Friday, October 03, 2014

Durbhaagya Haider ka (Kashmir ka rajkumar)

Note 1: It is after a long time that I want to write about an (Indian) movie!

Note 2: Considering that Haider is adapted from a well-known (and arguably the most famous) Shakespearean play, The tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, I will go easy with spoilers and without warning. And for those unfamiliar with tragedies by Shakespeare, spoiler alert, everybody dies.

I knew Vishal Bhardwaj has a fetish for Shakespeare. Haider is the final installment of his trilogy spanning Maqbool (Macbeth) and Omkara (Othello) before this. Shakespeare's influence on him is also evident in his outings not based on plays, most notably in Matru ki Bijlee ka Mandola, and less visibly in 7 khoon maaf, and Ishqiya among others. But this is also a man who truly loves cinema and adores the medium. So much that the characters of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern from the original play are depicted as Salman and Salman, a duo which run a VHS rental store, idling their time away to the moves of Salman Khan, the rising superstar from the 1990s. It is a fitting tribute to the time and place in which Vishal Bhardwaj grew up as a filmmaker.

I mention this because I wager this man is heavily influenced in his style by another man who adores cinema, Quentin Tarantino, a director famous for his revenge epics. With all the bloody gruesomeness that leaves its trail along a saga of revenge, the conflicts, the deliberations, the mess - how cool is it that our home-grown director does homage to Tarantino's trademark trunk shot and ends Haider with a sampling straight from his movies (edit: my bad. The sampling at the end of Haider is from Extreme Ways.)

Set in the mid-1990s in Kashmir, the story embeds itself flawlessly in the setting, rather than it just being a background setup for the events adapted from the original play.

Jhelum, jhelum dhoonde kinara
Jhelum, jhelum dhoonde kinara
Dooba sooraj, kin aankhon mein
Sooraj dooba, kin aankhon mein
Jhelum huya khaara

This has to be Shahid Kapoor's highlight performance of his career yet. I was skeptical about this casting choice from the trailers, but boy was I wrong. The amount of preparation he put behind this role shows. The monologue scene in front of an audience at the town square is exaggerated just the right amount, and the execution of the play-within-a-play exposition scene from the original is neat. His costumes, makeup, body language, all fit together seamlessly as he owns his character.

Hai ki hai nahi, bas yehi sawaal hai
Aur sawaal ka jawab bhi sawaal hai.

Dil ki agar sunoon to hai, dimaag ki to hai nahin
Jaan loon ki jaan doon, mai rahoon ki mai nahin.

And what a find Shraddha Kapoor is! Elegant, charming, poised, controlled, absolutely not afraid to let her eyes to the talking, and leaves you yearning for more. I wish I was there to see her keeping a straight face as she mispronounces 'loved' as 'love-edd' as they were filming it! I, for one, definitely want to see her do meaningful roles in the future. Irrfan Khan delivers a spirited punch during his meager screen time, playing the ghost from the play.

But the highlight performance in the movie has to be Tabu's, arguably her career's best, atleast in a very long time. A delight she is as she sets the screen on fire bringing her character to life. There is a scene in which she is trying to convince Haider to leave Kashmir for a better future. With her teary, swollen eyes, and a gun pointed to her head, she ultimately gets her way. I cannot imagine another actress from around here who can pull that off with such elegance.

"Vaishi bhediyaa ban chuka hai wo."
"Shukr hai aasteen ka saanp nahi banaa."

Vishal Bhardwaj, with his direction and music (for Gulzar's excellent lyrics), tops himself. Being true to the source material and still making it his own, he comes out triumphant. He is at the top of his game here. Kashmir has been shot so delicately! (I want to go there ASAP! And we we don't need foreign locations!) The gravedigger scene, in particular, is the crowning jewel, a scene which drips with his love and affection for his craft.

Arre aao na, ki jaan gayi, jahaan gaya, kho jaao
Arre aao na, ke thak gayi, hai zindagi, so jaao

I might have profusely appreciated the movie thus far, but the movie is not without its gripes. I'll start with the anachronisms. In one of the best and most important scenes in the movie, the play-within-a-play scene, there is a mobile cellular tower prominently visible throughout in the background. Forgetting for a moment that we did not have cellular networks in the 1990s, its presence is distracting. I would have expected this to come up in post-processing/editing, especially when a viewer is able to catch it in first viewing. This is the kind of attention-to-detail I would expect from a director of his caliber. Then, to depict Bangalore, they used footage of the iconic Domlur flyover here. Again, its construction hadn't started as late as 2003, and the footage of sprawling flyovers plastered suddenly coming from the valleys of Kashmir moments ago is jarring to say the least.

Also, in my opinion, the Oedipus aspects of the play were overplayed in the movie. It wasn't necessary. Not as much. But my major complaint is how they handled the character of Ophelia. Transforming it into a childhood love, and having scenes of brimming romance between Haider and Arshia feels out-of-place in a Shakespearean revenge epic such as Hamlet.

But hey, the movie is probably a little too "heavy" already for Indian audiences, and removing the little romance might have aggravated it, so what do I know? I am sure it took enough courage already to deal with the Censor Board's scissors and to release this film pitted against the 24,000-screens-release of multi-starrer blockbuster Bang Bang.

I can already read some negative Internet chatter around 1) The depiction of Kashmir; 2) It being a heavily political movie; and 3) "maa bete ka rishta". Please, folks, can we let art remain art? Pretty please?

I cannot recommend this movie enough. Please go watch it, something like this comes rarely in our country. Thank you Vishal Bhardwaj for making Haider.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Where The Mind Is Without Fear (retold in 12 movie posters)

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high

Where knowledge is free

Where the world has not been broken up into fragments

By narrow domestic walls

Where words come out from the depth of truth

Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection

Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way

Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit

Where the mind is led forward by thee

Into ever-widening thought and action

Into that heaven of freedom, my Father,

...let my country awake.

Poem: Where The Mind Is Without Fear by Rabindranath Tagore
Movie posters belong to the creators. Please don't sue me. :)

Tuesday, August 12, 2014


no margin for error, almost.

you failed, almost.

had to sleep hungry, almost.

best fondue you will ever have, almost.

so much money it was obscene, almost.

it rammed into the car, almost.

so funny i died, almost.

flew so high you could touch the clouds, almost.

it crashed, almost.

fifteen seconds of famous, almost.

so dark i was lost, almost.

it rained, almost.

so bad it was good, almost.

charlie bit my finger, almost.

so loud the earth shook, almost.

so faint it was a whisper, almost.

took your breath away, almost.

so far that there was no going back, almost.

so close, so close, almost.

dived so deep that you couldn't see the sun, almost.

'twas a huge fall and you slipped!, almost.

you caught it, almost.

so happy i could die, almost.

one things, almost.

human, almost.

it killed you, almost.

almost... so you keep going.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

A love letter to mother-in-law

Dear (potential) mother-in-law,

I know you are madly in love with me. But you know what they say, "Love ain't enough, dufus." Ye zaalim duniyaa aur ye kaatil zamaana. Let's take a step back, okay?

Susheel padha-likhaa ladkaa who will take good care of your daughter jise aapne itne pyaar se paal pos kar badaa kiya hai, what's there to not love? I get it. I love myself too. And if that isn't love, it will have to do until the real thing comes along.

Look, I know you want nothing but happiness for your daughter. I know the pressures society puts on you. I'm aware about "log kya kahenge". Just let her breathe, okay? It might be that she doesn't want to get married right now. It might be that she wants to figure out other things in her life, instead of "settling down." There is hardly an "umar" to get married. And I really hope you didn't freak out if your Visakhapatnam-raised daughter told you that she was in love with a Bihari boy and wanted to marry him. All those apprehensions about different cultures, communities, languages, or if the guy earned enough or not - look, it doesn't matter. If she told you about him, let her go. You believe in love, right? Trust your daughter to make the right decision for herself and her family. If the guy loves your daughter, he cannot not love you too. You will be surprised at the number of times I have heard "We cannot go against our parents' wishes." That's you, silly. Doesn't it make you all teared up with joy? Because sanskaar.

Stop pestering her. Things have changed, you know, and it's okay. Really. Ladki ki bua ki baaton mai mat aaiye. I wouldn't blame her though, I blame an overdose of Ekta Kapoor soaps, where she gets her ideas from. Your love got you and me here. Love gets challenged all the time, and if your love for me is enduring and true, we will get through all of this too one day.

I am reminded of a dialogue from Scent of a Woman. No, no, not the "This is such a crock of SHIT." one. The other one. This one:

"Let her continue on her journey. 
You hold this girl's future in your hands. It's a valuable future. Believe me. 
Don't destroy it. Protect it. Embrace it. It's gonna make you proud one day, 
I promise you."

One day, I will meet your daughter at some CCD a couple of times, and we both will really like each other. When that day comes, I will take you to a fancy restaurant, I will kneel, hold your hands, look straight into your eyes, and sincerely ask you, "Will you let your daughter marry me?" Okay?

Looking forward to stuffing myself with the kachoris and the gulaab jamuns which you are going to prepare for me when I visit after becoming your damaad ji.


Monday, January 27, 2014

86th Academy Awards

Note 1: Well, I did a post on Oscars last year, so I am going to do one every year now. Talk about being clingy, heh.

Note 2.0: Post 2.0 is going to be bigger and better, aww yeah!

It hasn't been a stellar year for movies compared to the previous year, neither there nor here. A year of massive snubs too (I weep for you, Coen brothers, Tom Hanks, Emma Thompson). '12 years a slave' emerges as the 'Lincoln' from last year, and TEN nominations for 'American Hustle', are you effing kidding me?! The race is wide open (which makes it mildly interesting), and my prediction is that this year predictions in general are going to go for a toss. My sentiments for this year's Oscars are best summarized by the movie nominated this year for Makeup and Hairstyling, a movie that will be selling DVDs with 'Oscar nominee' plastered on its cover - 'Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa'.

The complete list of nominations is available here. This is going to be a difficult year for predictions, so whenever in doubt, I will stick to a golden rule - snub American Hustle!

CategoryPredictionPickVishesh TippaniQuotesHit / Miss
Best Motion Picture of the Year12 Years a SlaveThe Wolf of Wall StreetThe Wolf of Wall Street is by far the best movie of this year, its only fault being that it isn't "Best Picture material". F.U. American Hustle, I wish Jonah Hill peed all over you.From TWOWS: "My name is Jordan Belfort. The year I turned 26, I made 49 million dollars, which really pissed me off because it was three shy of a million a week."Hit! But they got it wrong. Time.
Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading RoleMatthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers ClubLeonardo DiCaprio, The Wolf of Wall Streetsee: Best Motion Picture of the Year
P.S.: F.U. American Hustle.
From TWOWS: "I am not gonna die sober!"Hit! So disappointed for Leo!
Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading RoleCate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine
Kill me for saying it, but I don't think Amy Adams' cleavage deserves an Oscar. F.U."Who do you have to sleep with around here to get a Stoli martini with a twist of lemon?"Hit!
Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting RoleJared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club
see: Best Achievement in Makeup and Hairstyling"Relax, I don't bite. I guess you're handsome, in a Texas, hick, white trash, dumb kind of way."Hit! 
Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting RoleLupita Nyong'o, 12 Years a Slave
If only Scarlett Johansson was nominated. Sigh. And F. U. JLaw, Eff. You. You didn't deserve it last year, you don't deserve it this year.From Her:
"You know, I can feel the fear that you carry around and I wish there was... something I could do to help you let go of it because if you could, I don't think you'd feel so alone anymore."
Hit! So much deserve! 
Best Achievement in DirectingAlfonso CuarĂ³n, GravityMartin Scorsese, The Wolf of Wall Streetsee: Best Motion Picture of the YearFrom TWOWS:
'The name of the game, moving the money from the client's pocket to your pocket.'
'But if you can make your clients money at the same time it's advantageous to everyone, correct?'
Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the ScreenSpike Jonze, Her
The writing is just devastating. Devastating. Isn't that what great writing is supposed to be?"Sometimes I think I have felt everything I'm ever gonna feel. And from here on out, I'm not gonna feel anything new. Just lesser versions of what I've already felt."Hit!
Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published12 Years a SlaveRichard Linklater, Before MidnightAnyone who has followed the 'Before...' series will hardly contest that Linklater deserves this, but well...From Before Midnight:
"Like sunlight, sunset, we appear, we disappear. We are so important to some, but... we are just passing through."
Best Animated Feature Film of the YearFrozen
'Olaf! You're melting!'
'Some people are worth melting for.'
Best Foreign Language Film of the YearThe Great Beauty
The Great Beauty is what To Rome with Love should have been, or rather what this movie should have been called.'We're all on the brink of despair; all we can do is look each other in the face, keep each other company, joke a little... don't you agree?'Hit!
Best Achievement in CinematographyGravity
Technical awards for Gravity is quite a no-brainer this year. From the camera-work to sound, Gravity is, without a doubt, going to sweep the technical awards.'Houston, I have a bad feeling about this mission.'
'Please elaborate.'
'Well, it reminds of a story.'
Best Achievement in EditingGravityCaptain PhillipsCaptain Phillips' climax got close to Argo's climax. It's tough to beat Gravity for the technical awards this year.From Captain Phillips:
"Shut up, Irish. Too much talking."
Best Achievement in Production DesignAmerican HustleHerHer was a surprise (and deserving) nomination for this category, and the minimalism in the look and feel of the movie only goes on to show how much thought was put into it. Oh, and yes, F. U. American Hustle.From Her:
"Your past is just a story you tell yourself."
Miss. The Great Gatsby.
Best Achievement in Costume DesignAmerican Hustle
Probably the only good thing about American Hustle. Yup, Amy Adams' cleavage wasn't one."But, you know I thought you were mysterious like my mother. Until, it turned out... the mysterious just meant depressed." Miss. Because in-your-face costumes are the way to go. :| The Great Gatsby.
Best Achievement in Makeup and HairstylingDallas Buyers Club
see: Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role
Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original ScoreSteven Price, Gravity
While I really wish Thomas Newman, after being nominated 11 times before this (including Wall·E), won this one for his great score in a music-heavy Saving Mr. Banks, I feel Steven Price deserves this one. Check it out.
Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Song'Let it go', Frozen'Ordinary Love', U2, Mandela: Long Walk to FreedomThis is a tough one to pick, between 'Ordinary Love' and 'Let it go'. I do want to see U2 win, after they didn't win the last time they were nominated. And while you are at it, 'The Moon Song' from 'Her' is absolutely heart-breaking.
Best Achievement in Sound MixingGravity
see: Best Achievement in Cinematography
Best Achievement in Sound EditingGravity
see: Best Achievement in Cinematography
Best Achievement in Visual EffectsGravity
see: Best Achievement in Cinematography

18 / 20

Who are you rooting for?

86th Academy Awards...