Sunday, December 2, 2012

Talaash - That Elusive Closure

The world is full of tortured souls. There is always the search for that elusive happiness, of liberty from the wretchedness of one's misery. Under the guise of a police investigation, Reema Kagti's Talaash plays out the interconnecting stories of some such lives. The movie opens to montages of the underbelly of Mumbai coming to life in the shadows of the dark. An air of apprehension grips the pavement dwellers seconds before a car impossibly careens off the road through a promenade and dives headlong into the sea. Thus begins a police investigation which takes the audience into the seedy by lanes where flesh is traded and dreams are lost. The part that society has forsaken.

Inspector Surjan Singh Shekhawat (that ever dependable actor/star Aamir Khan) is in charge of this now high profile case as a superstar Armaan Kapoor was driving the car resulting in his drowning. A bevy of questions arise. Why was he alone in the car when he always had a driver and man Friday in tow? Why did he ask for a huge sum of money from his accountant on the day of the accident and where did the money disappear after it was last seen in the car? These questions lead Shekhawat to the nearby red light district where sad lives looking for a means of escape are thrown at us. We encounter a pimp Shashi, who has employed blackmail as his way to means and flight. We see his girlfriend, a former prostitute. We feel for Shashi's lame sidekick Tehmur(a nod perhaps to history's Turk ruler Timur the Lame?), played by the chameleon of an actor Nawazuddin Siddiqui. He stumbles upon a seeming web of deceit, murder and blackmail and sees an escape from his hell. And then we meet the enigmatic Rosie(Kareena Kapoor), a streetwalker helping inspector Shekhawat with pieces to the puzzle, but hiding an agenda of her own.

Interlaced with this mystery is the inspector's private hell where the recent loss of their only son Karan in a boating accident has driven a wedge between him and his wife Roshni (Rani Mukherjee in superb form). Roshni finds solace in certain seance sessions with her curious neighbor (Shernaz Patel) seeking communication with her son, while Shekhawat wanders around the city at night, sleepless, looking for answers both for the case and for the battle with his own demons. These are all tormented people, living out the tragedies that fate has cruelly dealt on them and this is exactly what makes Talaash such a compelling watch for me. There is reality in their palpable sorrows. When Rosie talks of the miserable fate of her community to Shekhawat, there is a glint of her tragedy and that of her likes.

Talaash to me works in equal measures as a fascinating police investigation, noir mood themed cinema with a little of the otherworld and a story of loss and the process of healing it requires. Director Reema Kagti can take a bow. Walking a fine line, she shows strong hold on a tricky subject lending it with immense grace and maturity. There are no caricatures here, just individuals whose stories need telling. She keeps the movie as real as a subject like this can call for. Aiding her are her tremendous crew of cinematographer Mohanan under whose watchful camera the nocturnal underbelly of Bombay comes alive in its garish colors and seedy streets, Ram Sampath gives music that slinks into the proceedings skillfully giving the film a haunting, almost eerie quality. The soundtrack, in my opinion, is one of the best and most varied Hindi movie tracks in a while. And then there are the words, be it Javed Akhtar's deeply melancholic lyrics or the dialogues by Farhan Akhtar and Anurag Kashyap, everything adds tremendous layers to the tale, underlining nuances and hidden depth.

But the star here is the story by Kagti herself and Zoya Akhtar. The director and her entire team remains true to the tale at hand. Very rarely in recent Indian cinema have I seen so many layers seamlessly integrated together, effortlessly connecting, so many genres brought together rendered with dignity and sensitivity. And now a word for the all important cog in the wheel....the actors. Each performance is authentic. We forget the big stars and what remains are just the characters which are so justifiably performed. Rani Mukherjee, stripped of make up and mannerisms, portrays her grief through those achingly sad eyes. Kareena Kapoor brings a playfulness mixed with haunting sadness to her Rosy, when those merry eyes betray a hint of doom. When she soothes Shekhawat's tired soul with her touch putting him to long robbed sleep, in one of the movies highlight sequences, those eyes and expressions contain so much depth. And now to the knockout performance that Nawazuddin gives with his Tehmur. My ravings will not do it justice. In the role of the luckless lame son of a prostitute doing odd jobs for the pimp who grabs that one chance destiny dangles and gets swept into a quagmire of his own making, there is not a single misstep. He also owns the single thrilling chase sequence towards the climax which is a treat to witness.

Reining all the performances together with his central to the plot character of Shekhawat, Aamir Khan is superlative. His pain and angst is all internalised, the stoic, stern and dutiful cop/husband is at the forefront. The nights that he is awake, replaying the happenings leading to his son's demise, playing out all the different 'what if' scenarios that could have prevented the tragedy is palpable and rings true. His catharsis at the end when he finally gives in to that pent up grief is a relief to the audience. Each of the characters big or small, are so real that we care for them, invest in them. A special mention to Shekhawat's subordinate Devrath played by Raj kumar Yadav. He is effortless, watch his background reactions in the one big confrontation between Shekhawat and his wife Roshni.

And while I have so many thoughts I still feel the need to share of this multilayered mystery/drama, the fact is many of its audience looking for a conventional thriller might come away disappointed. Kagti lays out the cards honestly and doesnt throw any red herrings at us, giving us an equal chance to guess the mystery. The real beauty of this movie is not in playing the guessing game, but to sit back and realize how skillfully Kagti has brought the plot together and tied it up, leaving no loose ends. And while one would remember some so called Hollywood lifts thematically for the mystery, that concept has existed from eons in different forms and not just in the West. Our heritage is rich with such myths and lores as well. To weave such a humane drama around it, is what we can safely salute the movie makers for. It is easily one of my favorite movies of the year. I went in expecting a mystery and I came out with so much more.

Release in 2012
In Hindi with English subtitles
My Rating: 4.5/5

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Life Of Pi - Of God, Nature and Life

The premise of 'Life Of Pi' involves a 17 year old boy stuck on a lifeboat with a Royal Bengal tiger in the middle of the Pacific ocean for 227 days. The followers of the much loved 2002 Booker prize winner by Yann Martel have known it and now under filmmaker Ang Lee's masterful direction the entire world is treated to a magical parable of God's existence in every aspect of life. The movie starts with stunning 3D visuals of animals in a zoo. The stage is set for an experience of visual delight, the likes of which I have yet to see. Piscine(Pi) Patel is a young resident of Pondicherry whose family comprising of his parents and elder brother, own a zoo constructed in the botanical gardens there. Living amidst animals, an understanding and respect of the varied species develop in Pi. In a dramatic sequence with a tiger named Richard Parker, owing to a clerical error, and a goat, Pi's father (Adil Hussain) explains that animals are not ones friends, they are far removed from us, the compassion we mistakenly see in their eyes is but a mere reflection of our faces. This is a lesson which saves Pi later.

Developing an understanding and love for God in all forms worshipped  early in life, Pi embraces Hinduism (the religion he was born to), Christianity and Islam with equal measures of faith and reason. When his family decides to immigrate to Canada due to political unrest in India, they board a Japanese cargo ship carrying a number of their animals to sell off in North America. In the middle of the Pacific ocean a storm, never more majestically filmed as it is here in 3D, sweeps Pi's entire world away from him. Stranded in a lifeboat he faces an escaped zebra, orangoutang and hyena. And then as though God was not done with him, that Bengal Tiger, Richard Parker, makes his dramatic entry into the scene. Thus begins a tale of survival and coexistence, of wavering faith and the ultimate surrender to that supreme power.

The tale is told by an adult Pi (Irrfan Khan) to a writer (Rafe Spall) who has come to him with a lead on a story 'which would make him believe in God'. By the end of the tale, the reality is so astounding and indeed miraculous, that Pi's survival is clearly God's hand at play. The movie is a feast for the eyes, 3D which has so far been effective only in films like 'Avatar' and 'Hugo', comes full bloom here. The ocean, boat and sky merge together in incredulous visuals. It almost makes the world we inhabit dreary by comparison. There is a brilliant sequence of an island lush with greens, fresh water lakes and swarming meerkats. The island is significant in more ways than one, without giving anything away, I talk of its visual beauty. In the hands of a lesser director, 'Life of Pi' might have withered. But Lee shows a hold of his subject. This is more a spiritual journey than it is an adventure story. Lee curbs the use of too many thrills generally associated with 3D and CGI. There is an even pacing to this tale which is much needed to bring in the elements of spiritualism. The tiger which is mostly CGI is magnificent.

The actors are all aptly cast and even though it is essentially a story of Pi(Suraj Sharma) and the CGI tiger, everyone makes a mark no matter the screen time alloted. Adil Hussain and Tabu are well cast as Pi's father and mother. The narrator of the story is Irrfan Khan as the elder Pi and he conveys the journey well. Especially the scene where he is unable to comprehend the unceremonious parting with Richard Parker gives layers of interpretation to the story. However, the star is undoubtedly Suraj Sharma who embodies Pi's journey bravely from the naive boy to the survivor and resourceful, wise young man.

I have now picked up and immersed myself in Yann Martel's journey of the book. The movie has left me with questions I hope to understand through the source material. Where the movie is a visual journey of hope, survival and God, the book may reveal many layers that no image even ones as stunning as these can reproduce. As a standalone, the movie soars. However to truly understand the journey, the reading of the tale looks imperative. The testing of faith and the deliverance, the coincidence of Pi having survived 227 (22/7=Pi) days in the ocean, the significance of the name Piscine renames himself with and ultimately Richard Parker's role is open to audience interpretation and makes one truly think. How many movies can claim to do that nowadays?

Released in 2012
Running in Theaters
My Rating: 4/5

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Barfi! - Love needs no words

There is something to be said about the evolving art of filmmaking. The language of simple, heartfelt charm has somehow lost its way to style and technique. The hued world of characters and their ordinariness has somehow being lost to computer graphics and awe inspiring visual effects. I did not realise how much I missed that simplicity and innocence till I stumbled upon the fabled world of Anurag Basu's Barfi! Named after the famed baby of the Murphy radios which adorned every household as an entertainment source in a simpler long lost era, this deaf-mute mischievous charmer whose lips garbles out his identity as 'Barfi'(Ranbir Kapoor), lives life prince sized, disabilities be damned. The idyllic, dew covered misty hills of Darjeeling in the 1970's form the backdrop to the story of a boy who lived, laughed and loved, no holds barred. Into his world sweeps a princess, Shruti (Ileana D'cruz), who already wears the engagement ring of another.

Love should know no language but that of the heart. Shruti gives in to the charming serenades of barfi and finds herself falling in love. The shades of innocent first love, that magical kiss they exchange all unfortunately lead to that dreaded conversation with the head and logic at decision time. So just like her mother (an effective Rupa Ganguly), Shruti leaves love behind for security and comfort. Only she exchanges love for a lifetime of regret. For Barfi, broken hearted and a little more savvy of his limitations, physical and otherwise, through several twists and turns finds himself responsible for the autistic daughter of the richest family in Darjeeling, Jhilmil (Priyanka Chopra). And love strikes twice and this time forever.

As a story, where barfi scores and so many others fail, is its simple rendition of genuine emotions. There is no obvious manipulating the audience here, the director's sleight of hand, if at all, is masterful.
Anurag Basu, in his personal life, has dealt with near death in the form of cancer. The beauty of a life well lived and its true intricacies must not be lost on him. Barfi embodies that spirit of celebrating life, no matter the circumstance. His previous outings 'Gangster' and 'Life in a Metro', both quality cinema, showed the dark side of human nature and life. Here Barfi celebrates life and teaches us to laugh at it. With laughter, troubles can melt like lemon drops.

A movie of this calibre needs able support in every department. The performances are superlative. Ranbir Kapoor, that rare combination of charisma and talent, disappears into Barfi's soul. What follows is the most delightful performance I have seen all year. A true performer needs no words and Ranbir Kapoor proves this with a bravura act which takes the best of Charlie Chaplin and Raj Kapoor and creates his own unique character. There is goodness shining on his face, a smile inspite of the odds, and yet there a little hint of sadness peeking out of knowing life's harsh truths. A standout scene is Barfi's piteous outburst upon realizing Shruti has picked another man over him. The apology and smile that follow are even more heartbreaking in their honesty.  Priyanka Chopra's Jhilmil is a fitting partner with a studied performance in autism. The mannerisms are correct, the technicalities down pat with Priyanka giving the character strokes of its own. Needless to say she stands tall in an industry which has made mockery of this disability with stretched out, false, theatrical performances. I do not need to take names here. When love shines upon this child woman, she stands in front of her man, creating boundaries, marking him as her own. Heartwarming!

Ileana D'Cruz, in her debut Bollywood role, as the chronicler of the events in Barfi's life, is beautiful and poised with a heartfelt performance. Her realization of a love lost forever, is tremendously poignant. The supporting cast is apt with a special mention to Saurabh Shukla, playing the police officer forever on trail of that mischief monger Barfi. Ravi Varman's cinematography is magical, in total sync with the tale at hand. Darjeeling is mystical, the paddy fields of nearby villages lush and Calcutta of the 70s where Barfi and Jhilmil find home and love, is vibrant with the majestic Howrah Bridge towering in the background. It would be blasphemous to not mention music director Pritam's tremendous contribution. For a movie of very little words, the background score and songs provide lifelines in evoking a myriad of emotions, capturing every mood exquisitely. There is that perfect old world charm to the tunes.

To watch this movie, one needs to leave cynicism at the door. This is a pure fable, told from the heart to be heard by the heart. The clinching scene for me was when Barfi, who is in the habit of putting his loved ones through a test to gauge their loyalty and faith, puts Jhilmil through that grind after running into a now married Shruti. His heart is confused and he needs answers. Handicap, physical or mental, never acts as a sympathy seeker here. If anything, it tells how truly complete these so called incomplete people of society can be.

It is not to say that the movie does not come without faults. An unnecessary mystery, presumed death does dilute the magic to an extent. But if I really had to point fingers, it would be to the tremendously cliched ending. The last five minutes lets this movie down. It is as though Anurag Basu did not know when to draw the curtains. But all is forgiven as the credits roll at the end and the beautiful song 'Aashiyan' is reprised amidst montages of Barfi and Jhilmils' love filled lives, I am smiling all the way back home and smiling even now as I pen my love for this lyrical ode to love and life.

Released in 2012
In Hindi with English subtitles
My rating: 4.5/5

Friday, March 30, 2012

Sideways - Of Men and their Wine

I have seen Sideways before, more than once. The movie has, like aging wine, opened itself for new meaning and interpretation with each viewing. It has remained one of my personal favorite films depicting the quirkiness of human nature, the sadness and longings of the human heart and the celebration of life even in its failure. Truly a slice of life in itself. Directed by one of America's most consistent filmmakers, Alexander Payne, Sideways takes a road trip in Southern California's wine country and makes the life of wine an allegory to aging and discovering oneself on life's long and often twisted road. Unlike wine which only grows richer with age, life hands out a lot of wild cards.

Miles (Paul Giamatti in the role of a lifetime), a middle school English teacher and writer waiting to be published, picks up his best friend since college, Jack (Thomas Haden Church) for a week in wine country. Jack gets married the following week and this is their last getaway. Lots of wine and golf is on the menu but Jack is looking for a detour in one last fling before the shackles of matrimony bind him. He hits it soon enough with a pourer in a wine tasting room, Stephanie (Sandra Oh). To arrange a double date, they find Stephanie's friend Maya (Virginia Madsen), a waitress at a restaurant that Miles frequents. He has liked her from afar, her knowledge and passion of wine finds a kinship with him. While Jack gets going with Stephanie weaving lies of love and relationship in the process and playing daddy to her little child, Miles is hesitant, shy and unable to bridge the distance with a wise, openly warm and lovely Maya. Except for their shared love and knowledge of wine.

There is a scene in Sideways which I have carried with me through the years and even on my recent viewing realized that its charm has not diminished in any measure. On a double date while Jack and Stephanie indulge in the pleasures of the flesh in Stephanie's trailer home, Maya and Miles open a bottle of wine and talk. They talk of Mile's love for Pinot. He starts to describe Pinot and after a while he is talking about himself and the understanding is so lovingly reflected in Maya's eyes. The growth, complexity and maturity of wine has a lot to do with life. 'A bottle of wine opened today will taste different than it will taste on any other day'. Kind of like life itself.

Sideways is about middle aged people for whom life is passing by too quickly. You either grab every moment you can seize to live before its all up, like Jack does. Its interesting to see a man so easily cheat on the girl he is to marry in less than a week, weave a fantasy life with a pourer from Buelton, with whom he may share nothing in common and be absolutely guilt free. And yet he is not unlikeable.  Selfish yes, but I somehow understood him. And then there is Miles, our center of the movie, disillusioned, cynical, battling depression and divorce, downing alchohol and zanax, edging towards steady decline. 'I am so insignificant, I cant even kill myself', he says. The man with the resigned, world weary eyes. He finds a surprising steady hand in Maya, of the kind, understanding eyes. These are flesh and blood people, not just characters populating the screen. That is so rare. The performances are tremendous and real, all across the board. It was in fact, a criminal act leaving Paul Giamatti out of the Oscar race for this one.

Alexander Payne, who had made 'Election' and 'About Schmidt' before and 'The Descendants' since, is arguably the best maker of character studies of these American men who have seen better days and lost that zing for living. His characters are seldom successful, happy and have it all figured out. He has an affinity and understanding for the average middle aged American male and humanizes them in these lovable human comedies he creates. They are funny and yet sad and so lifelike. A filmmaker with the rare ability to pause and truly take in human nature. A word, if you are watching 'Sideways', look deeply for the pauses and reflections of the characters, study the silences and see how true they ring.

Originally released in 2004
Available on DVD
Academy Award winner for Best Adapted Screenplay
My Rating: 5/5

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Kahaani - What a Story!

Hindi films in the past have not been known for its mysteries. Blatantly making half baked copies from Hollywood cinema or sometimes looking to East Asian countries for inspiration, original plots have not been explored for decades in this terrain till a movie like 'Kahaani' arrives to change all that and how. Sujoy Ghosh, who debuted with the thoroughly enjoyable 'Jhankaar Beats' before meandering to commercially viable fluff, has regained his soul to craft a gripping story of a heavily pregnant woman landing in the city of Joy, Kolkata, in search of her missing husband. And in that lies a tale.

A chillingly crafted sequence of a biochemical gas attack in the busy Kolkata Metro sets off a chain of events when 2 years later Vidya Vekatesan Bagchi (Vidya Balan in her usual fine form) emerges from the Kolkata airport, to hail a cab to the police station and file a missing person report of her husband, Arnab Bagchi. Having come on an assignment for the National Data Centre(NDC) from their London home, he has disappeared into thin air such that the rundown guest house he stayed in has no evidence of his stay and neither does NDC own up to any employee of that name. However, the lone photograph of Arnab's that Vidya carries, points to a strong resemblance with a former NDC employee, Milan Dhamji. The case starts getting murky when the HR lady at NDC who points to the resemblance, is bumped off and the Intelligence Bureau get involved. From here, its a joyride of twists and turns with moles in government agencies, contract killings, dual identities, suspect motives. Nothing is as it seems as we race with Vidya on her dangerous mission.

Amidst the chills the plot keeps throwing at us, what stands out are the performances of an extremely competent cast, for most of whom Hindi movies is virgin territory. Predominantly Bengali actors rule as they get the nuances of their characters pat with the language, the expressions, the mannerisms. Parambrata Chattopadhyay's Rana as the mild mannered, infatuated rookie sub inspector is the perfect foil to Vidya's fearless, headstrong woman on a quest act. Together they ignite the search with equal amounts of urgency and sweet relief. Nawazuddin Siddiqui's short tempered, foul mouthed bureau officer Khan who regards a couple of human lives lost as collateral damage in the the larger scheme, is pitch perfect. Especially worthy of mention is the seemingly bumbling, mild insurance agent Bob Biswas (Saswata Chatterjee) who greets with a smile and moonlights as a contract killer. Positively chilling! Apart from these supporting acts, the police officer at the local station who says 'in Kolkata Vidya, Bidya all is same' loving pointing the inability of bengalis to pronounce the alphabet V, the zero star hotel owner, the little boy who runs with hot water at the beck of the hotel guests are all memorable.

But carrying the movie on her very pregnant gait, is Vidya Balan, a consistently fine performer who improves with each role. The recent National award winner, the last legitimate film awards in India, brings to her character a mix of dogged determination, vulnerability, strength and motherhood all culminating to a fascinating climax where the layers are peeled and Durga (the Hindu Bengali mother Goddess) is revealed. Take a bow, Vidya. She safely joins the annals of fine female performers like Smita Patil, Shabana Azmi, Tabu and their likes. The other hero of the movie has to be Kolkata, the city that is captured in all its hues. The goodness of the locals to the spine chilling of the bylanes and dilapidating buildings, the lit Howrah bridge, kumartuli idol makers and the joyous burst of the celebration of Durga Puja all come alive under the extremely able cinematography of Setu. Sharp editing by Namarata Rao keeps the movie running at nail biting pace.

And 'the mother of stories' indeed has a fine tale to tell. Scripted meticulously by Advaita Kala and Sujoy Ghosh, the movie is akin to reading a layered mystery where the audience is always running to catch up to the author's game and when the explosive climax occurs, the steps are traced back and we are all too happy to have been outsmarted. 'Kahaani' is the finest original thriller/mystery to have come out of the Hindi film industry since the black and white/ early color era of chills that Hindi cinema had mastered with 'Woh Kaun Thi', 'Teesri Manzil', 'Bees Saal Baad' and 'Mera Saaya' to name a few. After decades we are back in business with Kahaani. This atmospheric mystery indeed stands tall in the tale it renders.  

Originally Released in 2012
Running in theatres
In Hindi with English subtitles
My rating:4.5/5

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Beautiful Boy - The Process of grief and questions

What could possibly be worse than the death of a child? Maybe the fact that the child killed a roomful of innocent people before taking his own life. That is the premise of Shawn Ku's 'Beautiful Boy', an earnest yet visceral look at parents left reeling under the weight of unimaginable tragedy, trying to make sense of it. In the suburbs of LA, resides the family of Bill (Michael Sheen) and Kate (Maria Bello), empty nesters whose only son Sammy (Kyle Gallner) is a freshman at a university. The couple lead separate lives, never sharing meals, sleeping in separate bedrooms, almost at the verge of divorce. Kate wants a try at a happy family by planning a vacation for them, a feeling not too enthusiastically shared by her husband, who scouts apartment listings in private.

Their son Sammy, only shown momentarily, makes a phone call to them. It is obvious he is troubled and possibly feeling alienated at school. Kate picks up something to be amiss in Sammy's tone, but as parents usually get too absorbed in their own lives, she lets it drop. The next morning as they watch panic stricken on TV about a deadly shooting in their son's university, police officers arrive at their door to inform not only of their son's death but of the reality that it was he who had opened fire that killed seventeen people before turning the gun on himself. From hereon, begins a journey of no return for parents who must live with not just the weight of this entire tragedy, but the question of having gone wrong in their parenting.

Grieving a dead child is terrible in itself without the burden of guilt and the outrage of the public, it's many questions. The looks of people who wonder how terrible as parents could they have been to have nurtured a monster. It is an extremely hard subject to pull off. It hits home especially in the aftermath of the many campus massacres in recent times. This is entirely from the parents perspective. Escaping from the media onslaught, they take refuge with Kate's brother (Alan Tudyk) and his family. While Kate tries to escape the questions her mind surely forms, Bill faces them headlong. In the film's crucial scene, they have escaped society for a little while hiding in a motel, trying to forget momentarily a pain that will inevitably be carried around a lifetime. They get drunk, make love and find a long lost connection, only to have reality shatter it. Accusations are hurled, on parenting, its absence, a failed marriage.

'Beautiful Boy' worked for me on so many levels. It takes an almost forbidden topic and treats it with utmost sensitivity, yet does not shirk the questions. The realistic screenplay and the director's brave vision is aided by the pitch perfect acts of Michael sheen and Maria Bello. Sheen, as the father wondering too late, understanding the unforgivable nature of his son's crime and noticing painfully how the world is suddenly turning hostile, is brilliant in a largely internalized performance. Maria Bello is equally so as the  disciplinarian mother who meant well, tried to push her shy, withdrawn kid out of his shell and now grappling with thoughts of whether she shouldn't have. In this duel between a mother defensive of her parenting and dead child and a father who questions, fireworks occur. And yet they are the only two people who can understand each other and be supportive in a world sure to go hostile.

Shawn Ku, for whom this was the first directorial feature, happens to have taken both from the Virginia Tech massacre and a friend's death leaving behind grieving parents, to come out with a tale palpable in its grief and doubts. The beauty is that he resists the temptation to focus on the event itself and it's ensuing drama and instead taps into the lifetime of pain that the parents now face.

Originally Released in 2010
Available on DVD
My Rating: 4/5

Thursday, February 2, 2012

The Iron Lady - A Shorthand portrayal of a political giant

Politics never has and never will be my strong point. I acknowledge this at the very onset of this review since the focus here will be a formidable and controversial leader in British politics. My interest lies solely in the ability of the motion picture to effectively paint a portrayal of the iron lady aka Margaret Thatcher, to understand her, witness her rise in the corridors of politics, study her eleven years of reign and then the fall. And I have to admit, the biopic barely delivers in this category. Directed by Phyllida Lloyd, 'The Iron Lady' however gets one major detail correct in its casting of the incredibly talented Meryl Streep. And in that lies its deliverance.

Starting with Thatcher as an octogenarian(Streep in heavy prosthetics), we witness a woman in the throes of dementia, carrying on a conversation about the price of milk with her deceased husband Denis (Jim Broadbent). She hallucinates him and maybe only the disposal of his items still kept around the house, will pull him out the recesses of her mind. As the present slips between reality and the imaginary, Thatcher's mind takes her into the past chapters of an important life. The humble beginnings of a grocer's daughter in Grantham shows a girl with steely ambition when she is the only pair of heels in a roomful of men's shoes at her father's town meetings. That indeed forms her surroundings through her career, the lone pair of heels in rooms full of men's shoes.

Her entry to Oxford and then the times of her emerging voice in politics are glossed over. An elderly lady of unsound mind peers unsurely into her past, skimming over her entry to 10 Downing street in 1979 and the important events that framed her 11 years of prime ministership. Her imagination of her deceased husband seems clearer to her than those years of power and battle. Unfortunately, such seems the case for the audience as well. Instead of a woman sticking to her convictions in the face of severe opposition, turning the economy of a flailing country, bringing about the privatization of various sectors, winning back the Falkland Islands from Argentina's invasion, Lloyd seems more content to portray an old ill woman wondering through the rooms of her house trying to chase away the illusion of her dead husband. Matters of consequence are skimmed over and it is almost as if her dementia takes center stage.

Lloyd's saving grace is the inimitable actor that is Meryl Streep who can, in face of little argument, be called the greatest living actor of our times. We are aware of her chameleon like quality to disappear into any character, real or fictional and adapt to any physicality and voice modulation. Every one of those skills are honed to perfection for us to witness here. Margaret Thatcher was one of the premier public personalities of the not too distant eighties and she was splashed all over the television and radio.To effectively impersonate her would have been a herculean task for anyone but Streep. The sadness is when that great a performance is not matched by the content. A nod to the ever dependable Jim Broadbent in his wonderfully reliable portrayal of Denis.

Phyllida Lloyd whose previous outing as screen director was the subpar money spinner 'Mamma Mia', had claimed in an interview that this movie was not so much about a leader, as it was of somebody once important who had since faded into oblivion. The tragedy of old age was what she had intended to capture. A good thought that and a wonderful concept if that was the story we had come to witness. When you show us a life as important as Margaret Thatcher, you owe it to the world to portray the strength. Hate her some did, love her some did. But even divided in feelings, her life had mattered and a lot of what we saw of her life on that screen did not.

Surely for a woman who was labelled 'The Iron Lady' and in her times 'the most important person of Europe', it is not the tragic reality of old age that would do justice but the memory of a woman who thought ahead and put those thoughts into fearless action. At the end, I couldnt dismiss the movie for the central performance is too important to shrug off. It is the route the movie takes which finally fails.

Released in 2012
Running in Theatres
My Rating: 3/5