Archive for review

Qalandar Reviews MANMARZIYAN (Hindi; 2018)

Posted in the good with tags , , , , , , , , , , on September 16, 2018 by Qalandar

This review contains spoilers.

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Manmarziyan opens with a shot of the Golden Temple, the sort of thing that in recent times has been one of the lazier clichés in Hindi cinema: if Sikhs are involved (and sometimes even when they aren’t), Amritsar’s sacred shrine is a given.  However, the vantage point here is a bit different, enabling the viewer to take in not only the iconic building, but also an incongruous neon sign perched on top.  One is almost tempted to say it doesn’t belong, except that in India, it sort of does.

That opening shot, if re-visited after the end credits have rolled, tells you a lot about director Anurag Kashyap’s aims in taking up one of the most hackneyed Bolly-genres of all – The Love Triangle – and in trying to give it his own twist.  That is, Kashyap scrupulously adheres to the genre’s conventions in several respects Continue reading

Qalandar on MAHESHENTHE PRATHIKAARAM (Malayalam; 2016)

Posted in the good with tags , , , , on February 28, 2018 by Qalandar

EXCERPT: “The charms of Maheshenthe Prathikaaram, Dileesh Pothan’s 2016 directorial debut, cannot be reduced to its plot, fresh though this is: the tale of everyman Mahesh Bhavana (Fahadh Faasil), worried about his father’s advancing age, passed over by the woman he has long loved in favor of a groom with better prospects, publicly humiliated in an un-related village brawl, and Mahesh’s vow to forego slippers until he has avenged his insult, never lost my interest as it wended its way through the contours of its lead protagonist’s life, and on to a resolution. More importantly, the plot never becomes farcical, not even that last bit about Mahesh’s vow: in the context of the film, it seems quite organic, the self-inflicted wound of a modest man at the end of his tether.

Pothan intuitively grasps that for contemporary Malayalam cinema to thrive, it must be …”

Complete review HERE

Rangan Reviews VIKRAM VEDHA (TAMIL; 2017)

Posted in the good with tags , , , on July 22, 2017 by Qalandar

EXCERPT: “An ordinary masala movie would pit a god against this demon – and indeed, the first half of the title (R Madhavan) does come across like the scourge of evil, a saviour. He’s an encounter cop, but he’s able to sleep guiltlessly because he’s convinced the men he’s pumping bullets into are bad men who deserve to die. But slowly, the paint starts peeling away. Rather, the colour of his tees undergo a change. During the first meeting of Vikram and Vedha, the former is in white, the latter in black. By their last meeting, Vikram is in grey. He knows now that it isn’t a clear-cut line between good and evil.

The notion that cops and gangsters are but two sides of the same coin isn’t new: Michael Mann’s Heat is a brilliant exploration of how a cop who thinks he is doing good may be more messed up than the gangster. But Pushkar-Gayatri have decided to tell their story through the prism of the Vikram/Vetaal folklore – hence the title. The film opens with an animated stretch with the king Vikram high up in his castle, and soon, in pursuit of the vampire Vetaal, he plunges deep into a lake, a metaphorical hell. The creature latches onto his back and begins to narrate stories that are the old-world answer to a grey T-shirt: there’s a moral conundrum at the end.”

Complete article HERE.

Qalandar Reviews PHILLAURI (Hindi; 2017)

Posted in Refugee with tags , , , , , , , , on April 4, 2017 by Qalandar

There is a certain magic to Phillauri, Anshai Lal’s directorial debut for actress-producer Anushka Sharma, and it isn’t because of the supernatural element (Sharma plays Shashi, the ghost of a woman from 1919 who haunts nervous Kanan (Suraj Sharma), on the verge of his wedding to Anu (Mehreen Peerzada) a century later in the same village).  It’s because the old-fashioned virtues of focused storytelling, memorable characterization, strong casting, and above all fresh dialogues and lyrics by Anvita Dutt, elevate what could so easily have been the hackneyed Punjabi love story of Shashi and Roop Lal (Diljit Dosanjh), making of it a story about two individuals, not mere instances of the Bollywood hero and heroine, and in a particular time and place, the Jalandhar village of Phillauri on the verge of the Indian national movement.

Unusually for Hindi films, both members of the pair (not just the male half) are imbued with strong personalities, and this isn’t accidental.  A gentle current of feminism runs through the film, brought to mind by an initial effacement: Continue reading

Why I Have Nothing to Say on Dangal

Posted in the good with tags , , , , , , , , , , on March 18, 2017 by Qalandar

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I more than enjoyed Dangal: it was fantastically well-made, uniformly well-acted, and pulled off the difficult feat of making wrestling interesting, even deeply engrossing – that’s creditable, when you consider that most sports movies rely on the built-in appeal of sports that are already popular, with great cultural resonance. Heck, to even make a sports film – i.e. a film in one of the most hackneyed genres – half decent, let alone excellent, is pretty darn impressive.

And yet, when I (more than once, and over a period of a few months) sat down to write a review of Dangal, I found I had nothing to say. Which might make this piece nothing more than a narcissistic exercise in my writer’s block, but I’d like to believe there’s more going on here. The “nothing” is symptomatic of a wider issue, namely that Dangal is a very impressive film – just not a very interesting one. Continue reading

Gomorrah box set review – a grimly authentic tale of Naples gangsters (THE GUARDIAN)

Posted in the good with tags , , , , , , , on April 29, 2016 by Qalandar

Earlier, related piece HERE.  I’m very interested to see this TV series — I hadn’t liked the movie Gomorrah all that much the first time I saw it, but liked it a whole lot when I re-visited it last year (it is suffused by the sadness of cruelty and meanness, by the sheer sordidness of these criminal enterprises, un-redeemed by the frisson of glamor, by the glamor of power; Gomorrah the film never lets us forget that the power glorified in other gangster films is the power to humiliate, brutalize, and steal, nothing more). The review from The Guardian in this post is from a couple of years ago, and it’s great news that instead of a re-make the series will be broadcast in the USA this year on the Sundance Channel – Qalandar

Excerpt: “The Camorra are a real-life outfit, Secondigliano an actual suburb. That’s what marks Gomorrah out from the cops-and-robbers herd: its roots in reality. And there’s nary a peep from la polizia. Roberto Saviano, who co-developed the show, is a decorated Neapolitan investigative journalist whose fearless 2006 bestseller about the Camorra put him on the mob’s hit list; the government assigned him a bodyguard.

As such, Gomorrah feels grimly authentic, recalling not just The Sopranos but perhaps more vividly The Wire, with its from-the-hip shooting style, drug-trade plot and Bodymore-style cornerboys. Much of the action takes place amid a notorious failed housing project, the Vele di Scampia, which resembles a pair of giant, dirty sneakers dumped on a brownfield.”

Complete review HERE.

 

A Note on BANGALORE DAYS (Malayalam; 2014)

Posted in the good with tags , , , , , , , , , , on March 12, 2016 by Qalandar

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Everything about the way Bangalore Days begins, it turns out, is a bit misleading: the opening frames introduce us to the narrator, a dorky, newly-minted software engineer called Krishnan P. P. (Nivin Pauly) with dreams of the big city, and then to his cousin Divya (Nazriya Nazim), who puts her dreams of a MBA on hold after meeting the man her parents have set her up with, the aloof America-returned executive Das (Fahadh Faasil); and finally to a third cousin, the free-spirited biker Arjun (Dulquer Salman).  The cloying “nativist” sentiments of those opening scenes, or what felt like par-for-the-course sexism, weren’t promising, and it seemed the most one could expect was a breezy film, insubstantial coming-of-age fluff of the sort Bollywood has made us gag on for some years now, rendered bearable by the likable Dulquer Salman.  By the time she was done, though, writer and director Anjali Menon had made me swallow every single one of those presumptions, with this measured, charming, emotionally resonant film, one that is quite a bit cleverer than the plot — the love stories of these characters, present and (in one case) past — would have one believe. Continue reading

Abzee on KATYAR KALJAT GHUSALI and going back to the movies

Posted in the good with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 7, 2016 by abzee

I couldn’t have asked for a better cinematic experience to return to watching movies on the big screen again than the Marathi language Hindustani Classical Musical KATYAR KALJAT GHUSALI (A Dagger through the Heart). My last outing at the cinemas was the fifth installment of the M: I series on the 27th of August, 2015… before a freak motorcycle accident rendered me put at home, recovering slowly but steadily. To a cinephile such as me, more debilitating than the injury even was being robbed of the almost religious ritual of the weekly visits to the cinemas. Good, bad or plain ugly… there is a certain incompleteness without the movies. And TV just doesn’t match up. Anyways… after watching a dozen or so releases that I was looking forward to come and go, I finally got the green signal from my orthopedist to watch a movie at the cinema hall! My choices were Bajirao Mastani, Star Wars: The Force Awakens or Natsamrat. And then, while going through the listings, one saw that KATYAR KALJAT GHUSALI was still playing… well into its 9th week at a few select screens.

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KATYAR KALJAT GHUSALI is an adaptation of the famous Marathi natya sangeet (musical theatre) of the same name. The play had a phenomenal run of more than 1,000 shows back in 1967, most thronging to the theatres to catch the live jugalbandi of Pt. Jitendra Abhisheki and Vasantrao Deshpande, both stalwarts of Hindustani Classical Music. One hears from those having experienced the play back in the day that such riveting and rapturous the experience was that the running time of 4 hours would never be felt.  But Marathi theatre is, and has always been, multi-faced.

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Qalandar on BAJIRAO MASTANI (Hindi; 2015)

Posted in the good with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 29, 2015 by Qalandar

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There are really two films in Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Bajirao Mastani: Continue reading

Pynchon’s Blue Shadow (NYRB)

Posted in Refugee with tags , , , , , on August 7, 2015 by Qalandar

[On Inherent Vice, I definitely agree with the fantastic piece below — one of the best I’ve ever read on an adaptation — that the film is not less than the book. It truly does illuminate aspects of the book for me (and vice versa!) such that I arrived at a deeper appreciation of both. Qalandar]

Excerpt: “Thomas Pynchon’s Inherent Vice (2009)—his extravagantly convoluted version of the private eye novel, set amid the detritus of the end of the 1960s—is the kind of verbal construct that at first glance seems inherently unsuited for filming, certainly not as a widescreen spectacle with an all-star cast. To say that Paul Thomas Anderson has faithfully and successfully adapted it to the screen is another way of saying that he has changed it into something entirely different. Perhaps the novel really was crying out for such a cinematic transformation, for in its pages people watch movies, remember them, compare events in the “real world” to their plots, re-experience their soundtracks as auditory hallucinations, even work their technical components … into aspects of complex conspiratorial schemes.”

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CBR Trashes Fantastic Four

Posted in Refugee with tags , , , , , , , on August 7, 2015 by Qalandar

Excerpt: “The bad buzz around 20th Century Fox‘s “Fantastic Four” reboot has been brewing for months. Red flags included rumors of reshoots, negative fan reaction to what appeared to be significant deviation from the source material, and director Josh Trank‘s abrupt departure from his enviable “Star Wars” gig. Of course, reshoots don’t always spell doom (consider “World War Z”), and Trank says he chose to walk away from “Star Wars” to avoid being obligated to a second franchise. So, perhaps these news items have no bearing on the finished “Fantastic Four.” Regardless, it’s shocking a superhero movie can be this boring.

 

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Qalandar Reviews BAAHUBALI (Telugu/Tamil; Hindi (dubbed); 2015)

Posted in the good with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 30, 2015 by Qalandar

EXCERPT: “What makes Baahubali striking is precisely this “world-making”, director S.S. Rajamouli’s ability to imagine the particulars of every scene to such a degree that this make-believe world becomes real for the audience, even plausible.  Plenty of other filmmakers can focus on the battle scenes and grand sets, but absent this eye for the little, it can all seem a bit lifeless … In Baahubali, this eye is seen everywhere: think of the bales of straw the castle’s defenders use to try and prevent Sivudu from riding out of Mahishmati’s capital on a chariot; or of the hollow (wooden?) tube the hero uses to hold the green snake he’s going to release on Avantika while she’s taking aim atop a tree … or the way in which Mahishmati’s rulers discuss the battle plan in the film’s second half.  At every step, Rajamouli and writer Vijayendra Prasad seem to have thought long and hard about how such a world might work if it existed — and because they have done so, that world comes alive for us.  Compared to Baahubali, even the best of Bollywood’s grand fables –think Lagaan — seem airbrushed, most historicals superficial in the face of its thoroughness — Jodha-Akbar comes to mind, or Asoka — and the less said about wannabe fantasies (like Krrish) the better.  In this it is inspired by the best of contemporary American TV (and, much like Game of Thrones, ends with a sensational cliffhanger). Walking out of the cinema after the film I had a stupid grin on my face, the sort that meant: This too is possible.”

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Qalandar Reviews MASAAN (Hindi; 2015)

Posted in the good with tags , , , , , , , , , on July 26, 2015 by Qalandar


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By the end, Masaan (“Cremation Ground”) was very different from the film I thought I was watching after the first fifteen minutes: the opening sequence, involving a sexual encounter violated and sullied by policemen intent on cruelty and extortion, is one of the most riveting, and nauseating, representations of the police in years (only the sequence in Anurag Kashyap’s Ugly (2014), where the father of a missing girl tries to register a missing person-complaint, comes close). I was filled with loathing, and wanted to hurt someone. That feeling stayed with me – Bhagwan Tiwari as Inspector Mishra has an important and continuing role over the course of the film – but Masaan turned out to be about something other than misogyny or the workings of a corrupt and oppressive state machine. What that something is I’m not quite sure, but in its moodiness, its air of mystery, its poetry, I am confident Masaan heralds the arrival of an exciting, reflective new directorial talent in Neeraj Ghaywan. To the extent Vikramaditya Motwane’s Udaan (2010) may be said to have spawned successors, Masaan is among the worthies. Continue reading

Qalandar on BAJRANGI BHAIJAAN (Hindi; 2015)

Posted in the good with tags , , , , , , , , , on July 25, 2015 by Qalandar


Excerpt: “Everyone deserves a second chance, and in retrospect, Ek Tha Tiger was the appetizer to the main course that is Bajrangi Bhaijaan: and a damn good meal it is (and, it must be noted, one not without some Andhra spice, written as it is by K. Vijayendra Prasad, a man credited with more blockbusters – including the continuing phenomenon of Baahubali — than most have hits). By now everyone knows the plot — good-hearted Hanuman bhakt Pawan Kumar Chaturvedi finds a mute Pakistani girl lost in India, and resolves to cross the border to re-unite her with her family — but let’s pause to acknowledge that this itself is a welcome relief from the nauseating flood of routine love stories packaged as something different; or the clothes, fashion, and lifestyle ads that masquerade as films in Bollywood. And then there is the question of the social milieu the film is set in: I found myself rooting for the fact that this film isn’t populated by people toting D&G and acting as if progressive cinema consisted of ripping off off-beat American filmmakers, rather than plagiarizing other sources. In Bajrangi Bhaijaan, people take the bus, eat at dhabas, drink tea from roadside stalls, not because the director is trying to tell us something (in far too many contemporary Hindi films, these representations would mean either that we are talking about the hinterlands of UP and Bihar, with crazy violence sure to follow; or that it’s a question of a film about some “them”, made for some “us” that is assuredly not “them”), but because that’s simply where his characters live and how they commute to work. It’s delightful because it’s so normal. (That I have to make this point at all testifies to the sad pass the industry has come to.)” Continue reading

The Cinema Isn’t a Place; It’s An Idea (NewYorker.Com)

Posted in the good with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 29, 2015 by Qalandar


EXCERPT: “The cinema isn’t a place, it’s an idea. When Fassbinder made “Martha” for German TV or Steven Soderbergh made “Behind the Candelabra” for HBO or Bruno Dumont made “Li’l Quinquin” for Arte, the resulting works were movies, no different in kind from their films “Ali: Fear Eats the Soul” or “Magic Mike” or “Humanité,” which premièred in theatres. The aesthetic and the artistry are the same. … Yet that’s why the changes augured by the Times’s new policy won’t do much to clear space for independent-film releases. With coverage expanding to on-demand and online releases, the clutter—and the demands on a movie critic’s attention—will only increase. The changes in critical coverage make critical judgment all the more crucial. Only a discerning sense of what’s important—artistically and therefore journalistically and even historically—will enable a critic to bring a little-marketed film of great merit to the attention of readers and viewers. Without that exacting taste, no change in policy will ever help.”

Complete piece HERE.

Qalandar Reviews O KADHAL KANMANI (Tamil; 2015)

Posted in the good with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on April 19, 2015 by Qalandar


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EXCERPT: “And yet, by the end of O Kadhal Kanmani, I realized that I might have been missing the point of the film: Bombay, beautiful Bombay, in its real and cinematic avatars, appears to be the raison d’être of this film, and perhaps the most plausible kanmani on offer. Not for nothing does the film begin with Dulquer’s Aditya Varadarajan disembarking at CST/Victoria Terminus, and catching sight of Nithya Menon’s Tara, her image framed, de-stabilized, and finally obscured by passing trains in possibly the best train shots of even Ratnam’s long career. Indeed, over the course of the film the couple seems to meet more often in BEST buses and local trains than seems plausible for the iPad and iPhone wielding yuppies these two seem to be, and the reason is surely that O Kadhal Kanmani is Ratnam’s paean to a city that he loves, in the manner one loves a city one has discovered later in life, too late, that is, to take for granted. As with so many films from decades ago, the city’s lodestars are (apart from CST) the Gateway of India, the Worli sea-face, and the public transport system, each of these sites charged with years of not just social but cinematic meaning that made the experience of watching them on-screen moving in a way quite independent of the unfolding love story. The romance, in short, serves as backdrop to Ratnam’s representation of a city he clearly loves.”
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A Note on NH-10 (Hindi; 2015)

Posted in the good with tags , , , , , , on March 20, 2015 by Qalandar

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There was a fair amount in the NH-10 trailers that I find off-putting about contemporary Bollywood: the utterly (and to me, somewhat alienating) Hollywood cinematic idiom, the sense that the film’s audience must share the socio-economic aspirations of the two lead characters, the sort of de-racinated upwardly mobile Indians presented as normal, almost the only “normal” in a milieu where to be “ethnic” is to be associated with violence and deprivation’s dark heart. Director Navdeep Singh’s film (his second, after the atmospheric Chinatown remake Manorama Six Feet Under) certainly pushes those buttons, but there’s much more to the film, making it one of the best (and certainly the most harrowing) Hindi films of the last few months. Continue reading

A quick note on PK…

Posted in the good with tags , , , , , on January 10, 2015 by Qalandar

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The biggest intellectual issue I take with PK is one I often have with very many “well-intentioned” Hindi films, namely that it re-characterizes a straightforward political position into notions of fact/falsehood, even more so sincerity/insincerity. Thus the trope of the two-faced politician is a common one in Hindi films, but also in Indian society (I couldn’t even begin to count the number of times people have told me that communal statements by politicians don’t matter because what these chaps are “really” interested in is making money); the resulting cynicism has the virtue of not accepting the authority of those in power as a given, but is associated with the vice of paralyzing any kind of political thinking — since the practice of politics ends up viewed as essentially the deployment of a kind of hypocrisy. PK’s godmen suffer from the same problem: although the narrative arc initially seems to target the un-reasonableness of religious practice (and, delightfully, its complete relativism: the wine that is the blood of Christ itself becomes disgusting when transposed to a Muslim context), by the end it muddles into questions of fraud, and these take over the film. Any number of other issues are also loaded onto the charlatan (played with trademark comical nastiness by Saurabh Shukla), and before too long we also find in him the Muslim-baiter, the media manipulator — in short, he becomes the very bete noire of the (imagined?) liberal audience. But Continue reading

Qalandar Reviews HAIDER (Hindi; 2014)

Posted in the good with tags , , , , , , , , on October 6, 2014 by Qalandar

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Haider is at once the strongest and weakest of Vishal Bhardwaj’s Shakespeare adaptations: most of the film has little to do with Hamlet, except in the loosest sense, and focuses on the efforts of one Kashmiri Muslim youth (Shahid Kapoor, the Haider of the film’s title) to find his father Dr. Hilal (Narendra Jha), who has joined the ranks of the disappeared after he secretly treats a militant leader in his home, even as Haider’s mother Ghazala (Tabu) draws closer to her brother-in-law Khurram (Kay Kay Menon) in the wake of the tragedy. Paradoxically, these are in fact the strongest portions of the film, which is perhaps the only popular Indian film “on Kashmir” to be made for adults. Freed of the need to draw cartoon characters (the Good Kashmiri Muslim oppressed by the state; or the Good Indian Army Officers protecting the state from evil jihadis), writers Basharat Peer and Bhardwaj give us human ambiguity. It would have been easy to have Dr. Hilal treat the militant because of his devotion to the Hippocratic oath – but the doctor is coy about his political sympathies (even to his wife), and it is entirely possible that he is a sympathizer; his son Haider is more openly hostile (and nor is this a function simply of his father’s disappearance, as a flashback shows); and his wife Ghazala isn’t ideologically committed so much as fearful. Even the Claudius of this tale is not hateful: Khurram’s name is well-chosen, the writers preferring to evoke the specter of the Mughal Empire’s most glamorous fratricidal monarch, Shah Jahan, rather than its most infamous, Shah Jahan’s son Aurangzeb. This concern with his characters’ irreducible humanity, be they Kashmiri militants or ruthless local politicians (but not, it must be said, Indian soldiers), is perhaps the most Shakespearean thing about Bhardwaj’s adaptation. As homages to the Bard go, one could do worse. Continue reading