Saturday, October 22, 2011


How important is spoken language in our daily lives? Most of us would think quite important. After watching Lucky at the Mumbai Film Festival, though, my idea of the need for a spoken language in order to “communicate” has evolved. Simply because the film teaches you how in order to know, it’s more important to feel, and a spoken language is not even necessary to understand someone.

Directed by Avie Luthra, Lucky is a South African film set in Durban. It’s a story of an orphaned 10-year-old Zulu boy Lucky (played by Sihle Dlamini), who leaves his village to the city of Durban, to keep his promise he makes to his dead mother that he would do something in his life. He goes in search of his uncle, who his mother had told him would help him should anything happen. The uncle, however, does not seem too interested in taking care of Lucky, who wants to go to school.

The uncle gives him a tape that his mother had left for him. Lucky, in desperation to play the tape, finds a taperecorder in a neighbour’s house. The neighbour Padma (played by Jayashree Basavaraj) is an old Indian lady who lives on her own. The contents of the tape recorder determine the emotions that drive the growth of an unlikely relation between Lucky and Padma.

Padma initially treats the boy very unwelcomingly, as she has her reserves with his skin colour. But as time and incidents progress, she develops a fondness towards him, yet being cautious in her interactions with him. What is most beautiful in this odd yet endearing relation is the way they both start to talk to each other in their own languages. Padma speaks to lucky in Hindi and Lucky speaks to her in Zulu. Although both of them don’t understand each other’s languages, they still connect and develop a strong bond. The languages act as no barrier in their communication with each other. One particular scene towards the end is extraordinarily touching, where the silence that ensues after one says something to the other is remarkable in creating a beautiful mood.

The film brings to the forefront the need for love and longing to belong. Padma is a lonely old woman who lives in a land distant from her own, away from her roots and family. She may seem tough and cold on the outside, but inside lay a kind and honest soul, who is looking for someone she can care for. A sympathy is developed when we see her being nagged by black women early in the film, seen through the eyes of Lucky. Lucky on the other hand, has just been orphaned and is looking for someone who will understand his needs and is looking for love and comfort. In both these circumstances develops this fondness for each other, although both of them come from completely diverse backgrounds.

Avie Luthra delicately deals with issues of racism and communal hatred. Padma visibly has a dislike for the blacks, except that she softens her reserve with Lucky after she gets to know his story. However, her insistence on keeping her distance from him, and even refusing a hug from him, shows the deep-rooted fear and anxiety that lies ingrained in her mind. Lucky’s uncle admonishes Padma and even hurts her in the process, when he confronts her on taking custody of Lucky. He accuses her of being after the money that she would get from the government by claiming him and providing shelter. He addresses her as “you people” which is a clear expression of his indignation against the community of Indians who have occupied his land.

Sihle Dlamini’s character as Lucky is silent but strong and imprints an impression on the viewer with his quiet ways and resolute attitude. He drives the film forward. The film’s tagline “Sometimes luck has to be found” is apt to Lucky’s quest. He may not seem as lucky as his name suggests, but he has the courage to look for it, with his spirit and determination. He cries when he falls weak, but rises to fight for himself when he needs to. Despite having few dialogues, Sihle Dlamini has a very strong screen presence. His sometimes vacant eyes, his rare smile and quick actions are worth looking out for.

Jayashree Basavaraj as Padma is the perfect blend of a bewildered old woman living alone on high alert and a doting mother who misses her son and family. The transformation we see in her, as she grows more and more attached to Lucky is phenomenal, without being obvious. She retains her protective self for a good part of the movie, but with every passing encounter with Lucky, we see her weaken her guard and welcome him into her life. She gives a captivating performance and equally balances the chemistry of the film with the protagonist.

The film explores greed, hatred, love, possession, longing and above all the cultural and emotional journey of two lives. It shows two completely different worlds, one that is incongruent in the other, yet strangely finds space that intertwines at the level of the heart, where it matters most. Watch it for its wonderful story, its heartwarming moments and for its outstanding performances.

Sunday, June 26, 2011


I remember how when I was a child, I would hear people admonish someone who was naughty or did something wrong as “shaitani”. You mustn’t be called that, because that would mean that you are a bad person. It’s almost the height of evil doing. And that’s what this movie is about. It’s about what happens when you continuously indulge in things that are not good for you, losing your sanity in the process. It is about how when you have to cover up for one mistake, you have to commit many more, that turns out to be a never-ending nightmare of bitter regrets and unimaginable actions.

Shaitan, directed by newcomer Bejoy Nambiar came as a brave attempt at unearthing the underbelly of the Indian police, and the consequences of young, wild erratic lifestyles of the uber cool, rich city bred kids. Five friends, KC (Gulshan Devaiya), Dash (Shiv Pandit), Zubin (Neil Bhoopalam),Tanya (Kirti Kulhari) and Amrita Jayshankar a.k.a. Amy (Kalki Koechlin) are on a wild ride of drugs, drinks and all that spells trouble. A fatal accident completely shocks them and to cover that up, they are forced to device a riskier plan that they hope would save them from serving a jail sentence. The “plan”, however, proves to be too costly to their friendship, their faith in each other and in life itself. Life turns out to be one hellish journey that takes away their spirit, their hopes, their happiness.

Shaitan’s appeal lies in its ability to provoke the senses of the viewer, to make the unexpected come true, but only in certain sections. While the first killing seems real, the ones following that seem a bit overdone. The film urges one's senses and performs in these particular bits. The technical experimentations are fresh, but borrowed. Distinctly Aronofsky right at the beginning. I liked how he brought a twist in Tanya’s story. And how Amy got high in the shot of her against the wall. I liked how the remixed songs were played in the background of completely contradictory visuals. The songs did not come in the way of the film, neither did it disrupt the flow of the narration. It only added to the substance, sometimes loudly, sometimes subtly, but it played in a way that blended with the screen action. The chase scene is done with alacrity keeping the pace and pulse fast and intense. The accident is, by far one of the best sequences in the film. The impact, the silence, the heaviness - all combined to bring out the extent of its magnitude - that would determine the course of the rest of the film.

The film did not work for me for a few reasons. First its luck was pulled too far. The antics started to repeat itself, and hence felt overdone. The dialogues sometimes lacked an intelligence. The actors did a fair job, but other than Rajeev Khandelwal who played Inspector Arvind Mathur, there was a certain lack of depth in the other characters. Amy’s estranged mother and her devastated state of mind was explored well, yet failed to really come through. It lacked a history, and a solid build to the mother and consequently her state of mind. It tries to have an impact, but again, lacked a fineness. However, the last scene of the child in the tub pulls it off well. Arvind Mathur’s marital problems did not directly affect his screen presence, and the parallels drawn between his police life and his issues at home did not bring any major point to the forefront. There was a disconnect between these two selves.

The larger issue on which the film built itself on, the corruption of the Indian police force is not fully addressed. Yet its attempt to expose the flaws in the system and display how easy it is to make a "bribe" in order to keep a crime under the rug is admirable. Rajeev's character acts as the thread that tries to keep the credibility of the system intact. He is the fibre that runs through the film to connect the dots, to replace the missing pieces, to bring justice. Our society needs to wake up to these realities and stop taking corrupt ways for granted. If it can ruin someone else's life, it can very well ruin your life too. This is what the characters in the movie symbolize. They are the victims of a system gone terribly wrong. And one wrong system can turn into a vicious circle of many many wrong and awful consequences.

The characters were clearly inspired by real people that the director may have come across in his life. They had different shades and dimensions to their personalities. The overall message of the film stands strong in its desire to shake our fantastic thoughts of wild fun, and ground us to the grim realities of such dangerous turns.

Watch it for its edginess, its pace, and most of all, its compelling theme.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Black Swan

Aronofsky does it again. This time with greater grip, passion and spectacle. The Black Swan, in all its intensity took me on a journey of dangerous ambition, hateful competition, and disturbing mental trauma seen through the eyes of the victim - a ballerina.

Who would think the petite form of the ballerina could be turned into a bloody nightmare that haunts, disrupts and even kills? Nina Sayers, played by Natalie Portman is torn between her most private insecurities and her ambition to get the lead role of the Swan Queen. Personifying the conflict of good and evil in Tchaikovsky’s ballet “Swan Lake”, Nina needs to fight the demons in her head that make her lose her mind. She sees competition in Lily (Mila Kunis), who has the qualities that she lacks, the sexuality and seductiveness that is required to play the black swan. Nina is a perfectionist, but only in technique. She can carry off the role of the white swan beautifully, but lacks the emotion and spontaneity that will carry the character of the black swan.

The pressure only mounts with Nina’s mother Erica (Barbara Hershey), who dreams of her daughter’s success, and lives to see her become a great dancer. She is strict when it comes to discipline and performance. Her character also has hints of dark shades right in the very early stages of the film. Although she acts as Nina’s support system, she strangely also drives her to desperation and fear. The other voice that increases Nina’s need to be perfect is her dance teacher Thomas Leroy (Vincent Casel), who with his autocratic hand, pushes her to bring out what she lacks most - her sexuality. He gives her exercises that will help her discover herself and get more comfortable in her skin. Nina simply does not know how to handle this. How will she free her mind and repressed body, amidst the leering eyes of her mother who allows her no freedom?

Nina’s darkest fears translate into a living nightmare where she confronts what she sees the way her mind perceives it. Her world overturns when her dance takes over the air she breathes, the movements she feels and the voices that she hears. She sees herself in everything that haunts her. Her face becomes her fear, when it reflects itself at the most unexpected moments. Will she become the force that drives her to perfection? At what cost? And whose?

The movie is replete with Aronofsky style camera angles and movements all the way. His signature style of walking along with the character in quick successive steps especially reminded me of his earlier film Requiem for a Dream. Like how Jennifer Connelly leaves the apartment and walks out into the lift and out into the rain, Nina too, after a horrific sight, walks devastated towards us, as the camera moves with equal pace and urgency as her. This I find a unique experiment in Aronofsky’s cinematography. Also in this movie, the camera swirling and dancing around Nina as she finds her way across the performing space lends to a spectacular visual treat.

The soundtrack is one of the most dominant forces that lead the film. The background score by Clint Mansell takes the movie to a level that speaks the turmoil of Nina. Like in all other Aronofsky films, Mansell has delivered the best, bringing out the theme, the tune of emotions and the physical moods of the characters.

In a mix of genres, the Black Swan hits you somewhere but you are not sure where. It merges what you see and what you believe to have seen. It takes storytelling to a different level where the character’s quest to prove herself becomes the biggest threat when it overtakes the stability of her mind. It wipes out all doubts of unlikely possibilities because what our heart feels may not always be what our mind sees. It is a complex game of reality and dreams, an exploration into the deepest and darkest abysses of oneself and the fight to overcome the numbing pain. Like The Wrestler, here too there is the passion for a career, and beating all odds to find true happiness in doing what one loves most. But not without conquering a war that will take everything out of you, even your sanity.

Not everything needs to be explained with a practical reason. Neither does this ending. Watch The Black Swan for its beauty, tragedy, intrigue and exhilarating passion.