gopi doesn't enter the frame till around half hour mark of the film and we see him through flashbacks as the police officer, Mammooty in a breakthrough role for his career, interrogates various people connected to the missing person.

The film is rightly or wrongly considered as one of the best investigative mysteries from Malayalam cinema. It does a thing very well in the sense that enough clues are given for the audience to guess who the murderer is. But you do feel that K.G. George is not projecting it as a murder mystery and more like a look into what goes on behind the scenes of a drama troupe. The case isn't very complicated and it gets solved in a quite straight-forward manner. What makes the film stand out is the excellent performance from the entire cast with the one from Asokan being my favourite. The mystery aspect is not the central point of the film is evident by the fact that there are numerous songs in it for a K.G. George film and you also get extended sequences from the drama on stage at various points of the film. If you are not engrossed by that aspect of the film and just want a straight forward murder mystery, you will end up being disappointed with it.

'Rashomon' effect is a very misused term when it comes to film criticism and many people use it to describe same incident being shown while different people narrate it from their perspective. That doesn't cut it. You need to have different people describing the same incident with different takes on it influenced by their perspective, biases and memories which can be quite unreliable. What you get in Yavanika is not 'Rashomon' effect. It is just multiple narration of the same thing with great amount of reliability, with reliability being the key term.

Yavanika is a great watch for what it is but don't go into it thinking it is a murder mystery genre film. It is not K.G. George's best work like it is cracked up to be, but was the one with the most mainstream appeal. Both Thilakan and Mammooty won state awards for their performances in it. It got lukewarm response initially, as K.G. George was known as a new-gen filmmaker without mass appeal, but went on to become a commercial success due to word of mouth.

Rating: 4/5

കോലങ്ങൾ (Kolangal) (1981)

Director: K. G. George
Writers:  P.J. Antony, K.G. George
Cast:         Rajam K. Nair, Menaka, Nedumudi Venu, Thilakan
Language: Malayalam

Film is an adaptation of P.J. Antony's novel 'Oru Gramathinte Almavu' which translates as 'A Village's Soul'. It is set in a central Kerala village and basically got all types of characters that will be there in a traditional village. The main storyline is about two neighbouring families run by two matriarchs who are at loggerheads with each other due to garden-variety neighbourly reasons. Both these matriarchs encourages gossips about each other's daughters which ultimately proves to be self-destructive.

It is common for Malayalam films from recent times to glorify village life and project them as models of goodness. Indian reality is such that these villages are, more often than not, bastions of conservatism and petiness. They tend to be tyrannical for its younger generation who don't want to conform. You have all sorts of people keeping an eye on your lives and dictating it in direct and indirect manners. The village characters in this film are: Nedumudi Venu- Goon and a peeping Tom, Thilakan- Rich drunk guy, a professional gossiper, Sreenivasan- tea shop owner, a sensible village elder and the goodish boatman. It all might sound very clichéd but they are done very well rooted on reality. Panchavadipaalam did an exaggerated take on political happenings in a village and Kolangal does the same on normal village life in a not very exaggerated manner.

It would have been jarring if it was the male characters who were solely destroying the lives of the younger daughters but it is alright as it is their mothers who are doing the worst with their petiness. Another thing which makes the film stands out is that most of the characters in it are Christians and from a poor background which is not a usual combination in malayalam films. Cinematography and the frames are quite great, which is also unusual for malayalam films from those era. The background music when Nedumudi Venu does his peeping Tom routine is pure genius. A minor gripe I have with the film is that some of its characters are a bit cartoonishly goodish in nature and there is an element of compensating for its other perennially cunning characters. Rajam K. Nair deservedly won a state award for her portrayal of the working class matriarch. It is also an early film from Thilakan's career who is unsurprisingly excellent as the drunk guy with Hitler moustache.

Rating: 4.5/5

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Happy Wedding (2016)

Director: Omar
Writer:   Simu Siddharth
Cast:        Siju Wilson, Sharaffudeen, Soubin Shahir
Language: Malayalam

Siju Wilson plays the role of a boy whose marriage is getting arranged by his mother even as he is trying to propose to a colleague of his. He has got his cousin, played by Sharaffudeen, in what is essentially a 'Kozhi' role for company. I don't know if there is an English word that rightly translates this slang word from Malayalam and flirt is not the correct word for it. Best way to describe would be he is replaying his role from Premam. Anyway, they meet a character, played by Soubin, who describes himself as a motivational speaker. Then the film jumps through different timelines as it goes through protagonist's college life, love interests etc.

The film follows the easy to do skit pattern of comedy without giving much thought to making much narrative sense. The nature of comedy is very hit and miss and there are plenty of them which uses double meaning. I can't fault the film for that as it is not masquerading itself as a family movie. Sharaffudeen is basically the one who is carrying the film and like the film itself, he is also not very consistent in terms of delivering. Soubin Shahir is someone who has not so far delivered a very under par performance  and in this film he comes quite close to it.

The film came without any hype and a very limited release even though it was backed by Eros international. Its main USP was the Premam connection with many supporting actors from that film featuring in this one. It has gone on to become a sleeper hit after getting more screens from second week onwards. Considering the budget and the fact that it won't make you want to run out from the cinema hall, it is a watchable film. Its success without any star power and fanfare is also encouraging considering the fact that some off-beat independent small films like Ozhivudivsathe Kali and Lens are set for release next week. Hopefully the success is not limited to leave your brains out kind of comedy films.

Rating: 2/5

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Gosford Park (2001)

Director: Robert Altman
Writers:   Bob Balaban, Robert Altman, Julian Fellowes
Cast:       Michael Gambon, Maggie Smith, Helen Mirren

The lives of upstairs guests and downstairs servants at a party in 1932 in a country house in England as they investigate a murder involving one of them.

Apart from its period settings, I didn't know much about the film going into it. The murder happens only halfway through the film and this lack of knowledge about its plot made what came before even more enjoyable. It really looked as if a social studies kind of film with a 'Festen' twist to it. The behavioral examination of  decaying British aristocracy and the parallel world of their servants which also mimics the social hierarchy of their masters' were fascinating to look at  and the wise words of the Russian Duchess from the recently watched Peaky Blinders series three came in handy. Even though it takes a whodunit turn midway through the film, it doesn't toe the traditional lines as the investigating officer played by Stephen Fry is a bumbling idiot. We also don't care much about the whodunit aspect as we are interested much more in the way the characters behave rather than treating it as a puzzle that we should solve.

It is a great watch and all the films that I have seen of Robert Altman's have been great. Nashville is next on my list. The TV series 'Downtown Abbey' was initially  conceived as a spin-off show from this film and but later it ended up as a stand-alone one. Gosford Park has got a great ensemble cast and it must have been a big break for Clive Owen.

PS: British period drama are really a mystery to me. You just don't feel like watching them but if you can get past the first 15 minutes or so, it more often than not impresses you. Am not talking about shit like King's Speech but more in the vein of Atonement, Jane Eyre etc...

Rating: 4.5/5

ഈ കണ്ണി കൂടി (Ee Kannikoodi) (1990)

Director: K. G. George
Writers:  K. S. Bhasurachandran, K. G.  George
Cast:       Saikumar, Ashwini, Thilakan
Language: Malayalam

The film follows an investigation into the murder of a high-end prostitute. She was found dead in her house and the police goes through the suspect list, initially from her clientele, and later on to people from her past life as they begin to dwell deeper.

The film can be described as an investigative procedural whose USP is that the treatment is very characteristically non-filmy. It is nice to contrast it with a film like 'Oru CBI Diarykurippu', which is typically classed as a realistic film even though it had many elements to please a normal film audience. Sai Kumar plays the role of the investigating officer and his portrayal can be described as the one of the most realistic Police role from Malayalam cinema with a very professional and dispassionate demeanor. It is filmed in a very stripped-down manner and if it came out even now, it would still be classed as a very bold film. You don't usually get films that doesn't get over the top when it has got characters making a living out from this kind of background. It is normal for such films to finally get into the exploitative parts as explanation for its protagonist's transformation but the film stands out due to its matter of fact portrayal of it.

The film must have been a very low-budget one and it is sometimes let down by some poor acting performances and some extreme reliance on spoken words for moving the story forward. It is nowhere near K.G. George's best but still a good watch. 

Rating: 3/5  

Peaky Blinders (Season 3) (2016)

Creator: Steven Knight
Cast:      Cillian Murphy, Paul Anderson, Helen McCrory

The second season of Peaky Blinders ended with Tommy Shelby's (Cillian Murphy) being spared on orders from Winston Churchill because he has a job for him. The third season is about that job and it involves Russian aristocrats who were exiled from their country after the Bolshevik revolution. 

The stakes are getting higher and higher after each season and the series manages to stay cool the whole way through. You get what you expect from Peaky Blinders: slow build-ups, great soundtrack, stylish cinematography, mysterious plot and cool set-pieces. Tom Hardy returns as Alfie for the last two episodes with a typical enjoyable screen-chewy performance,There is a David Bowie song used in the the fifth episode to good effect and couple of Radiohead songs including a glorious usage of 'You and whose army'. You also get the BBC going the HBO route through a full-on orgy sequence with the explanation that the Russian are really mad. The new face for the season is the baddie priest played by Paddy Considine. Got to say that the twist at the end didn't make much sense regarding where the money originated from. 

Unlike the second season, I think one can watch the third season without having seen the previous seasons as it is quite self-contained. BBC have renewed it for two more seasons and Steven Knight indicated that the last sequence for the show that he has on his mind would be the start of the second world war and Birmingham getting air-raided.  

Rating: 4/5