The Underdogs

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I rarely root for the underdogs. I mean when Kenya plays Australia and wins, its not the best men who won, its the lucky ones. Why would I root for luck, rather than ability?

But sometimes being an underdog has nothing to do with ability. You just weren’t given the same chances. Like in Lal Rang. It is about people in a mufassil town with no money, who are happy if they get to be lab technicians. But they want more. The central character whom the movie follows is no hero. There are no heroes in the film, really. But first, the theme. 
The rarest colour of comedy in Bollywood is Black. When you are laughing but whats happening is neither light, not happy. You still laugh because, well, because it is clever. Remember Jane Bhi Do Yaaron? Its a tragedy that you can’t stop laughing at.
Lal Rang has hardly any joy. It has a dark red theme, and it is about an issue. It is about the buying and selling of blood in Haryana about a decade ago. There was a huge scandal and many lives were destroyed because the “donors” sold too much of their blood, and their blood carried several problems way too often. Already sounds like a boring, preachy movie, doesn’t it?
It isn’t. It never preaches, it just shows what happens. and it helps that it has a great actor at its heart. Randeep Hooda is the kingpin of the operation that steals, buys and sells blood. He manages a network of thieves, professional donors, lab technicians, and doctors, but he does it with ease, with a laugh and a kind word, he says that even when he has to beat up people, he’s never angry, he does it with affection. Hooda is a powerhouse. His energy keeps the film afloat and makes it almost possible to forgive everyone for their crimes. 
Almost. Because you know that as you are following these guys, in the background are blood shortages, and a market full of desperate people being fleeced in their hour of need. There are no heroes in the film. 
But there are no monsters either. The guys are all too human, preoccupied with impressing girls, and fighting for their love. Ordinary people. This is the most human look at crime I can remember in recent times. It is brutal, gripping, dark, but funny at the same time. 
And it is going to get totally and utterly overlooked. “Major” critics like Masand have not even seen it fit to review the film. The excellent music is not playing anywhere. There is no talk of Randeep Hooda winning awards, even though he deserves them all for this film. This film, with a newish director, no item song, no brand name star, and a basis in reality is the ultimate underdog. Not because its not good, but because the system is stacked against it. The Janta is not pulled into cinema because of raw quality. Even Badlapur and NH 10 needed stars to succeed. 
So this is the underdog I want to support. Not trash like Fan, this is the kind of cinema we deserve, and we should fight for. Lets do that, lets just watch the film and fight for cinema’s underdogs. 

What the Dickens: A review of Fitoor

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When I first heard that Abhishek Kapoor is making a screen adaptation of Dickens’ Great Expectations, I cheered. The guy who could make an awful Chetan Bhagat novel into Kai Po Che can potentially do wonders with this masterpiece of a novel. Alas, this is not an adaptation of Great Expectations. Not in its spirit.

Fitoor is the story of a guy’s obsession with an unattainable girl. A poor Kashmiri artisan boy with a penchant for art is invited into a feudal lady’s manor. He falls for her daughter and spends the rest of the movie pursuing that obsession.

That, in a nutshell, is what the film is about. A love story. There are the same characters as Great Expectations, but they just are insignificant. The strict sister and kindly brother in law, the mysterious lady, the escaped convict, the friend in the city, the mysterious benefactor…. But all of them, except the lady, are just placeholders. The only aspect that matters is the love story, and this film has a sorry excuse for a love story.

The title is the clue. Love has nothing to do with it, it’s about a Fitoor. A compelling obsession. Love comprises of tenderness, understanding, bonding, and a mutual respect. None of that nonsense in this movie. A child in early teens sees a girl and is entranced by her. She keeps rebuking his advances and he keeps making them till she gives in.

This movie starts in 90’s but should have travelled further back in time. This is a perfect 80’s film. The hero is talented and obsessed, and the heroine just for show. To be fair, the hero is not shy about exposing his muscled body, but at no point does the lead pair expose anything deep about themselves.

The movie is set in Kashmir but lacks the guts to tackle the politics beyond some platitudes about longing for peace. I think the only reason to choose Kashmir was to use the beauty of the land. The film is definitely shot beautifully. Kashmir is serene, sometimes desolate, beauty. Delhi party sets are a combination of sophistication and debauchery. And the art exhibits seem to demand a closer look than what the film permits.

Fitoor-4But engaging art installations do not make an engaging movie. The movie has to get us to care for its characters. And I never cared for the lead couple. A combination of ineffective writing and lackluster performance. And can someone please tell me why Katrina is a redhead in this film? Only the Lady played by Tabu engaged from time to time, but Tabu playing a lonely Kashmiri woman draws comparisons with her role in Haider. Compared to what she brought to that role, this is sleepwalking.

Great expectations was a novel about a boy growing up. It was about poverty and riches in Victorian England. It was about prisons and debts. This movie has stripped away all of that. The boy never really grows up; wealth and poverty never matter to him; and he was never that poor anyway. Even when venturing into a topic as juicy as a Kashmiri noble wedding a Pakistani minister, the writers don’t write anything more daring than “Aman Ki Asha” type cliches.

Sorry Mr Kapoor, but Great Expectations? More like dashed expectations.

Deadpool: Dead Awesome 

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 First thing first: Deadpool is awesome. It’s the most fun you’ll have in a movie theatre this year. Unless you use the dark theatre for things other than watching a movie. 
The second thing: just like the “joke” above, this is not for kids. This is a comic book movie unlike any other. 
Before Batman Begins, comic heroes were a joke. And a silly joke at that. They did their antics, and the villains did their thing, with no thought give to anything except special effects. There were cardboard characters, with no inner life, and no story arc beyond one film. Batman trilogy introduced a great new twist with dark, brooding films, and Marvel has been wavering between grit and joy ever since by focusing on its myriad heroes. X-men stood slightly apart, focusing on the political and social. Till now. Till Deadpool. 
Deadpool is the story of a broken man. It starts with an ex-marine who describes himself as a bad guy hunting worse guys. Then he meets the girl, falls in love, and is hit by cancer. He is willing to do anything, ANYTHING, to avoid separating, and undergoes horrible torture for the promise of superpower to cure the cancer. 
As he becomes a man who can heal itself almost instantaneously, he discovers the side effects of near immortality. He is hideous. Pretty hideous. Like a tumor with eyes and a mouth. He knows she loves him and his damaged soul, but isn’t sure she will love him with his damaged looks. The irony. 
Wait, this sounds like a really boring movie. Deadpool is anything but boring. 
  Modern Batman and Superman are quiet creatures. Men of few words and much action, always struggling with the morality of their actions. Deadpool isn’t that. He is a motormouth. He is always talking. Either to himself, to the villains, and all too often with the audience. He knows he’s in a movie. He breaks the fourth wall constantly, and with superb wit. And he is a man of action as well. Morals? Eh. He doesn’t lose roomy h sleep over them. If you’re in his way, you are going to get hurt. 
Wit, heart and gore. That’s the punchline this movie deserves. It is hilarious, poignant, violent, brutal, touching; sometimes all within moments. It never slows down, he never shuts up, and we never get bored. Not even during the credits. 
This will change superhero movies again. Watching Batman v/s Superman feels like work against this. Deadpool is gritty, rough, has well written characters, and is not boring. It is also very explicit. If you can’t stand a cartoon Deadpool touching a unicorn pretty inappropriately, don’t watch this movie. 
If you have to watch a movie this Valentine’s Day, watch Deadpool. You may have more fun watching the screen than…. well, you know, doing extracurricular work in the theatre. 

Bernie Sanders Hit Job

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Bernie Sanders is the latest darling of the left. If you try and match his support, there is a near one to one correlation with those who support AAP in India.

Thats not a coincidence. These are people dissatisfied with the mainstream left, represented by the Congress here and Democrats like Hillary in US. Congress and Hillary talk of the leftist principles, but are in the pocket of the rich. They have totally abandoned the principles of socialism by now. They essentially have no principles. Republicans are the same from the other side. They claim to be for Capitalism, but are in the pockets of their cronies and thrive on religious and nationalist sentiments. Much like BJP, really, but they don’t have a charismatic and largely honest leader at the top.

Thats why the Republican presidential field is littered with petty, small people. How bad do you have to be to be behind Donald effing Trump?

But we digress. Sanders. He has been a congressman (member of parliament) for several years, and as such hasn’t run anything. He has been activist for the Left, that’s it. But he did run something once. The city of Burlington. As a candidate against both Democrats and Republicans. A third alternative, so to speak. Do you know what his platform was? Lower cost Electricity and Telecom. He claimed that the utilities companies were robbing the consumer. Starts sounding familiar to our dear Kejriwal, right?

bernie20There’s more. Politics is a serious job. Like all jobs, you show your seriousness by dressing formally. Not him. he had dishevelled hair, a crumpled shirt and loose, badly fitting coats. He talked all the time about the rich guys talking things away from the common man. He always, at all times, stood against what America was for. He has had wet dreams about a revolution since 1970’s and proclaimed that him being elected mayor of Burlington was the start of a socialist turn for the US. his quote: “I think from one end of this country to the other, people are ripe for political revolution. The whole quality of life in America is based on greed. I believe in the redistribution of wealth in this nation.”

He attended rallies outside US, happy to collaborate with and give support to dictators as long as they were socialists. And anti-American. (At one of them in Nicaragua, he attended a rally celebrating the “defeat” of USA. They were chanting: “here there everywhere, the Yankees will die.”)

This is not all of course. He is a socialist, remember? Sanders has supported stealing the assets of corporations. He has supported nationalising all television. He has even supported taking the assets of a company and called for a state takeover of utilities “without compensation to the banks and wealthy individuals who own them.” He has supported state takeover of all oil business.

He made it a personal mission to attack the Rockefeller family. At that time the richest Americans. He advocated seizing their wealth and distributing it to the poor. He suggested that appointing Nelson Rockefeller as Vice President would lead to a dictatorship of the country by that family. Nothing if that sort happened, of course. Rockefellers declined in relative wealth, as other innovators overtook them. As happens in capitalism.

People say he is not really a socialist. He just uses that label. Look at the man and his positions when he was not prominent. That’s the real Sanders. Very similar to our own Kejriwal. You can just replace Ambani for Rockefeller and copy paste the speeches. Hating the rich and making them out to be demons is the central tenet of socialism.

The similarities are not a coincidence. This is the Left. They are all about seizing, capturing, taking something that doesn’t belong to them, and then doing charity with it.

America is not a perfect society. Far from it. But what makes it great is the individual liberty, the freedom to pursue greatness and riches, the celebration of innovation.  In short, the Capitalism. Read again. These are the same attributes that we admire in Indians. We are not a society of conformist society when we are at our best. That’s the worst part of India. That leads to castes, dominating women, creating barriers. At our best, we are an open, innovative nation. Innovation only thrives when there are incentives to innovate. That’s what capitalism is.

Electing a socialist to the top of the largest economy in the world, and one of the best nations in the world will be a disaster for the whole world. I hope Americans are not stupid enough to do that.

Story, Identity, Spectacle: A Review Of Tamasha

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It starts with a boy. An old guy under a tree narrating stories from all over the world to a child. And it moves to the grown hero making a friend, and more, with a girl without exchanging even their real names.

tamasha_640x480_51442924553It starts with the girl. Alone and then, not so alone, as she strikes a friendship with a stranger. With a promise to not remain friends. But you know how it is. They become more than friends. Get separated. They meet again, but she meets a completely different person when she meets him again. Gone was the reckless storyteller, the impulsive raconteur, the guy brimming with life, with weird ideas and stories. She found a corporate drone.

This is the story of that guy, and their relationship. This is a story of the usual middle class story we all are told and then we all attempt to replicate. Work hard at the “subjects”, study, work, die. Excellence, when it happens, is an accident. Happiness at job, if it happens, is happenstance. Happiness in life is defined by standard goals and predefined milestones.

This is about the chains that bind us, about the pain of the chains and the pain of breaking the chains. Is there liberation at the end of this tunnel, or have the chains dug so deep they’re now a part of us?

This is not perfect film. The weirdness becomes too much at times. The narrative is self-indulgent. The stories of the old storyteller are often too jumbled up to follow. About an hour in, I was scared about where it was going. But this is a film that grows. I suspect that may happen in more ways than one.

tamasha-2Imtiaz Ali has a bad habit of making films that become habit themselves. How many times have we seen Jab We Met? And I have revisited Rockstar several times, often gaining another perspective. This has the potential to be another such affair. But equally, I fear this will not be universally acclaimed. This will be a harder sell for the masses than even rockstar. The lead couple is my hope to give it a leg up.

Because the lead couple is great. Ranbir Kapoor is a chameleon throughout the film. His conversations with the mirror are fantastic. His immersion in his character at holiday, at work, and the progression through the film is flawless. But Deepika, in my view, is what made the screen sparkle. She infuses so much in her character I can imagine her lying utterly exhausted at the end of every shot. This film would have found it hard to sustain interest, despite all the clever writing, had she not been in it.

It is a truism that Rahman’s music grows on you. So do Imtiaz films. and when they collaborate, they create something slightly magical. A kind of slow, imperfect, emotional magic. I liked it. And I think I’ll watch it again. Give it a go. Expect weirdness.

In the classic love stories, heroes go in search of the heroine after they lose her. In Tamasha, the hero has to find himself. And thats what the movie is about.

Left’s Islamism Problem

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Islamism is the political ideology seeking the supremacy of Islam over all other values. those “other values” include not just other religions, but also the concepts of freedom, secularism, and the liberal democracy itself. This is what threatens to take over the Islamic world when powers such as ISIS, Taliban, Hamas and other Salafists rise. We must separate this “political” Islam from the religious Islam that ordinary Muslims practice and cherish. Islamism is a poison both to ordinary Muslims and to the rest of the world. But saying g that it has nothing to do with Islam is disingenuous and dangerous. That’s what Left has been preaching, though.

 

Left has had a problem in the west. Given how successful capitalism has been, and given the success of emerging economies as they become more capitalistic, propagating socialism keeping getting unfashionable despite a recent resurgence, via Sanders etc. In general though, the Left in West has become enmeshed with identity politics. Women’s rights, Black rights, Immigrant rights, minority rights in general.

 

These are all issues close to anyone seeking liberty. Equality is the cornerstone of a modern society. The problem starts when this thinking becomes cultish. It is a short distance from “minorities should have rights” to “minorities are always right”. We know this well in India, were there is a history of appeasing minority “leaders”, whether they are right or wrong. And in the name of “social justice” we have created gangs of goons roaming the hinterlands. This approach benefits neither majority nor the minority, nor the socially disadvantaged. It just keeps some leaders happy, the backwards backward and the Left in power.

 

The Left is a means to struggle against oppression. It started against the royalty and the dictators. In 50’s and 60’s, some western Leftists raised their voice against USSR too. Today, they only stand against whoever happens to be the majority in their country. So the American Left idolises the “Eastern Spiritualism” and to them Yoga is the most eclectic exercise ever, but Indian Left starts convulsing as soon as the PM wants to promote it. And while all liberty loving people in the Islamic world recognise the dangers of Islamism, the Westen Left wants to hug and protect everyone who is against Western powers.

 

french-president-francois-hollande-might-give-upCase in point: Francois Hollande, the french president. He belongs to the Socialist Party. He did not support the ban on face-covering burqa that previous president Sarkozy applied. He campaigned to the muslims claiming to be their deliverer from Sarkozy. He got 93% of Muslim votes in a face-off with Sarkozy. That was no doubt a factor in French parliament unilaterally recognizing Palestine.  Even after Charlie Hebdo, Hollande was pretty mild, resisted criticizing Islamism, and tried to prevent the PM of Israel from attending the solidarity march, as that may offend Muslims. So what happened? France is the largest non-Arab exporter of fighters to ISIS. France has had coordinated attacks against jews. Of course Charlie Hebdo. And now this.

 

Why does this happen? Slowly, by broad generalizations. Left feeds into and reinforces the feeling of victim-hood that has spawned political Islam. There have been attacks on countries with Muslim populations by the West, but they were not Islamic nations anyway. Iraq and Libya are probably more Islamic today than they were under their dictators. And There have been more attacks on Muslim countries by other Muslims (Yemen, ISIS, Iraqi Shia-Sunni clashes, Turkish-Kurd conflict, I could go on). If every attack on any Muslim by a non-Muslim is portrayed as an attack on Islam itself, it feeds the narrative of Muslims v/s the rest. It feeds into a feeling of isolation and pushes people into ghettos. It isolates both the sides. Pushes them apart. Left has been feeding this narrative of victimhood to the Islamic world, and the chickens are now coming to roost.

 

If only Hollande was an exception, though. We have a barrage of idiocy from Left, starting with the refusal to recognize the threat of Islamism. When the Left, from Obama onwards, keeps shouting at the top of their voices that ISIS has nothing to do with Islam, they are fooling the world, and probably themselves. ISIS, and similar organizations, have a mission according to their reading of Islam: that of making Islam and Islamic Caliphate the predominant power in the world.

 

By keeping Islam and any criticism of it out of public discourse the Left has created a vacuums that is being filled with rabid hatred of Islam, and of Muslims in general. The rise of far right parties, like UKIP in England, and National Front in France is precisely because the rhetoric of Left seems hollow. When, time and again, bunch of young Muslims kill themselves and others to the chant of “Allah O Akbar”, repeating ISIS has nothing to do with Islam makes less and less sense.

 

Nor does ignoring all reformist, liberal and feminist voices in the Islamic world. Those people, fighting for the oppressed, are painted by the Western Left as cronies of the West. Any criticism of Islam is tarred by the brush of Islamophobia, and brutal suppression is condoned as “cultural difference”. The natural allies of Left are thus abandoned. Long term Leftists are recognising this and raising their voices.

 

It is very important that ordinary Muslims not be tarred by the same brush as ISIS. It is clear that ISIS represents a small minority of Muslims. It is also clear that ISIS and other Islamists do represent some Muslims. And that their ideology is based on Islam. You don’t, after all, see Buddhist ISIS fighters. Islamism is a threat to ordinary Muslims as well as to the non-Muslims. Its imperative that the Left takes a note of it, and fight it. But the head is so far down the sand that I doubt they are listening.

The Edge That Hurts- A Review Of Talwar

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Talwar. A sword is never meant to be a pleasant thing. It is supposed to hurt. You just hope that it hurts the right people, that it is used to serve justice. But how often does that happen, really? And who wields the sword?

Talwar is about tragedy. The tragedy of a double murder. A middle class family starts a day with murder. But did they just suffer it, or did they commit it? A young daughter and an older servant are dead. From the moment the police arrive at the scene, it is clear that nothing is going to go right in this investigation. Theories, rumours, insinuations, and a lot of bumbling follow, and arrest made. happy ending, right? But a few things don’t add up and a “higher” agency is called. They reach another conclusion, and its a fight between the two conclusions.

talvar-irrfan-khan-759But no matter who did it, the tragedy is immense. Either it was a murder by a parent, or a child was not safe in her own house, surrounded by people she loved. Both have chilling implications. And because this is not some slum, it is all the more chilling for the audience, sitting in the multiplex, imagining what brutalities lurk around their own home. There is nothing feel-good about this film. The humour is dark. You laugh at the ineptitude of a cop, but you realise that he might be the cop you need one day, and the chuckle feels like a punch in the gut.

Talwar has several moments that punch you in the gut. That make you feel that the justice system can go so horribly wrong. Prejudice, nasty rumours, and unfounded allegations are all made and accepted by the police. And worse, they are amplified by the media. Reporters running rough shod over crime scene is criminal by itself, but the depiction of TV media running a parallel investigation is chilling. The level of intrusion in an ordinary life is breathtaking.

It works. The hoopla of public gaze works to create an even shoddier investigation, even faster jumping to conclusions, and the need to deliver a result. A result, a conclusion, not justice. The pressure works. And so does the film.

talvar-2Vishal Bhardwaj is probably one of the most underrated dialogue writers of today. Every word uttered by the cast is useful and appropriate. And the cast itself is just superlative. Irfan Khan gives a rockstar performance, as usual. But the others are just as capable. Acting is about eliciting emotion, not just depicting them. From the local policemen and their tragic buffoonery to the reaction of parents, everything is tuned to make us feel just what the director wants us to.

And the director wants us to get angry. Meghna Gulzar has a last name that carries a heavy burden, but she quits herself with grace, restrain, and a lot of maturity. The film shows a system rotten to the core, where prejudices and pettiness combine to compound a tragedy into a tragic farce.

And it hurts. The film is not just about some Talwars, it is a talwar. It is a sword pointing at you, nudging you, coaxing you to rise from the comfortable slouch in your multiplex seat. It is meant to hurt, and it does. Because ultimately Talwar is not just about a small tragedy that befalls a family, it is about the larger tragedy of routine injustice.