Thursday, February 28, 2013

Kai Po Che - Brotherhood Tested

Abhishek Kapoor's 'Kai Po Che' literally is a victory call made during the Gujarat kite flying festival when one has cut the string of an opponent's kite. Its about coming out trumps at the end. But the route to it can be arduous, the victory laced with tears and regrets. In essence this is a movie about friendship, the kind that grows together, becomes inseparable and face the hurdles life shoots out. It is the dawn of the 21st century. Ishaan (Sushant Singh Rajput), Omi (Amit Sadh) and Govind (Raj Kumar Yadav), 'brothers for life' as the movie's tag line claims, inhabit each others space with cohesion. They have been aimless for too long. Now its time to get down to business. Setting up a sports equipment store, financed by Omi's right wing politician uncle (Manav Kaul), they also will double it as a cricket academy to harbor fresh talent off the streets . The cricketer among the friends is Ishaan who lives and breathes the game, owning the title of being the best cricketer in their district. He somehow got lost in the bylanes of this highly competitive and political game. In training Ali (Digvijay Deshmukh), a scrawny little kid who can bat a sixer at will, he reignites that light which gives him a sense of purpose in life.

Govind, the money wise accountant friend keeping a tight rein on the purse strings of the business, sees an opportunity to set shop in an upcoming mall. Rightly judging malls to be the future of Indian economy, he is eager they claim a piece of it. Here again Omi's uncle sponsors the huge deposit and in return Omi feels a pressure to join his uncle's political journey. Celebrating their first earnings, the friends enjoy a quick getaway, make merry, booze, even jumping shirtless into the sea in a fit of joie de vivre. But then dreams get foiled with the shaking of the earth. The quake causes destruction to the mall and the builder disappears with their money. It raises faultlines in the friends equations and cracks look to occur. The earthquake is only a prelude to the man made massacre on the Sabarmati Express train at Godhra, which results in senseless religious rioting claiming hundreds of life. The friends journey through these dire times as their dreams, hope and humanity crash and burn.

'Kai Po Che' keeps the proceedings real and understated. We witness life in a middle class neighborhood of Ahmedabad as it really could be, the characters and surroundings have that lived in feel to them. This is no mega budget Bollywood production where the sets look artificial and their inhabitants caricatures. We sense the easy camaraderie of the friends from the onset and understand that they have probably known and loved each other all their lives. No over the top moments are needed here to establish that bond. We meet them and they casually carry us about in their business of life. The sad history of Gujarat in the early 2000s converge with their lives, for if one is living in a time in history at the place of its occurrence, to not be affected by it to some degree is implausible There is also that little neighborhood romance brewing between Govind and Ishaan's sister Vidya (an impish Amrita Puri), the girl seducing her shy, reticent math tutor that feels all too familiar.

Abhishek Kapoor, who earlier directed 'Rock On', a compromised take on friendship that never quite hit off in my view, gets it pitch perfect this time. He wisely chose new comers to the big screen in his actors, who breath fire into their characters. Amit Sadh and Sushant Singh were both former TV actors while  Raj Kumar Yadav has played small but important characters in earlier films, his last being the police inspector aiding Aamir Khan's character in Talaash. Where we have previously seen sparks in him, here he gets the means to bring something remarkably endearing to his Govind, the boy next door,  geeky with a head for numbers but somewhat socially awkward. Amit Sadh's Omi has a challenged character graph as he shifts from being the hang on to Ishaan's every word, to becoming a political figure at odds with his best friend, on opposite sides of the communal divide that threaten everything at stake. Sushant Singh Rajput is a star in the making with his endearing screen presence and that he has acting chops to match is a blessing. His Ishaan lights up the screen with his antics, his impulsive nature and his golden heart shining bright. Together these actors have created magic and aided by a strong directorial hand, a good script adapted from the Chetan Bhagat book 'The three mistakes of my life', music by a talented Amit Trivedi that sets the mood for the events unfolding, this movie has everything going strongly for it.

The only place where a little change would have helped is in giving the movie an extra couple of minutes to detail the aftereffects of the earthquake and its toll on their friendship and business. These episodes feel a little hurried and probably suffered from overzealous editing. That apart, this is a Bollywood bromance which stays grounded and is at the same time sublimely poetic. A truly good movie to come out of the Hindi film industry, traveling into the heartland of India and delivering a triumphant tale of friendship, loss and redemption.

Released in 2013
In Hindi with English subtitles
My Rating: 4/5

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Tokyo Story - The quiet Passage of Life

'Tokyo Story' is one of the simplest works of cinema I have witnessed and it is also one of the most profound. In its structure and narrative, this 1953 classic made by Japanese master Yasujiro Ozu, is simple and dignified like its main characters, but underneath that veneer lies a thought provoking story about the circle of life and its many vagaries. An elderly couple, Shukichi and Tomi, travel far from their small village to visit their children in Tokyo. Their son, Koichi, who is a neighborhood doctor with a wife and two children, is suitably happy to have them. However, a busy life leaves him no time to be spent with them. When they move to their daughter Shige's house, who runs a hair salon from home, a similar story greets them. They also have a daughter in law, Noriko (the beautifully serene Setsuko Hara), with a husband who went missing since war, in the city who despite her work is the only one willing to take time out to show them the sights of Tokyo.

The children pool in money to send the parents to Atami Hot springs, a spa, probably to absolve themselves of having to look after them. The vibrance and late night parties of that place is not for the elderly and it is effectively conveyed in a beautiful single shot of their slippers lying side by side outside their hotel room, whilst the rest of the occupants party to music and mahjong. Sleepless and weary, they leave the spa before their time, leading to inconvenience for the offsprings and the parents quietly understand not to burden them even for a night and ponder on whose doors to knock for sleep time. They separate with the mother choosing Noriko's small but welcoming place, leading to a soulful conversation between a mother and daughter in law where behind the everlasting smiles, tears threaten to spill off the two women . The father meets his old friends from the village leading to an all night of sake, where cautious reserves see the wind and the disappointing truths of old age and parenthood find way to their lips. The parents now know it is time for them to go back, some dreams may be broken, few hopes are possibly lost to the sad cycle of life. Children grow up, move away to build their own lives and families. It is an inevitable cycle from which none is spared. The children we build our lives around develop wings and fly out at a stage when the roles start getting reversed and we might be needing them. The bustle of life gives way to the echo of silence.

Ozu, whose works I have not had the fortune of being familiar with till now, calmly makes his audience a fly on the wall to his tale, his camera mostly placed stationary at the eye level of people hunching on tatami mats . There is no drama whatsoever. Little is said, so much doesnt need words to be understood. We observe how lives are lived, what families become. The parents realize the shift in attitude that the busy lives of their children have brought. They still have each other, the only companions. We see how important that companionship is in that last wait in life. And once one is taken away, loneliness and possible regrets assume companionship for the other. Ozu shows this quietly with the death of the mother at the end and the father left alone sitting on his tatami mat fanning himself, waiting.

Ozu was one of Japans most influential directors, who I learn made a career of contemplative tales of ordinary familial bonds. 'Tokyo Story' which features in every list of all time great cinema of the world, with very good reason, is a lesson on life devoid of any melodrama. The characters are ordinary, their circumstances ordinary and in that they impart an extraordinary lesson about life. Note the scene in which a grandmother quietly watches her grandson play and reflects if he shall take after his father's profession of a doctor and whether she would live to see it, all the more profound in her melancholy look and the fact that we witness what she knows, that she wont. The instance when two parents sit side by side on tatami mats and acknowledge with reluctance that their children were probably disappointments but at least they have it better than most. And at the end of it all, are moments depicted with extreme grace and wisdom, that have the power to rock our core. Two sisters in law understanding that life can be disappointing, a father in law giving his wife's precious keepsake to the one not related by blood, a widow acknowledging her loneliness in watching life pass her by and then that final heartbreaking moment of an old man sitting alone, his solitude palpable in weary eyes accepting the law of life.

There have been movies about families, the inevitable disappointments in their dynamics. They lead to moments of heightened drama and while all good, none could match in my book, what Yasujiro Ozu mastered with his austere narration about the paradoxical nature of life and the unit a man sets out to make for himself, create a family and then be left on his own again. Can anyone really escape that?

Originally Released in 1953
In Japanese with English Subtitles
My Rating: 5/5

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Flight - Touchdown

Flight, a marvelous character study of a man coming to terms with addiction, soars from the very first frame and keeps its grip tight on the audience never once taking a false turn and lands safely to its ultimately satisfying destination of a powerful and necessary acknowledgement. Directed by Robert Zemeckis, who is back to making a movie entirely revolving around its central character after a long time, 'Flight' tells the story of an alcoholic who refuses to acknowledge that truth. As with any addict, to understand the existence of a problem is the necessary first step to finding its solution. Whip Whitaker (an amazingly nuanced Denzel Washington), a much experienced commercial airline pilot has had a wild night of drinking with his flight attendant colleague (Nadine Velazquez). He has a flight out to Atlanta in the morning, is obviously drunk but its nothing that a couple of lines of cocaine wouldn't take care of.

His flight carrying 102 souls onboard, departs in extreme choppy weather conditions. His copilot can sense the alcohol reeking off of him, he feels Whitaker is flying too fast in the face of a storm, but the veteran that he is, Whitaker successfully flies his plane out of the weather and hits a smooth and quick one hour ride to Atlanta. Mixing three single serve bottles of vodka into his orange juice will keep him steady on the flight. But then a mechanical failure dooms the plane into one of the most frightening dives I have witnessed onscreen, where all vertical control is lost. It is amazing at such a moment how this heavily drunk and drugged man gathers every bit of his senses and calmly yet urgently guides his terrified fellow crew into action steering them out of the way of certain death. When his plane crash lands into an empty field next to a church ground, six lives are lost.

What follows this action packed initial half hour, defines the movie with its real purpose. Of course we are expecting an investigation, we know that Whitaker though a hero, can technically be in real trouble because of the alcohol and drugs levels which will surely be found in his blood samples. We expect the thrills and the enticing drama that the course of this flight will take. What we are treated to however is unusual and real and makes this movie stand very apart from so many of its genre. Denzel Washington is the face we follow through the entire 140 such minutes of this movie and never do we feel that we have lost this man. As Whitaker, Washington brings a strange pathos into his defiant, worn out alcoholic who refuses to acknowledge this all important fact. He is a heavy drinker, but he is okay. Faced with the possibility of a future in prison, he stubbornly emphasizes on the truth that under the circumstances nobody could have landed that plane the way he did and correctly so. The simulated recreation of that incident tested with multitude of pilots, have resulted in a crash every time. His efficient lawyer Hugh (the ever dependable Don Cheadle) and his old flying partner now union representative Charlie (Bruce Greenwood), do not doubt his heroism but are wary of his defiance to play by the book at a time when the world's focus is on him with a magnifying glass.

Robert Zemeckis, one of the leading names of special effect movies, indeed his last few have been more effects and less soul, does a turn around after quite a while and delves into a riveting character study of a man drowning in his seldom sober world where he is unable to grasp the negatives of the vice that he clings to for support, alienating his now ex wife and teenage son who never knows the man his father is. He finds a mate in the recovering heroin addict Nicole (an effective Kelly Reilly), whose savior he initially acts as but later there is the danger of dragging her back to the very addiction she seeks escape from. Zemeckis is in fine form directing an extremely gifted natural actor. Washington is one of the leading men that has always done Hollywood proud. And when given a chance to spread his wings, he soars. The drunk fallen hero can hardly be called a sympathetic character and there is the easy risk of dramatics here, but Washington smartly side steps the traps and digs within to act primarily with his eyes evoking a nod from his audience . They speak of his battles and when he finally acknowledges his fall, his eyes and the slight shift of facial expression speak more eloquently than any word possibly can.

Flight is a glorious work of introspective filmmaking. There might be many who may expect a lot of action, courtroom drama and the works. There are many of those movies out there. Watch this instead for a work of art which steers away from the obvious and in the process finds itself touching high ground.

Originally Released in 2012
Available on Blu Ray and DVD
Oscar Nominated in the categories of Best Actor (Denzel Washington) and
Original Screenplay (John Gatins) - 2013
My Rating: 4/5