Friday, October 16, 2020

Beautiful Boy - A review, a reflection

It’s a film about the quiet decay — of the mind, the body and of the soul. It’s a film about the passage of time as well as of its stagnation. Based on the true stories of Nicolas Sheff & his father David Sheff, Beautiful Boy deals with the constant consequences of addiction — not just for the addicted but for those around him/her.

It’s a film about Nicolas as much as it is about David, Karen (Nic’s step mother) & their two kids (Jasper & Daisy) as well as Vicki (Nic’s mother). While we follow Nic’s journey, helpfully supplied with memories and tidbits from other times in the lives of these people (haphazardly placed with no age order being followed just like memories work in real life — any memory can pop up at any time), we are constantly reminded that it’s not just him that the drugs are slowly chipping away…Steve Carell as David Sheff shines in these moments of a parent trying to understand, even academically, and finally come to terms with his son’s choice of self destruction as does Maura Tierney as Karen who must witness not only Nic’s disintegration but also her family’s and make some hard choices.

So what is Beautiful Boy all about? Simply put it is a reminder that drug addiction is a lifelong struggle for both the patient and their loved ones. Nic is struggling but so are those around him — not just with his disease but also their perceived role in it or how they must deal with it on a day to day basis. Were they supportive? Can they always be supportive? Even should they be supportive? And at what cost?

It is also a reminder that many of these afflictions will never make sense. Nic has a loving family, he is talented and he is poised for big things yet he chooses a path of self destruction…why?

The film never goes into an in-depth analysis of the ‘why’…quite simply because it is not important. It is not important that Nic is talented, it is not important that Nic has support because none of this matters to Nic or to the drugs he constantly relapses onto. The addiction has taken a life of its own and the Nic living that life is so very different from the Nic of before that the latter is but a ghost…

This reminds me of a quote from the Indian epic Mahabharata where Duryodhana (the antagonist) states that he knows the differences between dharma (right) and adharma (wrong) and he knows that his choices are wrong but he can’t help but make them…Nic is sort of like that. He knows when he is wrong, he perhaps even knows when he is being manipulative but he can’t stop…just like the origin of his addiction, his relapses also don’t make sense to anyone including him. Timothée Chalamet does an excellent job at portraying that genuine confusion, self loathing and even anger at the outside world. His scenes with his step siblings specially stand out at the contrast they bring.

If there is one thing Beautiful Boy is not, then that is preachy. Never once during the film did I feel like I was being lectured about anything — from not doing drugs to being absolutely supportive of those who are marked by the addiction. The film allows those thoughts to enter the audience’s mind organically and then it allows them to turn those thoughts over and over again in their head and reach their own conclusions and perhaps even change them along the way. The film will not judge you just like it does not judge its characters, but it does not also shy away from showing their own judgment of themselves.

Having said that, the film also never celebrates drug abuse. Even though there are enough scenes of Nic using drugs, we are never taken into his world post the use. At those points, the film takes leave of his character as the eyes and he becomes the subject thereby never allowing the drugs to become anything but a disease.

The film is based on memoirs written by David Sheff (Beautiful Boy) and Nic Sheff (Tweak) and is a must watch for those who enjoy quiet reflective pieces of cinema about life and all that it comes with — the good, the bad and the ugly — with compelling performances by all and stunning musical choices.

Available in India on Amazon Prime.

You can now follow me on medium -

Direction — Felix Van Groeningen
Starring — Steve Carell, Timothée Chalamet, Maura Tierney, Amy Ryan

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Kriti - Where's the thrill bro?

Movie - Kriti
Director - Shirish Kunder
Starring - Manoj Bajpayee, Radhika Apte, Neha Sharma

Shirish Kunder's short film Kriti released yesterday on YouTube and since then it has created a buzz on social media. Being a film aficionado and someone who hopes for filmmaking to become more liberal, economical and equal, I decided to check it out.  

Kriti is purported to be a psychological thriller about a man who is in love with a woman but is that woman real and can his psychiatrist help him figure it out? As it stars a seasoned actor like Manoj Bajpai (who I remember being deliciously creepy in Kaun?) and everyone's favourite newbie Radhika Apte, I had high hopes that it will knock my socks off. 

It didn't. 

For a film to be a good thriller, it should make the audience jump off their seats and be awed at the ingenuity of what's happening on screen - none of which Kriti manages to do. It's predictable from the first scene and does not stop being so till the last shot where it starts to spike interest but by then it has ended, literally.

What's worse is that as an audience member I can identity exactly why Kriti goes wrong the way it does. Like most Indian filmmakers, Shirish Kunder seems to have decided to spoon feed his viewers. It is a character in the film itself who reveals the entire plot line in one dialogue. Why do Indian filmmakers believe Indian audiences to be fools of first order who will not be able to add up things together at the end of the movie and work out the twists and turns on their own? Had this one scene not been there, the film may have actually done justice to its genre. 

Verdict - My rating would be 1.5 stars for the effort, for trying to break away from the usual style of presenting films and the decent acting but none of it can save a thriller if there is no actual thrill in it.

Poster credit - Shirish Kunder's Twitter account

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Look Who's Back - some thoughts

Movie - Look Who's Back
Director - David Wnendt
Starring - Oliver Masucci, Fabian Busch, Franziska Wulf

Just finished watched a rather interesting film called 'Look who's back', directed by David Wnendt, on Netflix. The film is based on a novel, written by Timur Vermes, by the same name. The film is about the 'what if' scenario of Adolf Hitler waking up in 2014's Berlin and trying to understand the changes that have taken place in Germany and the world at large since he was in power.  

Hitler is mistaken to be an impersonator of extraordinary method acting talent by a freelance producer who then uses him to rejoin his old TV production company. Hitler on his part is exuberant about this development as now he has the power of media to broadcast his ideas, no matter if many take it to be a joke - at least they’re listening. 
And they’re listening all right. 

Hitler becomes an instant hit, save for a few who view his ideas (even if dubbed as ‘jokes’ by his fan clubs) as dangerous. Most are quite taken by this “new comedian” on the block, showcasing the latent disgruntlement they feel with the current political order including Germany’s policies on welcoming refugees. 

They don't care that this man does not only look remarkably like Hitler but also speaks his language. His marketing is what matters, the fact that he appeals to some disagreements that they have in their hearts matters, the fact that he stands for so called “greatness” of the nation matters but not how he hopes to reach the pinnacle or the lies he spins to support his theories. 

‘Look who’s back’ is a film of our times. World over, we are seeing a takeover by the extreme. It may be in your face or it may be hidden behind sweet words but what we need to understand as citizens of a world, with history on our side, is that there is a call to be vigilant. Hitler may have died but his ideas, unfortunately, did not. Hitler may not rise again as we know him but he is always on the look out to be back. He may reinvent and rebrand himself but the ideas will, at the core, remain the same. 

We have the choice to decide if we want our own personal Hitler who fans that small tinge of anger and resentment that resides in our heart till it all but consumes us and makes us blind to rationality and humanity.  

Watch ‘Look who’s back’ - it will make you laugh and ridicule but only till your defences are down and then it will attack.
Just like the Hitlers of the world. 

Verdict - Do watch for we need to be alerted lest we repeat the mistakes of the past.

Picture credit - the wondrous 'world wide web'

Friday, April 15, 2016

FAN - Its SRK all the way!

Movie - FAN
Director - Maneesh Sharma 

Starring: Shah Rukh Khan

First things first, with FAN, Shah Rukh Khan has effectively shut down all the critics who had been writing him off over the past few years. SRK as Gaurav is a treat to watch and reminds one of the superstar’s rise to fame with anti hero roles like in Darr, Baazigar and Anjaam.

FAN Gaurav Chandna considers superstar Aryan Khanna his God and he could not be more thrilled to look somewhat like him. In fact Gaurav is known as Junior Aryan Khanna in the Inder Puri area where he resides and is the long standing winner at the local talent show held every year during Dussehra. This time however Gaurav has a plan - he wants to travel to Mumbai on his idol’s birthday and share his little success with him and thus starts the journey. Gaurav meets his idol, yes, but under circumstances which make him want to prove to Aryan that he was right when he said that he is nothing without his fans and for poor Aryan, this fan knows entirely too much about him, his schedule and exactly what would harm him and his image as a nice family man!

Gaurav has been established as a somewhat rowdy yet sweet Delhi boy who is not above threatening people/standing his ground/doing both without any care of practicality - his introduction scene has him fighting it out with three men who are definitely stronger than him because they refuse to comply to his request to leave his cyber cafe as he has the above mentioned competition to attend. Gaurav’s character comes across as a regular Dilli ka launda (self assured, confident, a little crass but sweet in his own way) with an irregular kind of love for Aryan Khanna - one which you only start raising your eyebrow upon when it starts transcending into a harmful obsession. Till then, the audience is happy (like Gaurav’s parents) to indulge in his tomfoolery and imagined paradise where only two exist - Gaurav and his idol.

And then this fool’s paradise is interrupted with actions one cannot ignore or brush under the carpet, no matter how innocent and vulnerable Gaurav still manages to look. You laugh at his antics, yes, he is oddly loveable that way but you also cringe because you can guess that this ‘love’ will result in catastrophe - be it for Aryan or Gaurav himself.

Maneesh Sharma manages to keep the audience at the edge of their seat for the whole of the first half. You are played with as you constantly feel the tug towards Gaurav yet are creeped out by him too; you’re confused as you realise that you cannot fault Aryan for his actions but you cannot outright dislike Gaurav either for his. And by the end of the first half, it seems like the director has set the stage for an engaging psychological thriller only for the second half to come in and do nothing for the amazing built up it had.

The second half suffers from the lack of coherence about exactly what genre is this movie aiming at - psychological thriller or action? It also suffers, more acutely felt than in the first half, with the lack of subplots and characters other than Aryan and Gaurav. The screenplay feels entirely too heavy for a movie of this kind - a lot of dialogues could have been easily replaced with one or two meaningful scenes which developed more on the characters of Gaurav’s parents and his ‘one way wala’ love interest. Also except VFX, the film falls short in other departments (it only has one song - the FAN anthem and I absolutely love it - lyrics and all!). The editing was done well for the film they had on the table.

Had the second half been as engaging as the first, Fan would have been a force to reckon with as a story in itself and not as a SRK fair which it is through and through. Shah Rukh is brilliant as the creepy yet vulnerable Gaurav (he literally gave me the heebie-jeebies!) and the tired, exasperated but spirited superstar Aryan Khanna - the two characters could not be more poles apart yet their execution is done with equal conviction.

Verdict - 'FAN' is a must watch for all SRK lovers, but more so for those who wrote off the man over the past few years without realising that he has ruled Bollywood for 25 years - there must be something that sustains him and he proves just what it is in this movie.

Poster credit - Yash Raj Films

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Main aur Mr. Riight : A romantic comedy wannabe but debutant Barun Sobti shines!

Movie - Main aur Mr. Riight
Director - Adeeb Rais
Starring : Shehnaz Tresurywala, Barun Sobti (debut), Kavi Shastri, Varun Khandelwal, Maia Sethna, Anagha Mane among others

MAMR tells the story of an independent casting director Aliya Raj (Shehnaz Tresurywala) who is a perfectionist in her personal life as much as she is in her professional life. She is on the lookout or rather is forced to be on the lookout for her perfect Mr. Right. She is also the narrator of the film and it is through her voice and feelings that the audience paves its way through the movie, the characters and their interpersonal relationships.

Tired of her friends’ constant jibes at her inability to find any man good enough for her, Aliya decides to cook up her Mr. Right and casts the wannabe actor ‘born in Punjab, brought up in Delhi’ Sukhwinder Singh aka Sukhi (Barun Sobti) in the 'role'. And thus begins the charade - written, casted and directed by Aliya Raj but does this charade work out - for Aliya and for the movie in itself?

The answer to the latter is uncertain but bordering heavily on a 'No'.

This is Adeeb Rais’ debut movie and unfortunately, if one be blunt, it shows. There is hardly any coherence in the way the story moves forward from the preliminary setting up of the plot. The same plagues his characters who all seem to be confused and more than that confusing, cursed with mistaken rage or just plain lethargy in their conceptualisation and development. All of Aliya’s friends have the irritating habit of dissecting their lives and relationships in full public view and even more annoying is the fact that these outbursts make little connection to what was going on in the story previously. They are all disconnected and hence unenjoyable. What makes it even worse is the terrible performances by the ensemble cast except Kavi Shastri who in his small and meaningless role still manages to infuse some spirit.

The film lacks a proper storyline, seems hackneyed which can still be defended by saying that it is a rom-com on an oft repeated subject so certain plots would be predictable but even then the movie could have had an energetic spirit which is sorely missing. And the worst part, is that the whole movie seems like little scenes which have been put together with little concern for them to make sense in a broader meaning of the term or for them to even be of a slightly high standard. There are many romantic comedies of this kind out there but one roots for those where the treatment is novel and well done if not the story and the plot itself.

However what works for the movie (and the producers seem to have realised it as well if one considers the marketing of this film) is the fantastic work by debutant Barun Sobti who is known for his strong and varied performances on the small screen. Barun’s character is full of energy as would be typically expected of a role of a wannabe actor with Punjabi roots and a not fancy background. And this is where the earlier point resonates. Barun’s character is hackneyed and done to death but he still manages to infuse it with a lovable, energetic, soulful spirit which propels you to sit through 2 hours of the movie and root for the guy! Barun did great work on his part and one could only hope that he had chosen a better launch vehicle for himself. In any case, a little attention on voice modulation and strength and conviction in dialogue delivery should do the trick for him because he already has all the other things down - talent, charisma, presence and looks and of course the fan base. And all of this is underlined when in the second half of the film, one begins to miss Mr. Sobti's energetic and soulful rendition of Sukhi due to the less screen time given to him.

Coming to Shehnaz, she looks confident like her character should and is beautiful but one wishes that a little less attention had been given to her assets and a little more to honing her performance because she could have done this role with a lot more elàn than she does. The surprise package of the film is the guy who plays Aliya’s assistant. I could not catch his name but he was a breath of fresh air, specially in a film where the rest of the ensemble cast seemed to have a competition going on about who could be the most deadbeat performer of them all. Adeeb’s casting for Aliya’s friends (with the lone exception of Kavi Shastri) brings down the film a few notches than what it could have been with actors who actually knew how to act.

The music is a definite plus and I am still humming the soulful ‘Bhool Na Jaana’ and the remix version of Bappi Lahiri's 'Yaar Bina', so that is a job well done.

In conclusion, ‘Main aur Mr. Riight’ looks like an amateur film project with a good budget (as is evident in the overall 'look' of the film) and good marketing (the first look, trailers, posters were all extremely promising) and with one strong performance and a couple of decent ones but with no novel treatment of a hackneyed storyline. However as this is Adeeb’s debut film, one must not lose hope and I wish that he learns from his mistakes and comes back with a better film - story, treatment and casting wise.

Verdict : Watch it if you are a Barun Sobti fan, definitely watch it if you are a Barun Sobti fan because the man shines. Others, watch it if you have a little money, very less expectation and two hours to spare and/or if you want to judge Barun Sobti as an upcoming actor.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Bobby Jasoos - Lacklustre.

Bobby Jasoos is the debut film of director Samar Shaikh and unfortunately it leaves much to be desired.

Set in Hyderabad, Bobby Jasoos tells the story of Bilqis, a woman from a humble background who has no interest in marriage or being a girl as defined by the society but instead dreams of becoming the best darn detective around. However the only cases Bilqis scores are about uncles wanting her to spy on their wife making eyes at the electrician or aunties wanting to know if their daughters are being the good girls they were raised to be. She also has the case of a crime show anchor, Tasawur (Ali Fazal) where her job is to get the dirt on prospective brides so that he can reject them with well found reason. Things change when Bilqis alias Bobby has a mysterious visitor who leaves her huge sums of money to find individuals, giving as details just their name, age and any sort of birthmark. Bilqis soon figures out that there might be something shady going on and tries to uncover the truth about these well paying cases.

Now that a synopsis of the film is done, one can get on to reflections which do not favour the film much. The film is unable to click till at least 20-30 minutes have passed and in that time you also have to bear overacting by Vidya Balan (a suprise there!) who speaks in a Hyderabadi accent so strong that it is almost a caricature. Ali Fazal is charming but only till the moment he starts dancing. There he is way too enthusiastic to pull off the SRK looks, poses and dance moves that he has been entrusted with and you can only feel sorry for the poor guy because he just cannot ape SRK and also he shouldnt. He has the capability of impressing the audiences by just being himself. Bilqis' family is the most impressive of the lot (with restrained acting and thankfully restrained accents) followed closely by Aakash Dahiya as Munna. He doesnt have much of a role but as Vidya's aide he does the job perfectly.

The film is lacklustre in every department. No great cinematography to do the bustling lanes of Hyderabad any sort of justice, no brilliant music score (cannot remember one tune and I saw the film yesterday and it was Shantanu Moitra who has done great work in films like Parineeta and Antaheen!), no brilliant acting [changing garbs is great, especially if you are an Indian actress who come up with gems like not wanting to play a mother on screen because they are in their 'primes' - side question here, if you are an actor should you not be open to EVERY type of role and try to make it convincing? - but just changing your look does not ensure acting, it means that the make-up department did a great work and you carried the look well but you still need to act once you get out of that look...] and the biggest flaw of all - NO story.

The story is such that it has no highs, no lows, no ‘clutch at the seat in worry and then pry away your fingers from the sponge in relief’ - no nothing. It is boring and anti climactic and all of this means that director Samar Shaikh needs to work very hard and choose better stories to work with and also draw out performances from every department because as of now he has a film which has nothing to offer in any department...except the make up - they did a good job.

However one thing must be commended and encouraged. It is a film with a woman leading the pack and for that the producers (Dia Mirza, Sahil Sanga and Reliance Entertainment) must be congratulated. Just hope the next time they get a better story and script and not reply solely on an actor's willingness to don different garbs. It may grab eyeballs but it does not make for good viable cinema.

Verdict - Can totally pass it. 

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Isaai - Aapas mein sab bhai-bhai

Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Isaai - Aapas mein sab bhai-bhai

Hello folks! 

So I was going through my facebook, minding my own business - liking a photo here, commenting there, raising my eyebrows at one status, laughing my ass off on another when I saw one post -

And it was a Mentos - Dimaag ki batti jali moment for me! 

I was hit by an epiphany!

And I was left amazed and excited and thrilled and was just patting my back at being so very smart when I realized that I was also -


But lets brush that aside because I doubt most people in my GREAT country know the meaning of the word anymore...specially the GREATER ones who are supposedly leading us (into stupidity but thats just my view).

Anyhow, let us come back to my amazingness!

I just realized I now have the perfect example of India's secularism and secular unity!

Remember that nice sounding rhyme we used to learn like parrots -

Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Issaai Aapas mein sab bhai-bhai! 

Yeah, that one!

Turns out we are bhai-bhai in idiocy also! YAY!

Idiocy - "Bhaiya/Bhaijaan/Brother this is hurting my religious and cultural sensibilities! Please remove it! Please or else...Police wale uncle/Government dude/Media wali Bhabhiji, dekho na!"

Examples -

Muslim - We wont let 'Vishwaroopam' release because it hurts Muslim religious sensibilities! [And we are antaryamis because film officially release hone se pehle hi humein pata hai ki uss mein kya aapatijanak hai! (Antaryaamis or pirated film watchers, you decide...)]
Result - Vishwaroopam banned in Tamil Nadu with an emotional Kamal Haasan talking about possibly leaving the country. Currently, however, he is in the process of removing certain scenes from the film for its 'safe' release. 

Muslim - We will release a fatwa against teenage girls singing and having a rock band because it hurts our religious sensibilities! How dare they?!
Result - Amidst much blah blah by the CM, the girls decided to close down their rock band. 

Hindu - A young painter forced to take down three of his paintings from an exhibition at Bangalore because they hurt the religious sensibilities of some BJP workers.
Result - Paintings taken down from exhibition. Artist crying hoarse over his 'babies' but mennu ki?!

Hindu - Yeh toh aaj ki baat hai but who can forget that they also chased away India's Da Vinci MF Husain from his country, forcing him to breathe his last on foreign soil.
Result -  MF Husain's dead. Aur kya kahoon?

Christians - Christian groups starting to protest against Mani Ratnam's 'Kandal' even before the film has released stating that it has scenes disturbing their religious sensibilities! Please welcome, ladies and gentlemen, one more set of antaryaamis!
Result - Awaited

Christians - Da Vinci Code's release was possible only after it had been approved by Church Representatives after a special screening organized by none other than the I&B Minister of that time - Priyaranjandas Munshi.
Result - Tennu ki?! 

Toh hue ne asal mein hum sab Bhai-Bhai! Chalo ab issi baat pe ek naya gaana/film/kitaab dhoonde iss unity ko badhaane ke liye!

PS - Sab ke do-do example diye hain...please yeh matt bolna ki I am not secular!