28 February, 2015

The Grand Budapest Hotel

The Grand Budapest Hotel is a classic Wes Anderson quirky comedy. The movie is all Anderson-esque including the witty dry humor, the ornately visual setting, the impressive ensemble cast, the voice-over narration approach or the presentation of sub plots in the form of the chapters of a book. Here’s a savory you wouldn't regret watching!

The film is set at the Grand Budapest Hotel located in the (fictional) East European state of Zubrowka - a luxurious hotel managed by the concierge M. Gustave H (Ralph Fiennes) who spearheads the hotel’s day to day activities with passion and an almost OCD like meticulousness along with his protégé Zero Moustafa (Tony Revolori), a newly recruited lobby boy.

The core plot revolves around Gustave being framed for the murder of one of the hotel’s eminent and elderly guests - Madame D (Tilda Swinton). The film spins around how Gustave - with help from Zero - attempts to prove himself innocent and battles Madame D’s money grubbing relatives.

Now before you look at this as a regular murder mystery, let’s remember it’s a Wes Anderson movie! It presents the cast, production, creativity and humour quotients in a fashion that Anderson is famous for.

Ralph Fiennes takes the cake as Gustave H (quite literally - as you will find in the movie - a pastry from Herr Mendll’s). To start with, you don't quite expect Ralph Fiennes in a Wes Anderson movie. But he is and he has delivered with perfection a character so beautifully sketched out by Anderson - a concierge’s passion for service, of all kinds, to guests, his fuss about everything being perfect, his compassion for his sidekick, his ranting preachy sermons delivered even when he is hanging in the midst of life & death and his witty dry humour. You would at times want to stand up and clap!

Tony Revolori is a refreshing sight as the younger Zero Moustafa, with his loyalty to Gustave and love for the baker Agatha (played by Saoirse Ronan). The ensemble cast is worth taking note of; most of them regulars in Wes Anderson movies. Tilda Swinton as Madame D has a brief but crucial role setting tone to the plot, Adrian Brody as Madame D’s greedy son Dmitri, Jeff Goldblum as Kovacs - the family attorney, Willem Dafoe as Dmitri’s henchman and Edward Norton as Inspector Henckles who scurries through the story with great comic timing. Of course cameos by Anderson regulars; Bill Murray, Owen Wilson and Jason Schwartzman are ever-so-delightful.

The movie has a brilliant visual setting that is once again trademark Anderson. (You will find similar visual settings in his earlier movies like The Royal Tenenbaums or Fantastic Mr Fox). Add to that the use of miniatures to depict the hotel, the hill or the funicular railway, without touching them up with visual effects, gives you a nostalgic old movie world charm.

Keep an eye out for interesting sets & shots like the use of pastel colours for the hotel set up or the grand atrium of hotel (apparently filmed at a German department store that had survived World War II) or the ‘Society of the Crossed Keys’ scene shown in an iris shot. The background score is very Russian and in many scenes the pace laden score sets the tone for a ‘what happens next’ murderous suspense.

Finally, the level of detailing of the humour and the comic timing in the movie is applaud worthy, be it in Gustave’s ranting sermons to his staff or in the way the Society of the Crossed Keys helps him or even in the depiction of Gustave’s intimacies with his guests, the movie has witty dry humour that not only entertains but also respects your IQ!

With The Grand Budapest Hotel, Wes Anderson has made a fun (and funny) film with a murder mystery plot making it a story that everyone will love (whether you are a Wes Anderson fan or not).

Rating: 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 audiences intelligence and need for ‘real entertainment. She also writes about her travels with her toddler on the blog - neverjetlagged.blogspot.com

Manakamana (Press Release)

A film by Stephanie Spray and Pacho Velez

On DVD and VOD 9 February 2015

     "One of 2014's best films...how easy and instantly enriching the film is" ★★★★★
     Little White Lies
     "You could hardly ask for a more beautiful vision of souls in transit" ★★★★★
     Time Out
     "The must-see cinematic experience of the year" ★★★★★
     "One of the year’s finest documentary achievements" ★★★★
     "The perfect antidote to the festive rush" ★★★★
     The Times
     "A hypnotic and profound cinematic experience" ★★★★
     The List
Lauded by critics as film of the year, Manakamana is a stunningly original and breathtaking cinematic experience. The film follows pilgrims as they make an ancient journey by cable car to worship high above a jungle in Nepal and makes its home entertainment debut courtesy of Dogwoof.

The Hindu Manakamana Temple is almost a mile above sea level, instead of a lengthy journey on foot, worshippers can now take a 10-minute cable car journey up in to the mountains to pray at this sacred place. Using a 16mm camera co-directors Stephanie Spray and Pacho Velez  join a varied mix of subjects on their pilgrimage. Manakamana will be available on DVD and VOD on 9 February 2015.

The scenery is mesmerising, as are the characters - a diverse mix of commuters - from a group of old women discussing how much things have changed, a group of young men taking selfies, an elderly man and his grandson, a mother and daughter eating ice-creams, a married couple and their chicken and a herd of goats. Every shot follows a different set of passengers as we learn about them and their lives.

"A tender, ephemeral character study of its passengers and a window onto the lush, rolling landscape of a country in transition from ancient tradition to modernity"
Cinema Guild

Special features include: Three exclusive bonus cable car journeys, Theatrical Trailer and Harvard Ethnographic Trailers ­ - Leviathan, Sweetgrass and Foreign Parts.

Release Date: 9 February 2015                                     Catalogue No: DOG316
Running time: 118 mins                                               Aspect Ratio: 1.85 :1
Language: English, Nepali                                           Subtitles: English
RRP: £15.99                                                                  Certificate: E

23 December, 2014

PK … and my sober review of the film.

I’m confused. Does the director of PK want us to use our heads to make our own decisions or does he not? I mean on the one hand the filmmaker wants us to realize that we should not dictate our like for a person based on their religion and country of origin, but on the other hand the lead actress wears an extremely short dress when the weather is clearly wintery because she is wearing a jacket and our hero too moves around in sweaters.

Let’s face it folks, PK is preachy for the sake of being preachy, just like that kiss in the beginning, I swear that’s not a spoiler, is there for no apparent reason, unless you think that because we are all so modern that we now need to show lovers kissing and half undressed to explain the status of their relationship. By the way, I am not against kissing and find it quite enjoyable on the contrary. Getting back to the film, PK has nothing to tell that we don’t know already. And those of you who have been going Ga-Ga over the message; you might tweet about it, write blogs about it, discuss it, but then you WILL go back to doing what YOU think is right. So let’s not make a big deal out of it. There is no revolution that is going to arise from this so sit back and think about the movie with a clear mind and don’t get carried away in just the message. It is a film, not a three hour long piece on how we should live our lives. Oh! and if by the end of all that is written below, you’re only comment is that “this is a movie after all”, then I guess we shouldn’t be friends anymore. 

The story revolves around an alien called PK, played by Mr. Consistent Aamir Khan, who visits India to study the people of earth, but since on arrival his remote, needed to call back his spaceship, is stolen, he spends the remainder of his time here looking for it, rather than really studying humanity. Well, okay I guess you can say that he understands human nature through the quest of finding the remote, but then it’s only a part of this vast human temperament that he studies. Anushka Sharma’s Jaggu is a reporter that stumbles upon PK and takes upon herself to help him recover the lost remote. What we then get is a lesson on religious tolerance and accepting things as they are and not as they are made out to be. In case you are thinking that the story with the religious context seems familiar, I must congratulate you on your film knowledge for the movie Oh My God already tackled this issue in half the time and with much bravado.

There is no denying that the heart of the film is in the right place and it tries really hard to push the idea behind the story, so much so that it treats the audience as adolescents, spoon feeding every minuscule detail about everything, even the most basic of stuff. As a result of this, inconsistencies arise. On top of that we are bombarded with humor that is simply juvenile and fails to entertain. Okay fine, if you thought that the whole “dancing car” episode is funny and needs to be mentioned quite a few times throughout the film then we obviously are on a totally different wavelength here. What further bothers me is that while the humor is childish, it is not exactly a family film considering some of the scenes that play out, which includes moaning every time the dancing car makes an appearance.

I talked about inconsistencies above and this is what bothered me;
While I understand that PK’s original mission is side-tracked due to his remote getting stolen, but wouldn’t a person with higher learning, someone who can read minds simply by touching another person, find it easy to grasp his surroundings. And wait, wouldn't someone as fit as him be able to outrun the thief who is clearly twice his age in the first place? He struggles a lot, and I mean a LOT which makes me wonder if he is as smart as he is meant to be. I get it, it’s a satire, don’t you all love that word, on the duality of humans, that they say one thing and mean another, but what about hitting the books and maybe learning a little about the planet and how it functions. I find it weird that throughout the film PK is never seen with a book in his hand, his curiosity is high when he wants information on how to get his remote, selfish of him don’t you think, but other than that he doesn’t spend any time trying to learn anything. It’s all about discovery, but never about learning. I would have imagined that someone of his caliber would be able to speed read numerous books in one go and be up-to-date with how things function on our little planet.

Take the entire episode of having to hold someone’s hand to learn the local language. While he goes from one person to another, holding hands and in the process getting beaten up, how do you think the people he is with stop him… by holding his hand of course. Yes, I know he needs 6 hours to learn the language, but come on already, did we need a 15 minute song and dance sequence and act for just this? If you are one of the few, and I say this because apparently the movie is doing good business, who hasn’t seen the movie, my babbling might seem confusing and that should say a lot about the movie.

Fine, let’s leave all that and look at some other inconsistencies that take place, and this is just because the film was so adamant that I use my brains in everyday life, that I decided to use it to make sense of what I was watching on screen, or try to at least. There is supporting story of Anushka Sharma’s character being left at the altar by her boyfriend, which is supposed to provide an end twist in the film, but when the time comes, everything just seems too simple and incidental and I was left wondering what are the odds that all these events took place just the way they did? Or then take Anushka’s dad, a highly religious person, who is disappointed with her daughter when she brings PK on TV and says so to her in an SMS. Yeah, sending an SMS to you daughter that says “I am ashamed of you” is nothing short of parental emotional blackmail. Maybe we need a whole movie on that alone. A reverse Baghban if you may. Or when Anushka decides to make some money out of her experience, unless it was for charity, but we don’t know that, with PK and writes a book. The book cover is that of PK walking back to the spaceship (sorry spoiler of sorts, but you knew this would happen). But then, did she have a camera with her at that time? I mean she seemed quite emotional at that very moment and don’t think she was busy taking photos of PK as he walked back to the spaceship. And then there is the latest trend of all social issue films; public outrage. It’s in here too, getting people to take a stand collectively, as if everyone’s dimag ki batti just lit up simultaneously.   

Moving on, there is nothing much I can say about the acting. Aamir Khan is dependable as always and somewhat makes for an okay alien. Anushka Sharma still in my books is amongst the best actresses working in Indian cinema. She walks through the role with ease. But here is where the problem lies, it’s a role she could have done in her sleep. I’d love to see her take on more challenging and different roles. The supporting cast is the backbone of the film and deserves a big mention. Everyone performs well, and even though there are no standout performances, in terms of acting, everyone is good and to the mark.

As for the actual discussion regarding religion, this is what I have to say; Religion, along with politics, is something that I hold very close to myself. They are both extremely personal to me and I have my own believes, faith, thinking, and while some of it might be termed superstition, depending on how you look at it, it is something that I am comfortable with. So I don’t intend to speak about it in public, as simple as that.
What PK does is play with human emotions. It makes the audience feel bad about the decisions they might have taken in their lives. That is a good thing as it is always excellent to retrospect on our actions and if a film makes you do that, good for you. But, in the end there is a thin line between opening an issue for discussion or forcing your opinion on to others, and that line is crossed a few times during the film.

As a film PK makes for a rather average watch. The good moments are far and few, with Sanjay Dutt surprisingly providing a much needed break whenever he is on screen. It’s a film that lingers between a social issue film and an entertainer and Raju Hirani is good with that since 3 Idiots, and the two Munna Bhai films too are products of the same factory (Note: I am not a fan of  3 Idiots, but love the Munna Bhai films). Still, with PK his plotline falters and seems disjointed and that could possibly be due to the sensitivity of the subject.

You can and should watch PK for a number of reasons, but would I go running back to the theater for a second viewing or even buy it on DVD; Right this minute, after giving it a thought, not really, or maybe just record it when it comes on TV and fast forward it to that brilliant guest appearance at the very end.  

Rating 2/5

Rajesh Khanna – The Untold Story of India’s First Superstar (Book Review)

It’s hard to comprehend. This is certainly not the first time that I have read Rajesh Khanna being referred to as the “first superstar” of Indian cinema. It must be true for many associated with films still claim that nothing has so far surpassed the craze that Rajesh Khanna generated. Imagine that now, a “phenomenon” that had a following more than the Khans and Amitabh Bachchan. Hard to believe right, but it happened. In his book, Yasser Usman tries to capture the essence of Rajesh Khanna, with whatever resources he can conjure, and present a complete picture of a celebrity that ruled over cinema in the 1970s and left an unforgettable legacy behind him that the audience still cherishes and remembers even though the actor had become a recluse in the last decade or so.

While the main accolade goes to Rajesh Khanna for having lived a life that was no different from a masala Hindi blockbuster, but Yasser deserves credit for his meticulous research using interviews with people that were an integral part of Rajesh Khanna’s private life and diving into various past resources that showcases the thought process of the audience, the superstar, his colleagues, and the people that mattered to him the most at the time when he was either reaching unimaginable and unprecedented  heights of super-stardom or fearful of being forgotten after a barrage of flops. Yasser while mostly sticks to the facts, he does every now and then present gossipy tit-bits, with a pinch of salt, that adds the right kind of flavor, tadka if you may, to this colorful story that is full of triumphs, love, betrayal, and innumerous tragedies.

As the book goes on to discuss the rise and fall of the superstar, both in his professional and personal life, I couldn’t help but find a commonality he shared with some of the other film legends that came to the scene much later but shared a similar personal growth. Recently, having read Naseeruddin Shah’s memoir and having watched Anupam Kher’s one man show, Kuch Bhi Ho Sata Hai, based on his life, it dawned that many actors, some that are still talked about in gossip columns, have all been through major heartbreaks during their years of struggle and have come victorious over them and maybe use that as a catalyst to reach where they are now in their lives.

The Untold Story of India’s First Superstar lacks certain depth that could have been achieved had the direct family of Rajesh Khanna agreed to be a part of the book (apparently they were asked but denied to comment). Furthermore, at times a study like this about the trials and tribulations of a star comes very close to being termed as an “invasion of privacy” and does generate a sense of melancholia in the reader, but then again it can be considered the price celebrities pay for the fame and fortune that are bestowed upon them by the general public.

Rajesh Khanna – The Untold story of India’s First Superstar reads through like a breeze. Yasser’s journalistic background and his knowledge about film clearly shows through the passion with which the book has been written, and written so well it is. What’s even more commendable is that while the focus almost always remains on Rajesh Khanna, Yasser manages to paint a brilliant picture of how the film industry worked in its heyday and for that alone the book is worth a read.

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”.