14 December, 2014

Conversations with Waheeda Rehman (Book Review)


One of the major reasons any biography or a tell-all tale of a celebrity achieves good book sales is gossip and big revelations. When reading about famous individuals from any field of life, we the readers, mostly due to general human nature, are always eager to know the secrets that they might be hiding or better yet the concealed facts they might be privy to of others in their field. If that is what you want or so desire, then this is certainly not a book for you.

Conversations with Waheeda Rehman brings together two celebrated figures from the Indian film industry;  Nasreen Munni Kabir is a journalist avant-garde who has covered different aspects of Bollywood over many decades in the form of books, TV series, and documentaries. The other has to be the most admired film actress ever to have worked in Hindi films, Waheeda Rehman.

Right from the start it is evident that neither the interviewer nor the one being interviewed is using this opportunity to boost sales. The conversations that take place are personal and subdued, and there is a bold line drawn between what is right and what is gossip. Instead, what we get is a better understanding of the woman that is Waheeda Rehman; her childhood and the events that led her to enter the Indian film industry along with great insight into the world that exists just behind what we see on the silver-screen.

Waheeda Rehman, in accordance with her character that we have seen many times on screen and otherwise in public events, comes across as extremely humble and down to earth. There’s a very motherly feel to the way she talks about herself and the people and industry that has been an integral part of her life. It is these personal anecdotes, the moments that defined her life, the photographs from her private collection that she shares, and the openness with which she converses that are both charming and nostalgic at the same time.

While the conversations between Nasreen Munni Kabir and Waheeda Rehman follow a rough timeline, it does jump around from decade to decade and this allows a much needed comparison between the way films were made in the 1950-70s and the way they are made now. Something equally surprising is the knowledge that Ms. Rehman has of the various aspects of film making. At times she is quite descriptive about lighting, music, direction, and of course dance and acting.

Conversations with Waheeda Rehman is a book that celebrates cinema though one of its leading ladies. Ms. Rehman manages to showcase films as an art form and not just a medium for entertainment. In doing so, she also expands on a much needed insider’s viewpoint on her co-actors and her life outside of films especially now when not having acted in one for a while she has become an epitome of grace amongst the stars of yesteryears.

Early on in the book Nasreen Munni Kabir states how she convinced Waheeda Rehman to do the book, and that keeping her initial concerns in mind this format of questions and answers would work better than an autobiography. Having read the book, I agree with this and believe that sometimes a back and forth conversation between two learned individuals can tell a lot more than a just book that might end up being one-sided.

Conversations with Waheeda Rehman is a brilliant read for any individual remotely interested in primarily the actress, but also for anyone who wants to get a glimpse into the films being made during a time period that is often termed as Indian cinema’s “Golden Period”. 



19 November, 2014

The Babadook


I love horror movies as much as the next guy, who apparently just happens to be a “scaredy cat” so that says a lot about me then doesn’t it. I’ve always enjoyed select horror films, be it the classics that made Freddy and Jason famous or the modern classics like Scream along with the occasional film such as The Blair Witch Project that was different and made news. While the basis of any horror film remains the same, and the genre is huge with films being categorized from gory and cannibalistic to zombie apocalypse to character driven horror fests, every now and then something different comes along that changes the perception of the audience, like Cabin in the Woods did a couple of years back. The Babadook isn’t a genre changing film, but it is still frightening enough, in an unconventional way, to stand out.

The film follows a single mother as she barely manages to run her life having lost her husband in an accident on the day their son was born. The son, having psychological issues of his own, makes thinks harder for her, and slowly we see her anxiety and desperation rise just as a “spirit” called The Babadook enters their life through a children’s book.

Mind bending and not your predictable horror film, The Babadook is multifarious in its execution making is more of a psychological thriller with scares that are few and far between but an ever rising tension and suspense that keeps the audience ready to jump when need be. The film is however reminiscent of classics like The Shining and The Exorcist at times, but by no means does it do so blatantly, only giving as a familiar feel of the elements that made the two classics so successful.    

Essie Davis as Amelia, the mother on the verge of a breakdown and Daniel Henshall as her son Robbie give brilliant performances. Daniel especially deserves a special mention for portraying a role that alternates between that of a normal kid to one with issues to a boy who is also experiencing the presence of the Babadook and the subsequent change in nature of his mom. While the idea of having a supernatural force that cannot be seen, but only experienced is much more frightening, the Babadook is made visible at times to Amelia and Robbie, but the audience is still kept in the dark mostly with only brief quick cuts that showcase him. While this works most of the time, after a while I expected to see the monster in its full glory but was deprived of this. But, it is also this lack of a more physical Babadook that gives the film its complexity leaving it to the audience to decipher the end, which mind you does leave space for a sequel.

The Babadook takes the horror genre and makes is more horrendous by placing a distressed mother and son duo in the middle of it all wherein the audience can’t help but sympathize with their desperation. In addition, it gives us a new villain that is more emotionally and mentally challenging with no apparent fixed goals making his presence all the more suspicious and frightening. As is the case with most horror films, watching it at night adds more thrills and shrills to the experience.

Rating 3.5/5


18 November, 2014

Dr. Prakash Baba Amte - The Real Hero (Marathi)


A movie that will inspire you, give you goosebumps, make you cry and perhaps even make you wonder that somewhere you are leading a largely self-centered life. This is the story of Dr. Prakash Baba Amte - a gentleman who sadly does need introduction for many in India.

A biopic on the life of a man (and his wife) who selflessly worked for the upliftment of Adivasis (tribals) in the Hemalkasa region of Maharashtra while giving up what would have been a luxurious and comfortable life had they been doctors in a large hospital anywhere in the country.

The plot is a real life story of Dr. Prakash (Nana Patekar) and his wife Dr. Mandakini (Sonali Kulkarni) who along with their colleagues decide to ‘settle downby a riverside in the forest of Hemalkasa. Here begins their journey of busting tribal myths, getting tribals to take medication for illnesses instead of going to tantriks, helping them fight police atrocities, providing their children with schooling, and dealing with pressure from Naxalites and corrupt government officials in order to create an ecosystem where humans, animals and nature coexist.

Sounds intense, doesn't it? Well thats the beauty of the movie - a powerful plot that has been beautifully presented in bite sized nuggets.
Dr. Prakash Baba Amte – The Real Hero presents itself with a strong dose of social messaging; that of the life of tribals in India and the need for doctors (and administrators) in the country to think beyond a comfortable well paying career. While the message is strong, the movie does not seem like a dragged sob story. Each element of Dr. Prakashs journey unfolds through crisp scenes with concise yet strong content intertwined with humour, witty comments, and at times sarcasm, making it an interesting watch. 

The cast is perhaps the best part of the movie. Nana Patekar delivers Dr. Prakash Amte brilliantly with his depiction of humility, selflessness, sense of duty, fearlessness when it came to standing up for what is right and empathy towards the sufferings of tribals. Sonali Kulkarni also deserves mention for playing the dutiful wife and a strong willed resilient doctor. Mohan Agashe has a brief but impactful role as Baba Amte. The tribals depicted in the movie are worth noting as they comprise of a mix of actors, very convincing, and actual tribal folk from Hemalkasa.

Further on, one wouldnt normally associate humour & light moments to be a part of a biopic of such nature, but they have been used and delivered interestingly in the movie as you will chuckle at Dr. Prakashs interactions with the American Consulate, you will want to clap when he uses sarcasm at government officials, you will giggle at the romantic chemistry between Dr. Prakash & his wife Mandakini, and you will laugh when the tribals wonder where the voices from the radio came from. In fact, several moments of tribal faux pas in this movie reminded me of the film ‘The Gods Must Be Crazy.

The Subtitles deserve a special mention as they have captured the essence of the messaging such that you will enjoy the movie even if you don't know Marathi, with very little being lost in translation.

If I were to knit pick, there is a scene or two which seems to have been made in a hurry, like when Dr. Prakash meets his tribal protégé Puru in the USA, and while this was Dr. Prakashs proof of the pudding, Puru was anti climatic, someone who looked like just another junior artiste from a Bollywood movie.


Overall, Dr. Prakash Baba Amte - The Real Hero is a movie that will certainly leave you inspired and in my humble opinion may as well serve fruitful as Indias entry to the Oscars this year.

Rating: 4.5 on 5


Based in Mumbai, Deepti is a travel writer and a content builder for various projects. As an avid movie-watcher, she believes film makers should respect the audiencesintelligence and need for ‘real entertainment. She also writes about her travels with her toddler on the blog - neverjetlagged.blogspot.com.  

08 November, 2014

Interstellar


Have you ever walked out of a Christopher Nolan movie disappointed? Could you even think about walking out of one? I never have! And this one is yet another signature Nolan movie that ended with applause in the movie hall.

Interstellar is the story of a group of explorers on a voyage to build hope for the food starved and ‘about to collapse’ mankind.

The treatment of the plot is, not so new with ‘the earth is polluted, we need a new place to live …’ scenario - heard that before right? But Interstellar has this plot woven wonderfully into a story with classic Nolan flavoured twists & turns, emotions and visual cues. The technicalities used in the story keeps you engaged and intellectually stimulated (just like the multileveled dreams did in Inception).

Add to that the witty, dry comedy that will have you breakout into chuckles right in the middle of an intense twist gives a 100% to the humour quotient.

As for the background score by Hans Zimmer; it is quite different from what you would find in other Nolan movies that Zimmer has worked on. Interstellar’s score has an astronomical intrigue value to it, including absolute muted silence at times.

And of course Matthew McConaughey is brilliant as the protagonist, ’Coop’ (Cooper). His rendition of a passionate aeronautics pilot, of being a maverick even in tough times, and of being an ‘emotional’ toughie does justice to what the audience expects from a Nolan movie and so does his sense of timing.

However, there are still some things that I wished were different; Take the cast for instance, this is something that has always wowed me in the past … Inception, The Dark Knight Trilogy and even in Memento. Christopher Nolan is known for repeating his brilliant talent pool across movies (Joseph Gordon Levitt, Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy, Marion Cotillard and of course Michael Caine), but the cast of Interstellar however did disappoint me a bit.

Sir Michael Caine, one of my favourite actors, wasn't convincing enough as a senior NASA physicist. Anne Hathaway (Dr Amelia Brand) is a much better Batwoman than an astronaut. For a critical member of a space mission Hathaway seriously looks like arm candy. Jessica Chastain (‘Murph’, Murphy) is crassly dramatic and Mackenzie Foy playing Murph as a little girl rendered the character far better.

I found that the first half of the movie dragged a bit as it makes you think ‘Okay! What are you getting at? But the second half is a thriller and makes up for the slowness of the first.

Interstellar is not my favourite Christopher Nolan movie, but still one of the best movies one might see this year. Although, I’d want to watch it at least once more, because I liked it and because there are some scenes that you just HAVE to watch twice to really understand, something that was also required in Nolan's Memento and Inception.

Rating 4/5


Based in Mumbai, Deepti is a travel writer and a content builder for various projects. As an avid movie-watcher, she believes film makers should respect the audiences’ intelligence and need for ‘real entertainment’. She also writes about her travels with her toddler on her blog - neverjetlagged.blogspot.com.


05 November, 2014

Gone Girl (Spoilers!)


Gone Girl plays on so many levels that even after a couple of days of watching it, I am unable to collect all my thoughts together and group them into a review. But, a review must be done and a film that has wrecked my brain so much already, might continue to do so, thus it is better that I get the review out of the way for now.

Having watched the film without reading the book, I was glad that all the twists and turns that come up at just the right moments were extremely satisfying, although after the big reveal in the middle things did get a tad predictable, David Fincher still manages to bundle the story so well that not for a moment did it feel like it was dragging on, especially towards the end, and the excitement and anticipation lingers well after the last scene is over.

The story revolves around the disappearance of Amy Dunne brilliantly played by Rosamund Pike, and how this leads to her husband Nick becoming the primary suspect. Ben Affleck as Nick too gives an outstanding performance as the “smug” husband who disliked his wife, and was on the verge of divorcing her, but cannot give away his true feelings for the fear of being judged by law enforcement and the public.

Gone Girl is a social commentary when you look at it as a whole; Amy’s parents using her disappearance to promote their best selling books “Amazing Amy” that are based on her life or the media making a mockery of everything that happens especially eager to pin the disappearance on a target that they find in the husband. But when you look a little deeper, just like through the developing cracks in the marriage between Amy and Nick, we get to see human nature at its rawest form. Adultery, mistrust, expectations, burdens, and societal pressures, all add up and add to the obscurity of the disappearance. Until that is, we the audience, are given the facts half way through. Amy’s “truth” comes along as a shock, but what is even more alarming is the slow realization of her sociopathic nature, one that is calm and calculating, for this gives us one of cinema’s most frightening villains in recent years considering how she is able to manipulate the people around her without a hint of remorse or guilt.   

Why is the film so brilliant? Because it’s trilling without trying to be, and the credit for that goes to both the author of the book the film is based on and the director. There are no car chases, no big explosions, no fights, rather the thrill and the horror lies in the dialogues and the subtle conversations that happen between the characters, that results in the big truth about the situation and the eventual realization of the facts by the characters.

In addition, Gone Girl also benefits from a cast that is perfect. Rosamund Pike as the mastermind behind it all gives an Oscar worthy performance of a woman that has a way with men, but also one who knows her limits and adapts accordingly as we see her change, chameleon like, when she is mugged at the motel she is hiding at. Ben Affleck starts off as someone who is in command of the situation and doesn't really let it get to him, but slowly we see the desperation seep into him, especially once Amy returns and he is unable to just let go of the deception. Carrie Coon as Nick’s twin-sister Margo is another noteworthy performance, but it is the relationship between the brother and sister that truly stands out. The only unfortunate casting seems to be that of Neil Patrick Harris as one of Amy’s exes who comes to her rescue. While Neil is perfect for the role, borderline sinister at times, the character just isn't meaty enough and could have been a great supporting role had he been given more screen time.

The film isn't without faults though as certain characters are left hanging and parts of the story left unresolved. But, just as is the case with most book-to-film adaptations I presume that these characters, such as that of Andie, Nick’s girlfriend, are better sketched out in the book.

In Gone Girl, Fincher creates a tense atmosphere with deception, truth, and reality and in doing so the two and a half hour plus film seems to breeze through, though moodily, giving the audience an unconventional thriller that packs in the right amount of mystery with stellar performances.

Rating 4.5/5