Posted in Bollywood with tags , , , , , , , on June 3, 2014 by Roshan Mathew

Looks like Tis the season for coming of age movies in my life. First Adele in the devastatingly poignant Blue is the warmest Color, then puppy eyed, hormone crazed Renato in Malena and now Rani in Queen. I was struck by the fact that these three movies, in very different languages ,from very different socio ecomnomic backgrounds , are all united by the same pathos of experiencing all the pain and joy that comes with adulthood. One of the very reasons I love watching foreign language movies is this very fact, that we are all united by our emotions and that pain and happiness transcends language and that we are all united by the human experince. Now, let me get down from my philosophical pedestal and get to the review.

Directed by Vikas Bhal , with a very heartwarming script by Vikas Bhal, Chaitally Parmar and Parveez Shaikh. Rani, (Kangana Ranaut) is a very typical, very over protected Punjabi girl. She helps run her fathers sweets shop, is escorted everywhere by her phyalman(someone who looks like a wrestler) brother and in preparation for her inevitable future as a wife, studies Home Science in college. For all non Indians yes it is a real degree from real colleges even in the 21st century!

Rani is marrying Vijay( Raj Kumar Yadav) with whom she has been in a relationship for the past couple of years.( When I say relationship I am talking about the Indian relationship, which is very chaste and innocent. Most of the time it is not really  love, but the idea of love as they envision it for themselves, which is usually modeled from the omnipresent Bollywood movie stereotypes of lovers) Then out of the blue, Vijay very matter of factly dumps Rani a day before the wedding. A devastated Rani, locks herself in her room, wanting to escape the embarrassment and sympathy of the people around her. She reflects on the start of her relationship and all the plans she had made for the future, including her honeymoon trip to Paris and Amsterdam. She asks her father to let her go for her honeymoon trip by herself. The overprotecting father reluctantlysuccumbs to her desire seeing the pain she is in. The rest of the movie s about Rani’s experiences in Paris and Amsterdam and her journey about understanding herself and realizing her self worth.  She makes some life changing friends in Paris  the exuberant, extroverted Vijayalakshmi played by the gorgeous Lisa Haydon, and  thoughful, loyal Oleksander(Mish Boyko), energetic and lovable Taka(Jeffrey Ho) and friendly Tim and the token handsome Italian Marcello(Canadea Lopez Marco) in Amsterdam.

As Rani travels, the experiences she has along the way makes her reflect on her relationship with Vijay. She sees how he was very controlling and self absorbed. We see her initial feelings of helplessness and accommodation towards Vijay give way to rage at the way she was treated by him. She didn’t even have enough self awareness or even know that she had the right to demand to be treated better, because of her upbringing and this idea of accommodation that is  forced into most Indian women. The problem with this is, how do you understand the line between accommodation and succumbing to mental or physical abuse, when that is what you are taught by your parents and the society around you?  Rani  is able to see beyond the obvious differences in skin color and culture in her new friends and is able  broaden her understanding of people and ultimately herself. What starts off as an escape from her heartbreak ends up being a journey of self discovery and introspection. The most beautiful thing about these discoveries is that she never loses sight of who she is as a person, but comes into a deeper understanding about parts of  herself she didn’t know even existed or were suppressed and gains the courage to be herself as she sees all these new acquaintances embrace her for herself.

The stand out of course is Kangana Ranaut. I knew she was a good actress, but had not gotten a chance to see much of her work. Her Rani is pitch perfect. This character could’ve gone into dumb territory before you got through the first half hour, but it is entirely to Kangana’s credit that her Rani strikes the balance between naive ,overprotected, intelligent and open hearted and not between dumb and dumber. Just like all the friends she makes on her travels, we the audience can’t help but love her. My favorite scenes are her breakup scene with Vijay, the Paris taxi driver dance  and the mugging scene. Lisa Haydon(half Malayalee BTW) as Vijaylakshmi almost walks away with the whole Paris section of the movie. She did a good job as the free-living, partying, single mother who takes Rani under her wing in Paris.  The Amsterdam crew was also perfectly cast. Other than Tim. I don’t see the point of that character being there other than to introduce the right mix of color into the group(He is French African). Raj Kumar Yada( Vijay) was another stand out in the whole movie as the love to hate, a***** who broke our Rani’s heart. Vikas Bhal, the dircetor was very good at capturing the myraid of emotions and changes that Rani goes through. Lot of time spent of character development, which was great. I wish the movie was shorter, especially the Amsterdam section could have been cut short.  Cannot understand why Indian movies have to be so long. Most of the narrative gets at least a bit compromised when you have to fill 3 hours of screen time. Case in point 24 hour news cycle!

In spite of its length you can’t help loving this simple, heartfelt, well acted, well-directed, well written lighthearted coming of age story. Parents of teenagers, this is a wonderful movie to watch with your almost adult. Some themes of sexuality, drug and alcohol use.




Posted in DVDs, Hollywood, Other Languages with tags , , , on May 20, 2014 by Roshan Mathew

I like re watching good movie or revisiting a favorite book or a piece of art, mostly because I consider them a yardstick of how much I have changed as a person or how my understanding and perception of something has shifted as I grow older and hopefully wiser. I found myself just as moved by it as a coming of age movie and slightly peeved and ashamed some 13 years later.

It is written and directed by Guiseppe Tornatore and has the gorgeous Monica Belucci as Malena. It is narrated by Renato(Guiseppe Sulfrano), a 12 yr old boy who lives in a small village in Sicily. Three life changing things happen to him in one day. He gets a bike, Italy goes to war and he sees the village beauty Malena and is instantly, irrevocably in love. Malena’s husband Nino Scordia, has gone off to war and every man in the village, irrespective of their age wants to “comfort” Malena, the devastaingly gorgeous, lonely, grieving wife. For Malena her beauty really is a curse. She cannot find employment as most of the men don’t want to hire her, being scared of the wrath of the women in their lives, be it be their mother or wife. Everyday as Malena makes her way to the employment agency, the whole town is a at a standstill. The men ogle, dream and sigh, while the women spew vitriol against this woman whose only crime is beauty. Renato follows the object of his wet dreams incessantly and is the only one in the whole village who knows the real Malena. Malena gets the devastating news that her husband Nino has been killed in the war. Renato is the only one who witnesses Malenas grief. He prays that God keep Malena safe from the villagers till he grows up, so that he can take care of her. The news of Nino’s death blows hope into the hearts of the men in town. After the mourning period, Malena starts seeing an officer openly and this inflames the men as they have been passed up. Malena is wrongfully sued by the town dentists wife for committing adultery with her husband. As she has no money she is forced to avail of pro bono services from Centorbi, a lawyer, who extracts payment by raping her. Centrobi wishes to marry Malena, but his plans don’t come to fruition when his mother refuses to allow it. Malens father dies and her only income dries up. War comes to the town and she is forced to go into prostitution to feed herself. The villagers watch smugly as all their rumors become reality and they see Malena selling herself to Germans. They congratulate themselves on being astute judge of character. When the American come in after the war, the villagers mets out biblical justice by stoning her in the piazza and cutting her hair. Renato is heartbroken for Malena and watches her leave town.

As Renato’s coming of age movie, it is a pleasurable, funny, astute depiction of a hormonal adolescent. Even while overcome with his boyish lust for her he is always filled with tenderness and he wants to take care of her and protect her from all the evil townsfolk. Having seen his first and deepest love being treated so badly, makes Renato a much more compassionate, understanding and respecting lover of women.

As a woman I was a little peeved and ashamed at the level of vitriol, jealousy and insecurity that the women of this village display towards Malena. And I felt that the men in this movie, even if they carry out all the objectifying and raping ,is very conveniently depicted as victims of Malena’s inhuman beauty. It’s this uncontrollable lust for this sexy siren, that the women react to with so much venom and I felt the men were absolved of any responsibility for their actions or thoughts. I realize that Tornatore meant for this to be taken as a gross exaggeration of the reaction of a few. And that it would’ve compromised the integrity of the narrative if he had a couple of the women in the village showed some compassion or a couple of men who are not in thrall of Malena’s beauty. Sadly I have to agree that his assessment of female pshyce is not too far off the mark. I hope us women would make some more effort in supporting our fellow sisters, both the beautiful ones and the not so beautiful ones.

If you are in the mood for a great adolescent boy coming of age movie your time will be more rewarded if you spend it watching Cinema Paradiso. It is more Felliniesque Italian than Malena is. Malena is definitely worth a watch. Tornatore is very good at showcasing the nuances of human behavior, especially an adolescent’s life. Both Malena and Cinema Paradiso are great in this respect.

Blue is the warmest color(La Vie d’Adèle – Chapitres 1 & 2)

Posted in Hollywood, Other Languages on May 6, 2014 by Roshan Mathew

Blue is the warmest color is a brilliant coming of age drama which has been adapted from a graphic novel of the same name. It is written and directed by Abdellatif Kechiche and starring Léa Seydoux and Adèle Exarchopoulos. It won the Palme D’or at Cannes in 2013 and was the first time the honor was awarded with the stipulation that it be shared with the two leading ladies and the director. Make no mistake that this is in anyway an easy, run of the mill romance. It is one of the most intense love stories I have ever watched on film. I loved it so much that I watched it twice in 24 hrs!

Adele(Adèle Exarchopoulos) ,a high school student is going through her last years of high school. She is very sure of what she wants out of her future career as a kindergarten teacher. She is a typical middle class, older teen going through school, sharing gossip and possible romances, until a fateful encounter with a blue haired girl on the street. Confused about her own reaction towards this stranger, she decides to test her sexual waters with a boy, but ultimately ends up faking everything. She ultimately breaks up with him. She meets the blue haired stranger Emma(Léa Seydoux) at a gay bar and they share a conversation. There is no stopping this train from the moment they met each other on the street. The rest of the movie is about their passionate relationship’s ups and downs over the next 6-7 yrs.

The pace of the movie is something that takes a little getting used to and that is not a bad thing in anyway. The camera work is done in very closeup shots and remains focused on ordinary actions like eating for an inordinately long amount of time. But this makes us the viewer to be forced to not just be a voyeur in these two lovers life, but be very much a part of their world. The director is very taken with textures of food, skin, flesh, you name it. I found this fascinating, may be because I like art and paintings. Every flicker of the eye, every glance is captured and rendered beautifully to show us this fascinating relationship. Stick with the narrative to the end and you will be rewarded with a one of the most superbly acted scenes that is set in Emma’s apartment.

You can see that both the actors were made to pay with blood,sweat and tears(literally) to give us these brilliantly immersive performances. Adèle Exarchopoulos is completely captivating on screen. She gave a very visceral performance and Kechiche made sure her expressiveness was fully utilized. Léa Seydoux was perfect as the outwardly tough, seasoned lesbian. I know I have not addressed the scene that has been the talk of the town, so to speak. The long lesbian sex scene, that seems to be the biggest topic of conversation regarding this movie. The lesbians think it is not authentic and that it caters to a male fantasy( director’s), the labor people complain about the working conditions in which it was shot. Yes it is long, yes it is very intense and yes it is two women. Could it have been short and still conveyed the intensity, yes it could’ve been. But I can see the directors intention too. He wanted to show the total abandon with which Adele participated with Emma and the contrast with how she was with her attempt at sex with someone with whom she had no chemistry(the boyfriend). Also the length of the scene is in keeping with the pace of the rest of the movie. Just like in the rest of the movie, the camera lingers, there is no hurry, the pauses between conversations are not rushed, and in between those pauses a flickers of the eye of a shy glance an communicate volumes. Which I thought was beautiful, but I can see how the same narrative devices can seem too intimate and make it too intense in a sex scene. I found a very interesting interview with the leading ladies at the Daily Beast, which created rift between them and the director. It is a very interesting read, to see the price they both had to pay for this brilliant movie. Like the interviewer I selfishly felt the end justified the means. Easy for me to say!

Definitely a must watch. Parents send the kiddies to bed and be ready to dedicate 3 hrs of your life to do this movie justice. Excellent movie all around.