Sunday, March 25, 2012

Review: Kahaani

"The greatest trick that the devil ever played, was to convince the world that he did not exist and then poof! just like that he was gone!" As the stupid cripple, Verbal Kint walked out of the police station, agent Kujan sits on his desk sipping coffee, when suddenly it dawns upon him and the whole charade falls into place. The concocted story, the random subjects and the bloody brilliance of the whole thing. The Usual Suspects, to me, is the pinnacle of thriller stories.

What Sujoy Ghosh's Kahaani is, a remarkable effort of a new age director who doesn't fear making a strong story the hero. Its hard to believe that the director who made the Ritesh Deshmukh starring 'Alladin' could dish out something like this. After Ishqia, Delly Belly, LSD and PST, this is another feather in the cap of a reinvented Bollywood.

Kahaani, begins with a heavily pregnant Vidya Bagchi (Balan), landing in Kolkatta, armed with only a Evian water bottle and steely resolve to find her missing husband, Arnab Bagchi. Arnab, a Firewall expert, like his wife, had landed in National Data Center for a two week assignment and suddenly disappeared without a trace. The strange part is that there is no record of any Arnab arriving, staying or working in Kolkata. Is he for real or just a reality in Mrs.Bagchi's head?

A visit to the Kalighat police station to file a missing person's complaint, introduces us Asst. Sub Inspector Shotyoki Sinha aka Rana (played by a superb Parambrata Chaterjee). From here on he becomes her real shotyoki (Arjun's sarathi), walking side by side, unraveling the twists and turns of the story. Vidya or Bidda, as everyone in Kolkatta calls her, hits a blank at every connection of her husbands'. The seedy hotel where he was staying says he never arrived there, NDC claims there was no such assignment, the school where he studied says no Arnab Bagchi was a student there. The HR manager at NDC Agnes, however feels that her husband's face resembles an ex-employee Milan Damji, who worked there two years ago. This line of investigation sets the cat among the pigeons, with even the Intelligence Bureau (IB) jumping into the fray. A shady LIC agent doubling up as a contact killer, Bob Biswas (Saswata Chaterjee) is assigned to bump off the geriatric Agnes for ruffling leaves. The story moves on at a fast pace and with each new plot unfolding, it becomes clear that Arnab's disappearing act is strongly connected Milan Damji, who is the prime suspect of the Kolkata Metro massacre that killed over hundred civilians, over two years ago. That is the reason, IB agent Khan (Nawabbudin Siddique), hot on the heels of the Damji, is hell bent of keeping Mrs. Bagchi away from the investigation, lest she upset the applecart. But with the help of a mole within the bureau, Damji is always a step ahead of the law. The plot takes us though the backdrop of the attack with the leads trying to piece together the bits of Damji's life in order to reach him and hence Arnab. The climax set during the tumultuous time of Durga Pujo, is the perfect finale to a tightly woven story with an unbelievable ending. (I wont spoil your fun, by elaborating it. Go catch the movie for yourself). 

The first thing that really hits you in the movie is the detail to character. Rarely has Bollywood, shown stories of platonic love: no cheesiness, no melodrama, no lust. For Rana, she is talented, relentless, beautiful and so brave. At times he is in awe of her, at times protective and most times just glad to help her out. Bob Biswas, the unassuming hitman, who greets people before shooting them is creepy and loveable at the sametime. Bishnu aka 'Running Hot Water', the affable helping hand in the hotel, who takes his little transistor everywhere he goes, Chaterjee, the portly inspector who hates the beeping computer, Khan the angry young man from IB,  everyone has space and meaning in the story. But the strongest character is Kolkata itself. It lives, breathes and grows upon you, especially during the Pujo times. The vibrant colors, the suffocating traffic, the endless din, the yellow cabs and the piping chai, the processions all make you love and hate the place at the same time. 

The cinematography is really slick and no praises are enough for  Sethu for having captured the heart of the city and the depth of the characters though the lens. Even sharper is the editing of Namrata Rao, who is raking in medals after movies like LSD, Oye Lucky and BBB. The screenplay and story by Sujoy Ghosh is pacy and almost water tight. Music by Vishal-Shekar is complementary especially the opening number "Ami Shotti Bolchi" by Usha Uttup is well sung, well arranged and superbly shot.  The casting is brilliant and every actor does justice to the well crafted roles. Unheard of till now, Bengali actor Parambrata Chatterjee, as the cop willing to go any distance to help the lady in distress is a revelation. The scenes where his sense of protection overpowers him and he calls her Vidya and not Mrs.Bagchi, his daily calls to his mother while returning home from work are all very endearing. The director also ekes out strong performances from the remaining cast, especially Nawbuddin Siddique as Khan and Saswata Chaterjee as Bob Biswas. But at the end of the day, it is all about Vidya Balan. There are few heroines today who can shoulder a movie on their own and Vidya proves again that why she is setting the pedestal so high. She is alternatively vulnerable and brave, driven only by the dogged determination to find her husband. Her ability to portray the complexities within the character and her metamorphosis from a helpless pregnant woman to Ma Durga is captivating. She is without a doubt, the new Khan of Bollywood.

The movie ultimately, is the director's baby. Never-heard-of-before director, Sujoy Ghosh manages to do what every movie should do well - tell a good story well. The direction is taut and never loses steam. There are several intentional and unintentional references and tributes to other movies and directors. Being a big fan of Satyajit Ray, Ghosh has a lot of scenes which celebrate Ray, like the camera staying within the car, scenes inspired by Aranyer Dinratri, shots of the metropolis similar to Ray's masterpiece 'Mahanagar' or the lonely wife opening the windows to watch the world in Charulatha. The climax also unintentionally pays tribute to other classics like the chaotic Pujo ending, similar to the Ganapati Visarjan in Agneepath and the lal-paad sari clad Balan lost in the crowd, similar to the fantastic Bowler Hat climax in Peirce Brosnan's 'The Thomas Crown Affair'.

Its a brave new breed of Bollywood today, where the trailers live up to the expectations. I'm loving it!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Review: Paan Singh Tomar

It was ironic. Really! I watched Paan Singh Tomar, the day one of India's greatest cricketers announced his retirement. Newspapers, TV Channels, FM radio, Social Networks were all buzzing with glorious tributes to the 'Wall'. The theater, was well, never mind!

Paan Singh Tomar, is a story of  a simpleton who wears multiple hats as a farmer, soldier, sportsman, father and more infamously, as a Baaghi! Hailing from a small village from Morena, MP, Paan Singh (player by Irfan)  joins the Rajputana Rifles because be believes "Is desh mai, Army ke alawa sab chor haigo". His potential to effortlessly run long distances is immediately noted by Major Masand when Paan is asked to run twenty rounds for reporting to duty a day late. The voracious young man soon learns in the army mess, that joining sports in the army gives the license of unlimited food, a luxury not all sepoys can enjoy. As the proof of the pudding, he manages to deliver a bar of ice cream within four minutes to Major Masand's house before it can melt. No sooner, he is drafted into the athletics team.

A reed thin Paan,  shows his class by beating the entire set of trained athletes on the first day. Constrained by nepotism, his coach (played by an endearing Rajendra Singh) convinces Paan that he is better suited for running Steeple Chase than the 5000m. Thus begins the story of  Paan the athlete, who keeps breaking records to win medals at state, national and even International meets. Tomar breaks the national steeplechase record in the 1958 National Games in Cuttack with a timing of nine minutes and 12.4 seconds and his own record in the 1964 Open Meet in Delhi with a timing of nine minutes and four seconds. Running gives him opportunity, friendships, identity, fame and yes, unlimited food. 

Things, however are not so rosy back home.  His idyllic family life is thrown out of gear by a bunch of greedy relatives who are hell bent of snatching his land. A rational and fair armyman, stands no chance against the atrocities of gun totting relatives, who make life a living hell for his family. Paan tries using his army background to reach out to officials and the panchayat for help, but they all lead to dead ends. The last straw comes as his son's brutal assault which leaves the young man half dead. But, half dead is not dead, according to the local police, who insult a enraged Paan Singh when he reach out for help. His trinket collection of photos, trophies and articles mean nothing more than scrap to the insouciant inspector. "Desh ka naam uncha kiya hai maine. Kyon bhaaga main itna?" screams out an angry Paan. "To medal mila na uske liye!".

Paan is now left with no other option to pick up the gun. And once you pull the trigger, there is no stopping is there? His life now turns into a unrelenting series of cat and mouse with dodging bullets, kidnappings and death. His band and fame soon spread across the borders of three states. The dusty ravines of Chambal become home, the gang, family and the rifle, the ticket to lawlessness and power. But every meteoric rise is followed by an inevitable gory end and downfall. Its just that Paan Singh takes it with the utmost dignity and panache.

The movie is the brainchild of director Tigmanshu Dhulia, who heard about PST when he was working in Chambal for Shekar Kapoor's Bandit Queen. He then took it upon himself to gather hard to find information about the national champion turned villain. He ensures that he portrays the times and characters with utmost authenticity, including locations, dialects and events. Kudos to the new wave of Indian directors, who are not afraid to risk telling different stories and making tough movies. The cinematography is beautiful, from capturing the lanky subedar conquering the race track in baggy shorts to reigning over the unforgiving hinterlands of Chambal. The sparse and rugged landscapes evoke strong memories of Bandit Queen and Omkara. Speaking of Omkara, one cannot miss the brilliant dialogues written by Tigmanshu doing full justice to the local dialects.Classics like " Beehad mein ‘Baaghi’ hote hain, ‘Dacait’ milte hain parliament mein!"  and "beta daro mat… ye police ki vardi mein police hi hai!"  will be long remembered in times to come. 

At the end of the day, PST is all about Irrfan Khan. The most underrated actors of our times. He brings in an effortless authenticity and sincerity to one of the most difficult roles to pull off in the recent past. He's lovable as a ravenous athlete, believable as a humble farmer, charming as a playful husband, mature as a father and above all scintillating as runaway outlaw. The supporting cast also doles out strong performances. Mahie Gill as the subedar's wife, Brjendar Kala as the ultna nervous journalist taking interview, Zakir Husaain as Inspector Rathore are all very convincing. 

Bandit movies have always been popular. From the blood thirsty outlaws in Seven Samurai, to the legendary Gabbar Singh, they have captured the imagination of viewers and taken them through wild journeys of terror, bravery and madness. PST although being in the same league, forces us to ask one important question. Do we really as a nation, take sportsmen other than cricketers seriously? The long list of Indian athletes shown at the end of the movie, who died penniless and without basic medical facilities is heart wrenching. Its a shame, that as a country we treat our sporting heroes as unwanted liabilities. Maybe that is why we are not producing great sportsmen anymore, maybe that is why India will never be a force to recon with in a 100m dash. Pity!