Saturday, March 4, 2017

Rangoon: Epic Meets Masala. Yeh Kya Ho Gaya Saala?

There is always a challenge for makers of period films as they engage a current audience with a journey to the past. Is theirs an effort a fantastic one to recreate as authentically as possible the reality of a bygone age or is a bygone reality a muse upon which to construct a fantasy of  dubious authenticity? Vishal Bhardwaj’s Rangoon is largely on the latter side. It has already been slammed by leading critics but could do with a treatment that deserves more sympathy than the amount he has extended to his characters. It is a magnificent effort, with much to admire and celebrate but served in a manner that can understandably underwhelm critics and audiences alike.  Nevertheless, it is watchable for it has efforts on nearly everyone’s part that is rare in Bollywood – starting with the very simple fact that we have not seen Indian cinema offer much of World War II in the digital era with its immense possibilities – not counting the occasional Madras Pattinam in Tamil or  Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s “1942: A Love Story. The latter is remembered more as Rahul Dev Burman’s  Last Hurrah than a path-breaker in period cinema.

Bhardwaj’s first fault -- if one might call it that -- is that he has made movies that have raised our expectations. “Maqbool”, “Omkara” and “Haider” with their magnificent interpretations of Shakespearean themes raises one’s appetite. Rangoon has warts that show up bigger like a small meal after a series of fine appetisers.
Rangoon, to start with, has no shot of Rangoon – and I was hoping to see a pagoda shot or Bahadur Shah Zafar’s tomb alongside Kangana Ranaut. But that is not to be.
However, there is much to celebrate in the movie that critics have underemphasized. Glorious outdoor shots of Shahid Kapoor and Kangana Ranaut locked in a sandy romance are set in templates that are classically period. Cinematographer Pankaj Kumar romances steam engines fuming black smoke across lush green landscapes, relentless rain in tropical foilage infested with leeches and lizards, bamboo huts, rope bridges, sepia-toned bombings and air raids. Maharajahs and sundry wives in princely costumes give us plenty of time travel.
Bhardwaj's audacity in trying to combine Julia, a takeoff on Fearless Nadia, with the struggles of the Indian National Army is enriched by a characteristic use of a vulnerable woman torn between two lovers as a metaphor for a nation struggling between moderate and extreme efforts to seek Independence from British imperialism. Like a nation that has to choose between going with a colonial power or partnering with a racist Nazi aggressor in its quest to find an identity and freedom, Julia struggles, despite her penchant for stunts – as one weakened by her dominating lover and her own fluttering heart that flows kindness at the drop of a hat and shows gratitude to a strong-arm saviour.
There is plenty in the film that brings us memories of classic cinema. General Harding with his ruthless mannerisms who reminds us of Colonel Saito in David Lean’s “Bridge On the River Kwai” (the ultimate Burma movie).  There is a colourful dance scene for cheering soldiers clearly inspired by Coppola’s Suzie Q shots in “Apocalpyse Now.”  The sand and the mud rolls are like Oliver Stone’s “Platoon”  and the propeller-driven air raids are so quaint that you love them.
Kangana Ranaut as Julia, Shahid Kapur as army man Nawab Malik and Saif Ali Khan as film maker Russi Billimoria give their best (and a doff of the hat for some beautifully shot interiors of a Parsi home with all the costumes).
But, but, but…
At some point, there is a line from Saif that seems to speak for the director: “Hum funkaar hain: jhooth ko sachhai se jeena hamara pasha hai” (We are artists. To live the lie honestly is our profession).
And we want to ask: Dear Vishal, have  you?.

The script is too laboured and there is a point where the labour falls into the trap of trying too hard – particularly because there is plenty of compromise in the basic soul of the story in dialogues that sound so multiplex that we are constantly jolted to the present. 
The music and lyrics are too folksy to be classic. Some outsourcing might have lightened the burden on the director. This is not a low-budget Gulzar-and-Vishal heart-tug show for the genteel, patronisingly cerebral middle class. This one is an intended epic for posterity.
Do you wear a tuxedo with Kolhapuri chappals?
 There was no ear-worm that I could spot, only the "Bloody Hell" bit that has helped Rottweiler critics.
Weaned on Greek theatre and Shakespearean dramas that set characters with tragic flaws in shades of grey, we look for the director’s tragic flaw, which turns out to be his obsession with tragedy. You can’t go overboard with a stretched climax on a rope bridge with a Romeo-Juliet kind of drama that seems Maudlin, and worse, depressing. Here is an audience that regularly buys large buckets of overpriced popcorn to celebrate Rajkumar Hirani’s overdose of high-school optimism. Do we need this cross-continental, anachronic obsession with tragedy?
O Tempora!
And so, like Mark Anthony in Julius Caesar we may call Rangoon an honourable film. Friends weaned on his Haider, Romans who have relished Hollywood classics and countrymen brought up on happy endings may each have something to grumble about.
 But Rangoon has to be admired still for its guts, ambition, cinematography and fine editing.
Take a deep breath and rewind and taste the movie in your memory, and there is a lot to celebrate. When General Harding speaks English, he sounds authentic, but when he spouts Ghalib in a faux accent, you know it is Bollywood. Kitsch Kitsch Hota Hai!
 -- Madhavan Narayanan

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

'Rekka': Idli chic with oregano flavour

'Rekka': new age gangsta chic in Tamil. Dimpled hero with a stubble and golden heart disproportionately bashes comical bad guys and celebrates small town family values. Bashfully bold lady love  is a cross twixt rustic daddy's girl and romantic urban belle. Mall meets Mela. Vijay Sethupathi and Lakshmi Menon make a fine pair with an engagingly vulnerable appeal. This is what software does to Jallikkattu country.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Jio Beta! Is RIL hiding a secret sauce?

Reliance Jio is creating a flutter in India's telecom market. Mukesh Ambani seems to be using a late mover advantage by going in for aggressive pricing because he has not spent much on buying spectrum, in contrast to big incumbents such as Bharti Airtel, Vodafone and idea. This gives his Reliance Industries Ltd more elbow room in terms of flexibility.
At the same time RIL is targeting 100 mln customers in a short span of time. He can hope to play the volume game. But where will the profit come from?
My guess would be that it would come from data science.
By being flexible on handsets, adding content and using smart software to figure out profit opportunities, a retail-savvy game can be played.
Here is how.
By combining Lyf-branded house phones, partnerships with low end brands like Intex and content providers, RIL can get high volume semi-rural consumers.
Reliance Retail can be the e-commerce play using supply chain management efficiently.
There is also room to create, procure and manage in-house content. Remember, Ambani controls Network 18 and Viacom 18 is famous for Nagin serials!

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Iraivi - Mini review

Saw Iraivi by Kartik Subbaraju who earlier directed Jigar Thanda, a comically chilling exploration into the hitman next door. Powerful tale blending feminist views with theft of temple idols in a metaphorical embrace. Many plot twists and much violence makes it skid. But KS is Tamil cinema 's unique  blend stylistically mixing Sudhir Mishra, Anurag Kashyap and of course, Tarantino. He explicitly recognises the influence of writer Sujatha and director K Balachander. A deft mixture of art with crime, realism with everyday entertainment, misplaced machismo of weak men with emerging assertiveness of empowered women and visual motifs with hard-hitting dialogues makes the overcooked plot still worth it.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Flawed Machismo And Philandering Femmes: Tanu Weds Manu Returns

Two archetypes of Modern India.
Tanuja Trivedi a.k.a. Tanu - from UP. Romantic, aggressive, self-confident
Kusum Sangwan a.ka. Datto - from Haryana. Confident, dutiful, athletic.

Then you have Manu Sharma a.k.a.  Manu - A man torn between the two women
In the trignometry of modern India's changing gender equations, writer Himanshu Sharma and director Anand Rai explore patterns that go beyond the obvious.
Marriage meets betrayals. Lovesick Romeos flaunt flawed machismo. Girls lose their heads and find their feet as freedom comes with its warts. Tanu Weds Manu Returns is a subtle comedy of manners spiced with a depth that arrives elegantly when Kangana meets Kangana in a voluptuous meeting of dialects and dialectics. See it for her histrionics and the rugged charm of a plot that celebrates the vulnerabilities of hinterland India.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Selfie Verite - When stand-up comedy makes you sit down

'Time stands still in Calcutta. That is where ambition goes to die. It has a high return on investment on nostalgia'- says Papa CJ
It was delightful attending his PAPA CJ - NAKED (Gurgaon - Sun 31 May)show on Sunday. It is more than comedy. It has a deep literary flourish, with a visceral sense of pathos as he journeys into his own past to mix the ribald with the profound and the profound with the poignant. There is always a challenge in making stand-ups rise above the simple stringing of gags. CJ, reveals much more (body and soul) in what you could call Selfie Verite -- a click into his true persona. He does that in a fascinating way, combining impromptu interactivity with audience with a part-nostalgic, part-incisive recollections of his own past.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Pronounced bowels and digestible consonants: Piku

There is only so much you can guffaw when the bowel is a muse.
But beyond the ablutions lie the intuitions that provide a richer variety of humour.
Piku is brilliant. Beyond its toilet humour lies a sense of character and souls trapped in a rubble of conditioned habits and ways of the flesh. The richness of cultures ingrained and established is nothing when worlds collide between souls in search of harmonious understanding. 
Writer Juhi Chaturvedi excels in a matrix where characters are stripped naked of their habits and social mannerisms to a point where you see the constant permanent over the variables of everyday idiosyncrasies. Shoojit Sircar's ability to weave in little oddities and rich textures of culture within single-frame detail and short-lived gestures is amazing.
We are quite used to excellence from Amitabh Bachchan, but he can excel himself sometimes -- and the more weird the character, the more is his ability extract the juice of mannerisms, twitches and eccentricities. 

Irffan Khan, by now Bollywood's uncrowned king of understated elegance, can somehow combine the ruffianesque with the sensitive as only he can do, it seems.
But what is fascinating alongside is Deepika Padukone's ability to retain a sense of modern, independent, aesthetic style even as she sinks into a messy role that reflects a character steeped in the hallowed weight of traditions and responsibilities beyond what her tender shoulders might permit. Some things, when chewed well, can be very digestible and delicious.