Monday, November 23, 2009
So... I feel like getting something off of my chest, so to speak.
I don't like the forum over at BollyWHAT that much these days. I used to LOVE it. Back in the day it seemed to be a hoppin' place. Lyrics were translated, lots of interesting posts made in all different areas, contests going on. But these days? I feel like all the long-time members have left. Certain folks are conspicuously absent, and I'm not much of a who's-who watcher. Stargazing threads have been wiped out. Star topics locked. No guiding presence on the forum. Main site is outdated. Lyrics section neglected. I dunno. There aren't even that many film review posts anymore.
It feels like... a sinking ship. There, I said it.
What are some other indian cinema wateringholes that people frequent? I've quite liked anothersubcontinent, but there doesn't seem to be many fangirls there which is the saving grace of BollyWHAT. :)
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
But really, that’s not what I took away from this film. Rather, Nishi Japon has been on my mind since I watched it Sunday, floating through my consciousness every so often. I wasn’t sure what to think of it when it ended. But given its lingering in my mind since, I would consider that a sign of an inherently great film.
The movie is about siblings who have gathered for a vacation/holiday in their father’s hill station in the Himalayas. The father is played by Soumitra Chatterjee. Rituparna Sengupta plays the bubbly and matchmaking-fixated Anita, wife of Nirmal (Sabyasachi Chakraborty), who looks waaaay too old to be playing her husband. Also central to the story are Anita’s sister Sunita (Raima Sen) and Nirmal’s brother Shyamal (Parambrata). They are also accompanied by their father’s friend who can’t stop talking about his beloved guru and ashram. When an early-morning earthquake destroys the bridge that connects them to the mainland, they are stranded with no electricity and dwindling food. What happens next is the gradual disintegration of a seemingly-perfect and happy family. Oh, and Nishi Japon is directed by Sandeep Ray, son of the Bengali legendary award-winning director Satyajit Ray.
Sabyasachi Chakraborty as Nirmal
Soumitra Chatterjee as the father (left), and his friend on the right
Raima Sen as Sunita
Rituparna Sengupta as Anita
What I liked most about this film is how much was NOT said or shown. Sunita seems somewhat boring and emotionless, but a brief shot of her lying in bed listening to her walkman while tears well up in her eyes lets us know there is much more to her than meets the eye. Same for Shyamal. He tells his sister how marriage will turn him from “a man with a future to a man with a past,” but he adoringly lingers by Sunita’s bedroom as she sings beautifully in the evenings. Shyamal and Sunita’s liking of each other was adorably sweet and so real and my favorite part of the film. And *that* is what was so great- everything seemed so real here that I often didn’t feel like I was watching actors. Many of the characters are openly irreligious/atheist, and their tauntings of the guru-worshipping friend of their father was at times funny but also thought-provoking. An especially powerful scene revolved around Sunita and Nirmal. Early in the movie, she playfully teased him about a pretty woman he might be seeing on the side and they laugh. Later, it’s made obvious that she has been deeply hurt by this all along and suppressed her feelings.
That said, the film failed for me in being realistic about the earthquake and the aftermath. I’m sorry, but where were the cell phones or the landlines? I never quite believed that they were really that isolated. Little things didn’t quite add up.
And why in the hell were they so casual about their household help? Right after the earthquake, they don’t even go check on him and the excuse is “oh he sleeps through everything.” When it turns tragic, I felt really bad for him, poor guy! At the very end, when help finally arrives on the other side of the crevice, no one is happy. They seem to know how severely f’d up the whole situation has turned their family, but there is hope. Anita and Nirmal are seen lightly touching each other, and Shyamal and Sunita hold each other’s hand. Yay, hopefully they’ll all mend the problems later!
For a Bengali film, I thought that was quite a positive ending compared to some I’ve seen. The film brings up timeless and important points that all of us can relate to and that cause us to pause and consider how we are acting in our own lives. That said, I expected the conflict in the film to be more complex than it was.
Also, I’ve since learned that nearly all the actors/actresses in this film are very famous in Bengali cinema, especially Soumitra Chatterjee and Sabyasachi Chakraborty.
As I said before, Shyamal and Sunita’s relationship was my favorite part of the film. They seemed to be the only sane ones among the characters, and there is quite a bit left unsaid about their past that made for some interesting guessing. After the movie was over I began imagining more about them and what might have happened to them if there was a “Nishi Japon 2.” And damn... Parambrata is one intellectually-sexy man here.
Onto another shallow topic: Rituparna’s sweater-sari combo. Maybe I’ve never paid attention, but I’d never seen a sweater worn this way with a sari- the pallu is thrown over the sweater on one half! I had to stare at it for a while before I understand what she had done, hehe.
Monday, November 16, 2009
The film opens with a fun song and dance number featuring a sister-duo accompanied by a lively drummer who then begins to tell his village-folk the “Gulebakawali Story.” I was immediately hooked. Then when the credits rolled and a kooky skeleton danced to adorable 60s music I knew it was going to be great!
I’ll see if I can summarize the story: Gulebakavali Katha is about the Pataliputra kingdom ruled by the gentle giant King Chandrasena, who has two wives. Due to jealousy, one of his wives asks her brother in the court, Vakraketu, to help her stop the other wives’ newly born from being favored and allowed to be an heir to the throne. Vakraketu bribes fortune tellers to convince the king that his son should really be killed because he will cause the king to later lose his eyesight and the ability to lead the kingdom effectively per his duty. Two guards are ordered to kill the baby in the forest, but they end up leaving the baby when caught by Lord Shiva (I think). A goatherder and his wife find the baby and raise it as their own. Years later, the baby (now named Vijayudu (NTR)), has some run-ins with the king and learns of his true identity. When the king goes blind, fortune tellers say that only the divine Gulebakavali flower will absorb the poison and restore the king’s eyesight. Vijayudu vows to find the flower and correct the problem he “caused” the king and the heartache his real mother has suffered. The rest of the movie is all about how brave and favored-by-the-gods Vijayudu goes on the search to find the divine flower while encountering many obstacles.
The movie is definitely a “mythological,” except that it was quite funny with quite a few WTF moments and humor sprinkled throughout. It seems quite unlike other “mythological” clips I’ve seen that were very serious, steeped in intricate folklore, and confusing for me as an outsider. Gulebakavali Katha is done very simply and theatrically with a melodramatic, fun touch. Everything is spelled out clearly to the viewer, and characters often pause to twirl their moustaches or let out evil laughs to add to the fun! It’s not supposed to be intellectual, but rather a fun folk/social tale. The film does not take itself too seriously, which I found so endearing. There are a few very silly fight sequences that put the silliness of modern southie film quarrels to shame.
Friday, November 13, 2009
The film starts out with an extended shot of Buri (Vidya Balan) standing outside in a rainstorm drenched and smiling from all the senses she is experiencing. Later, we see a flashback of Buri as a child lost in a busy carnival. These flashbacks happen quite a bit in the film, and after I while I got confused which scenes were in the present day and which in the past. Then we begin to understand more of Buri’s life and past- multiple family members who died, her boyfriend who left her… yet through all of this she has a quiet strength that keeps her going. I found it kind of annoying, actually, because I never understood where her restrained Pollyanna-syndrome came from.
It sounds like a depressing film, but it didn’t have a heavy atmosphere like other Bengali films I’ve seen. Most things we simply hear about or are shown very briefly. There is this palpable sense of a general malaise among the characters in the film, but its not thick and overtly tragic. The characters just keep going, especially Buri. I sensed that she was supposed to represent something in the film, almost metaphorically, as if she was the bedrock for her family or perhaps a symbol of freedom from pain and desire in life. There were also many scenes of spoken poetry by various characters, and one at the end regarding the tree seemed to have complex meaning. But I am not a deep person in this regard, so who knows. :) You can read the following reviews which wax eloquent about the apparent symbolism in this film, but I don't get it: The Telegraph, Screen Weekly, Life and Buddhism blog.
The central problem I had with the film is that I wasn’t given enough background on the characters for me to care about them. I often felt really confused at what was happening. I didn’t understand the political movement that some of her family members “joined” that caused them such unhappiness. All they did was talk about it briefly- we never see any of their meetings or any activities other than some conversational mentions of “fascism” and a Che Guevera poster and mention that the police have come. Because of this, I was left perplexed when a character was murdered because of the apparent connection to a political group. There were also some random scenes that seemed to add nothing to the story, and a lot of focus was put on everyday shots of people walking around, looking, thinking, etc.
I had an extremely difficult time figuring out everyone’s names and who they were related to, which is probably because I don’t know Bengali. The subtitles often translated things as “brother” or “sister” which could have been literal, pet names, or simply names of respect. I think adding “di” or “da” to the end of someone’s name denoted sister or brother, respectively, in Bengali. Vidya Balan's character was often called "Buri'di," so I assumed her named was Buri, but other reviews call her Anandi so who knows!
I thought Vidya Balan acted wonderfully here. From what I’ve read, this was her very first film in any language. She completely inhabits the quiet and gentle nature of her character, and her acting is so seamless you don’t notice it. Her facial expressions, such as the looks she gives to others as she listens to them or while she walks through her room alone, seemed completely real and believable.
Parambrata Chatterjee, whom I had seen previously in the Bengali film Aamra, is so adorable to me. Here he plays a nerdy young man who is made fun of by his family, which is quite the opposite of his character and appearance in Aamra.
I will say that the film is nicely shot with its focus on water, moisture, and nature throughout, though it was limited by the poor DVD quality. I had the Angel Digital version from Induna.com, which unfortunately has the logo plastered on the top-right part of the screen and “burned” subtitles on the print in hard-to-read white font color.
Saturday, November 7, 2009
Essentially, the plot revolves around Manikan (Mohanlal) and Sreekrishna (Venu) who are very good friends that both fall in love with Karuthambi (Shobana), a young women they gave a bullock-cart ride to when she and her uncle were stranded one evening. When Sreekrishna misunderstands that Karuthambi returns his love while not knowing that she really loves Manikan, it sets in place a whole series of assumptions and confusion that gets more serious, thick, and convoluted as the film progresses. The main instigator in thickening the plot is the creepy-looking servant that makes up terrible lies to harm Manikan, whom he is jealous of. When the matriarch of the house learns that her brother Sreekrishna has been confused all along and will get hurt when he finds the truth, she asks Manikan to forget Karuthambi for his friend’s sake. The plot gets thicker and thicker as the characters keep trying different strategies and manipulations to get what they want while all operating under different assumptions. There's also fun excursions like Karuthambi's theater dance, a couple of extended fights that pale in comparison to Tamil/Telugu films, and a sequence in which Karuthambi tricks Manikan into using the phrase "Muthu Gavu" whilst in Mysore (apparently it means "Kiss Me," but how does she know their language anyway?)
Apparently, Thenmavin Kombath is a well-liked film and back in its day it won the Kerala State Film award andKV Anand and Sabu Cyril won the National Award for Best Cinematography/Art Direction. While I didn’t enjoy the story much overall, what I really liked were all the little slices of life that I always find so fascinating, as well as the lovely cinemetography. Here’s some screencaps: