Monday, 31 October 2011

Paroma [1984]

Aparna Sen followed up her marvelous debut film 36 Chowringhee Lane with this layered tale of forbidden love. The titular character of Paroma, played by Rakhi, is a conservative, middle-aged Bengali housewife who lives a mundane existence completely engrossed in her various familial responsibilities. Her life has converted into a series of well-rehearsed activities surrounding her husband (Dipankar De), who’s an executive in a large company, her children, and her mother-in-law. However, her eventless life takes a sudden turn when Rahul, a famous photographer (Mukul Sharma), decides to make her the subject of his next project. Before long Paroma, with all her repressed frustrations and dreams, gets entangled into a potentially scandalous relationship with the younger guy. The narrative was dealt with enough sensitivity and maturity, and Rakhi did a superb job in capturing her character’s memorable metamorphosis. And, despite its strong feminist subtexts, the director did a commendable job at keeping them under bay. However, the emotional content of the film at times went overboard, which in turn opened the doors for a few clichés here and there in terms of plot developments and characterizations. Some of the best parts of the movie take place when Paroma and Rahul explore the city of Calcutta (including an under-construction Vidyasagar Setu!), as well as Paroma’s ancestral but now dilapidated house and her days of growing up – these joint explorations of theirs turn out to be as much physical as psychological.

Director: Aparna Sen
Genre: Drama/Psychological Drama/Urban Drama/Romantic Drama
Language: Bengali
Country: India

Thursday, 27 October 2011

The Apartment [1960]

A few years back I’d seen a movie called Life in a Metro where one of the segments, as I’d found out, was “inspired” from The Apartment. Though I’d been wanting to watch this Billy Wilder classic since then, somehow I managed to do so only recently. Widely regarded among Wilder’s best works, this offbeat and bittersweet romantic comedy managed to bring smiles to my face despite, in essence, being a tragedy for most parts. C.C. Baxter (Jack Lemmon) is a desk clerk at a huge insurance corporation, rising through the ranks at a brisk pace thanks to his willingness to loan out his apartment to his philandering superiors. This information soon reaches the ears of his slimy married boss (Fred MacMurray) and he too muscles his way into the bandwagon – the only catch being the girl the latter intends to be along with in his apartment is the cute and gullible elevator girl (Shirley MacLaine) Baxter has fallen in love with. Though filled with enough humour and wit to keep one laughing, its cynical and bleak depiction of high-flying corporate life, culture and mores, as also human loneliness and dearth of human values amidst the urban jungle, are impossible to ignore. And yes, neither can the inherent melancholia can be avoided. The movie boasts of terrific dialogues and a host a memorable moments, and not to forget, great performances by both Lemmon and MacLaine.

Director: Billy Wilder
Genre: Urban Drama/Romantic Comedy
Language: English
Country: US

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid [1973]

Sam Peckinpah’s career was fraught with a plethora of troubles, more so when it came to his cinema – Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid was no exception. In fact, so hostile was the situation, he had even strived to have his name removed from the movie’s credits. Now that the “Director’s Cut” has surfaced, film aficionados can once again appreciate the man’s vision. A bleak yet lyrical meditation on the mysticism and lawlessness of the West, the movie is about the friendship between former comrades Pat Garrett (James Coburn) and Billy the Kid (Kris Kristofferson) going south when the former, now a Sheriff, goes after the head of the latter, an enigmatic outlaw. Unlike conventional Westerns, this movie, set at the turn of the 20th century, was not so much as about spectacular shootouts, as it was about a reflection of the slow but inevitable demise of this legendary American landscape. The superbly paced movie boasts of great cinematography, marvelously capturing the harsh psychical as well as psychological terrains. Further, though Bob Dylan might not have been particularly great in front of the camera, his wonderfully scored and exceptionally written songs (the fabulous title song and the iconic “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door”) did a terrific job in supplementing the mood and fatalism of the plot. Yes, the movie is uneven at places and the proceedings a tad uneventful at times, but the overall viewing experience of men residing at the very edge of the human frontier was satisfying to say the least.

Director: Sam Peckinpah
Genre: Western/Psychological Western/Revisionist Western/Buddy Film
Language: English
Country: US

Thursday, 20 October 2011

The Player [1992]

Number of cine-goers have placed Robert Altman’s The Player on the same pedestal as Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard for its unflinching and biting look at the movie business and the Hollywood studio system. Though I consider that as a travesty, there’s no doubting the artistic value of the film. Altman had hit a rough patch in the 80’s before he hit the jackpot with this movie which was aimed at the very foundation of the industry that fed him. The movie is about Griffin Mill, a writer-friendly studio-exec, who starts receiving threatening anonymous mails from a writer for not getting back to him as promised. And, to compound matters further, he’s not just under considerable pressure professionally, he ends up accidentally killing a down-and-out writer taking him to be the mysterious stalker. But, in Hollywood, every crime comes second to a box-office flop, and that’s something which Mill knows like the back of his hands. Tim Robbins gave a fine turn as the shrewd, cocky and paranoid Mill, making him the perfect embodiment of what the movie stood for. It is filled with cinematic references – its 8-minute single-take opening shot, for instance, was a homage to Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil – along with moments of technical bravura, like the film-within-a-film finale. And its self-reflexive critique added touches of dark irony to the topsy-turvy plot. Also, hats off to Altman for managing to elicit guest appearances from a plethora of stars.

Director: Robert Altman
Genre: Thriller/Showbiz Satire
Language: English
Country: US

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Roja [1992]

A pet theme of some of Mani Ratnam’s films has been “love at the times of war” – an emotional human drama unfolding at the backdrop of a socio-political upheaval. This journey began with his much-loved Roja. This was also the movie that ensured that thenceforth his fame was no more restricted just among Tamil cine-goers. It told the story of Roja (Madhoo), a young woman belonging to a small village in Tamil Nadu, who gets married, against her wishes, to an educated city-dwelling guy called Rishi (Arvind Swamy), only to be falling for him after their marriage. Soon after, he is sent to Kashmir, a hotebed for Islamic terrorism, accompanied by his increasingly doting wife, only for misfortune to befall them when he gets kidnapped; the terrorist outfit (the leader of which was played by Pankaj Kapoor) demand the release of a notorious ‘jihadi’ in lieu of the engineer. The film was filled with simplistic political ideologues, along with large contents of melodrama and populist jingoism. However, these facets got successfully masked thanks to the simplicity of the touching love story, the strong emotional connect that it managed to establish with me, the soulful and mellifluous music by A.R. Rehman, and fine acting by the leads – Madhoo provided an especially powerhouse performance as the simple-natured and helpless wife trapped in a place utterly alien to her, especially linguistically.

Director: Mani Ratnam
Genre: Drama/Romantic Drama/Political Drama/Musical
Language: Tamil
Country: India

Monday, 17 October 2011

Tokyo Sonata [2008]

Kiyoshi Kurosawa (not to be confused with his more famous surname-sake), has become quite a renowned figure in contemporary world cinema. Watching Tokyo Sonata it would be a rather difficult task for one to guess that the director has quite a cult following for his works in the horror genre. Set during the global recession that engulfed numerous countries, including Japan, 2008 onwards, this somber and lyrical drama has as its focus a seemingly normal Japanese family, residing in Tokyo, that starts to come off its seams when the head of the family loses his job – so much so that it nearly gets to the verge of bursting apart. Ryuhei, who was employed in a managerial position in a large corporation, gets downsized, and since he’s ashamed of revealing this information to his doting (albeit, quietly dissatisfied and lonely) wife, he starts acting, on the advice of a fellow downsized friend, as if he’s still employed. The effects of this subterfuge turn out to be devastating for him and his family – not just his wife, but also his two sons who too start drifting apart. Though parts of the movie felt a tad abrupt, and some of the scenes in second half bordered on the corny, this low-key movie was a satisfying watch for me on the whole. The acting of the two lead actors was excellent, and the subtle yet strong emotional undercurrents were quite powerful and compelling on a number of occasions.

Director: Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Genre: Drama/Psychological Drama/Family Drama/Urban Drama
Language: Japanese
Country: Japan