Film Review – Sachin Chatte

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War and Love

Film: Rangoon, Cast: Kangana Ranaut, Shahid Kapoor, Saif Ali Khan, Directed by: Vishal Bharadwaj, Duration: 2 hrs 35 mins, Rating: * * 1 / 2

The production scale of Vishal Bharadwaj’s films is growing bigger with every passing endeavor.   Rangoon is his most ambitious film till date. The epic love triangle laced with action is set against the backdrop of the Indian National Army’s exploits on the India-Burma border, during the WWII.

The outcome is partly satisfying – there is a lot to admire in the film but at the same time, there are substantial amount of debit entries as well. The screenplay for one is like a batsman who plays the most glorious shot and then goes into deep slumber for a while before waking up to play another magnificent shot.

Visually, the film scores over everything else. Stunning locales, well choreographed dance numbers, top notch production values and Pankaj Kumar’s cinematography (some of the shots in the opening scene make you go wow!) along with an inspired performance by the leading lady, are among the prime assets of Rangoon.  Kangana Ranaut plays Julia, an actress modeled on Fearless Nadia who acted as an action heroine. She is also the mistress of Russi Billimoria (Saif Ali Khan) a producer who is in love with her – he used to be an actor till an accident cut his career short.

A British army Major (Richard McCabe) who likes to quote Ghalib in appropriate situations arm twists Russi to send Julia to the border to entertain the troops. Reluctantly, she agrees and a young soldier called Nawab Malik (Shahid Kapoor) is assigned as her personal security. Love blossoms between the two as they get an opportunity to spend considerable time with each other. Malik meanwhile is also on a secret mission – it is love in the time of war for both of them.

But Russi is also very much on the scene causing severe consternation to the lady who has to choose between the two men. Sadly, it ends with a rather tame climax that doesn’t really belong to era. Prior to that, the screenplay also gets overtly dramatic by invoking the National Anthem (the INA’s anthem, which went on to become Jana Gana Mana) – after Dangal and The Ghazi Attack, this is the third film in the last couple of months to do that.

The dialogues are apt (“If the British ever leave India, this will become one of the most corrupt societies in the world,” says the Major predicting the future) and Bharadwaj also doesn’t miss an opportunity to quote the Bard.  The screenplay is riddled with too many strands – there is a bit of history, romance, war and even reference to film making – in more ways than one, it is all over the place. Even if the number of songs is one too many, they grab eyeballs the manner in which they are staged.

On the acting front, Saif Ali Khan as the rich producer is serviceable. The same applies to Shahid Kapoor as the young soldier caught between his love for a woman and the country. Kangana Ranaut shines as the actress and the damsel in distress who has to choose the right man.

All in all, Rangoon is a mixed bag – you like some of it and it times you want to hit the fast forward button.

 

Finding Home

Film: Lion, Cast: Dev Patel, Nicole Kidman, Rooney Mara, Sunny Pawar, Directed by: Garth Davis, Duration 2 hrs, Rating:  * * * *

Over the years and especially of late, many true stories have been adapted for the big screen – a good story doesn’t necessarily make a good film and occasionally it is the other way around. Lion belongs to those films that have a compelling story and is told in just the right manner. Debutant director Garth Davis lets the story speak for itself giving it just the right touches – at the end of it I distinctly saw more than one person reach out for the tissue paper to wipe their eyes.

Based on the book A Long Way Home, Lion is the incredible story of Saroo who was lost as a five year old. A little more than the first quarter of the film is in Hindi – it is set in Khandwa in Madhya Pradesh in the 80’s where Saroo (Sunny Pawar) helps his brother do odd jobs to earn a living. Life as depicted in India is very similar to what was portrayed in Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire. The little boy is lost on a railway platform and the next thing you know he lands up in Calcutta about 1600 kilometers away.

With no knowledge of the city that he is in or the city that he belongs to, life is an ordeal till he is adopted by a caring Australian couple (Nicole Kidman and David Wenham who looks like an older version of the former cricketer, Brett Lee). From Khandwa to Calcutta to Tasmania; to say that life takes some serious turns is an understatement.

He turns out to be a fine young man (Dev Patel) but the memories of the past keep haunting him – the images of his brother, mother and the neighborhood where he lived keep flashing from time to time.

It is that time of the decade when Google Earth was becoming popular and Saroo resorts to the software to search for his roots even though there is very little evidence to go about it. Rooney Mara plays his girlfriend who is supportive of his efforts.

The adapted screenplay lets the story speak for itself – there is enough fodder for it to sail through smoothly and the basic premise itself touches your heart. Full credit to director Garth Davis for getting it right, especially when there was ample scope for dramatics which have been wisely avoided.

Dev Patel gives his best performance till date and has got a much deserved Oscar nomination. Nicole Kidman doesn’t have a lot of screen time but makes an impact with her limited presence.  All in all, Lion is a lovely feel good film which stirs all the right emotions.

 

Quite a Personality

Film: Split, Cast: James McAvoy, Anya Taylor-Joy, Haley Lu Richardson, Jessica Sula, Directed by: Manoj Night Shyamalan, Duration: 1 hr 56 mins, Rating: * * *

After some dull outings, Manoj Night Shyamlan is back, this time with a psychological thriller about a man who suffers from Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), more commonly known as split-personality disorder.

James McAvoy (Professor X of X-Men fame) plays a character that has 23 different personalities; no all of them are not shown on screen, we get a glimpse of a few of them. Right from the days of Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960), films about the central character suffering from mental illness have made for an interesting viewing and Split is no different.  Three teenage school girls are kidnapped and they find themselves locked up in a basement. Marcia (Jessica Sula) and Claire (Haley Lu Richardson) struggle to break away and try to make plans to escape while Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy from The Witch) remains remarkably calm in the entire melee.

The kidnapper soon displays a range a personalities including that of a lisping nine year old boy Hedwig and a cross dresser named Barry. He visits a psychiatrist for treatment as Barry, the fashion designer but his persona in front of the doctor is completely different one.

Meanwhile, he also makes the girls go through a series of harrowing experiences. Expectedly, they try to make an escape resulting in thrilling moments.  But the force that drives the film is the central character – there are some interesting insights into his personality, especially from the doctor.  Split also mixes genres in a way, especially during the rather unexpected climax. Scottish actor James McAvoy has a whale of a time playing all those characters and gets a unique opportunity to showcase his talent.

As a psychological thriller, Split fits the bill – moreover, it is good to see M Night Shyamalan back in the groove.