Ek Villain (2014) – A Hero’s Journey

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Listening to Shraddha Kapoor’s loud chatter five minutes into the movie, one feels like cringing—something too melodramatic and uncompromising to all senses of the body. As Aisha (played by Shraddha) prattles on and on about the innate goodness in human beings, the typical bubbly, girl-next-door persona, an uber incarnation of a good-hearted and joyous personality riddled in her own grief comes to the fore, viewers realize that this is yet another rehash of a typical Bollywood heroine. By this time, we’re already in the flashback taking us to an episode in Goa when our heroine finally meets her villain, or hero—or perhaps just a human being whom she wishes to save played by Sidharth Malhotra (as Guru).

Amidst all the melodrama, the movie treads a routine path, albeit following a non-linear approach, but as the slogan of the movie reads, “Every love story has a villain,” this love story has plenty. The story reveals about Shraddha’s fatal condition. The audiences realizing that she is on borrowed time—dying from cancer it seems, something that’s completely left to the viewer to decipher—the makers find it convenient not to enlighten us about her condition. Taking a page off countless medically doomed love stories and of course the plot being a watered-down version of I See The Devil (2010), Mohit Suri packs this movie with some tight scenes and solid story progression amidst a rather poorly constructed plot and underdeveloped motives, ultimately, standing as a movie somewhere in between good and poor.

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Ritesh Deshmukh as the psychotic serial killer, Rakesh Mahadkar, is one fine showing and a deviation from what he usually portrays on the screen. Showing his restrained, twisted, and manipulative self, Ritesh is excellent as the meek family man—who loves killing for a hobby—and devastatingly creepy as the man under the raincoat, when he takes the avatar of a killer. This is arguably the deepest point of the movie, yet the manner in which Rakesh’s leisure collides with the juggernaut called Guru is rather predictable and when that happens, it doesn’t entice the viewer into feeling what the director would want viewers to feel. Mohit Suri tries to use the cause-effect relationship and is partly successful in doing so. The problem lies in the unconvincing revenge drama more so than the overtly Bollywood-ish romantic saga.

Shraddha Kapoor has a strong screen presence and whenever she’s on the screen, it’s a delight. Her loud acting in the opening sequences and prolixity apart, Shraddha is okay in her role of the goody, good princess who finds her prince charming in the unlikely goon, the angry young man, Guru. Sidharth Malhotra was better than he was in Student of the Year (2012), and even though, he looks like a clear-cut model for men’s inner wear than the badass shown in the movie, not his fault to be honest, he deliverers a decent performance.

The various analogies and tidbits Suri uses in the movie calls for a smart sense of detail like the first marriage in the Church between an old couple—where Guru starts developing feelings for Aisha—becomes the holy ground where Guru realizes his path towards redemption. The scene between Rakesh and our very own Kamaal Rashid Khan (as Brijesh) shows Rakesh minutely observing the reaction of Brijesh’s wife to the outburst of her husband, expecting some sort of reaction, giving us a glance into Rakesh’s mentality and his loathing for women who blabber too much, except his beloved wife played by Aamna Sharif.

Despite all the inspirations, Ek Villain is a movie that could have been a classic thriller if Suri had created meaningful semblance between the two parallel layers of the movie reducing those cheesy romantic sequences, whilst enhancing the revenge saga by focusing more on it than on the love angle. It’s still a decent watch and many would perhaps enjoy it. It has the Mohit Suri ingredients, which has resulted in many box-office successes for him over the years. As a movie though, Ek Villain rides high on the performance of Ritesh Deshmukh, the inspirational quotes of inspiring personalities, and the evolution of Guru—from a ruthless killer to a devoted messiah. The final scene of the movie is a beautiful gesture and when the ending is spot on, it’s hard not to come out vindicated.

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Final recommendations – Don’t go in with high expectations. It’s a typical imbalanced Suri flick, but with excellent music and a strong performance by the antagonist (Ritesh Deskhmukh). The story is passable, the revenge drama not quite so.

Maleficent (2014) – The Tenant of the Moors

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Cast

Angelina Jolie as Maleficent
Elle Fanning as Aurora
Sharlto Copley as Stefan
Sam Riley as Diaval
Imelda Staunton as Knotgrass
Lesley Manville as Flittle
Juno Temple as Thistletwit
Isobelle Molloy as Young Maleficent
Michael Higgins as Young Stefan

Every moment has a long trace behind it. What our eyes see is hardly closer to the imperial realities leading to that moment. Keeping that in mind, Poe approved, “Believe nothing of what you hear and only half of what you see.” The story of Sleeping Beauty by Charles Perrault is the version all of us have heard, read, and seen. The old fairytale about Princess Aurora’s 100 years a sleep slave is revamped in this new version of Sleeping Beauty, this time from the perspective of Maleficent, going back to her roots and learning about her, a bit, and discovering that she is not exactly the preacher of evil as portrayed in the original fairytale.

As such tales usually start, once upon a time, there lived a fairy by the name of Maleficent who protected the Moors from humans, utterly savage humans enslaved by greed and lust. She was the generous Queen Fairy who befell into humanly love with a mortal, Stefan—the future ruler of the Kingdom and father of Princess Aurora. In his lust for power, Stefan betrays Maleficent using her weakness against metals and detaching her wings from her body—turning her into the Dark Mistress of All Evil that she went to be known as—from the original Compassionate Fairy and Protector of the Moors that she was. As the fairytale has it, Maleficent curses Princess Aurora on her christening to fall in a deep sleep after pricking her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel on her 16th birthday. The rest, as they say, is history—but not quite in this reinvigorated tale of Maleficent directed by Robert Stromberg and prudently adapted by Linda Woolverton.

The basic premise remains the same to the fairytale, but this live-action epic retells the story of Princess Aurora from Maleficent’s point of view. The narration by Janet McTeer (as the elderly Princess Aurora) embezzles the movie with an almost bookish, fairytale-esque aura—rekindling the warmth of the classic fairytale that we have all felt in our childhood. The same warmth in McTeer’s voice carries on to the screen showing us young Maleficent bubbling in her own charms filled with innocence, and falling for a meager human, Stefan.

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Going to a period before Maleficent became The Maleficent; the backstory is detailed and has a comprehensiveness to tell us what really happened, why it happened, and how did it all come to a head in the grand finale. Very convincing, we ultimately feel for her predicament and as evil as she turns out, every drip of pain and anguish in Maleficent’s life caused by King Stefan shakes the viewer in support for her and in sympathy towards her degeneration from the sunny protector fairy to the dreaded, almost gothic, dark mistress of evil.

For somebody who grew up reading these tales, Maleficent will be another trip back to those nostalgic lanes. With a plot that ventures into the psychology of the Dark Angel, the story is rich in allegory. A critic gives life to art, said Wilde, and taking that liberty—in this aesthetic restating of an immortal story, the themes of politics and democracy live subtly within. After all, Maleficent protected her Kingdom from humans and by hook or crook, in this retelling, she manages to unify the Moors and the Kingdom into one utopia  under a compassionate, noble, and worthy Princess, later Queen, Aurora. It could count as a master class lesson of chess by the tactical genius within Maleficent, no doubt, but the story might be a bit deeper for the fairytale that is Sleeping Beauty. Maleficent is without question profounder than the archetypical children fantasy, and that makes it stand out as a unique recycling, whilst bestowing a fresh life into this universal classic.

Angelina Jolie as Maleficent overpowers the ginormous special effects, dazzling in its own right, with the role of the enigmatic mistress giving her a much-needed reprise as an actor. There are several scenes in the movie featuring Jolie, not being specific to maintain sobriety, which makes you feel for her loneliness, with the pain visible in her mannerisms and the grief in her expressions. The transformation of the Moors swiftly reverberating Maleficent’s transformation from the bright, sundry angel to the dark, twisted fairy makes it a sight to watch, which along with the dark composition vindicates the change, in turn inventing the movie as an emotional rollercoaster and an engaging watch, rich at times, gloomy at others—but thoroughly enjoyable at all times.

Many were skeptical about Sleeping Beauty getting a makeover, yet Maleficent is not only just a makeover relevant to this time and age, it also reveals the inner conscience and psychology of a woman left to shreds. It is like peeling the layers of an onion going a notch deeper exploring human nature and psychology—why events turn out to be as they are and how everything is an effect of some cause that is never visible, yet the effect is always pronounced. In that way, Maleficent is stark, philosophical, and reflects the graver aspects, which is why it seems many have not been able to digest the gravity of the matter here.

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With some of the best CGI and special effects complimented by a strong performance by Jolie and a joyous flip of an old story, Maleficent is Disney’s classic feel-good tale that tells about love, forgiveness, redemption, and the virtue of goodness. Maleficent makes you emotional with the story showing that love exists at all levels—not merely as described in original fairytales or in the glamorous world of romance. A complete family extravaganza full of emotions, and with a strong message of transformation attached to it, do thyself a favor: watch Maleficent. It will really make you feel good.

The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) – Once upon a Time

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People only ever remember the grand moments far and in between their lives. Life is but a series of moments with a few defining ones and the rest existing because of the great excursions in the few moments that shape us as who we are and define our lives from here until one remains alive in the memories of those who care. Quite fitting, The Grand Budapest Hotel is a story about such moments from such times about certain people who dared to think higher, and about a fragile period in history—only told in a romanticized manner by the unsanctioned King of Romanticism in movies, Wesley Anderson.

The Grand Budapest Hotel starts with a statue of a deceased author at a cemetery. A girl, carrying the book The Grand Budapest Hotel is seen paying homage to The Author. As she dwells into the book, the story flows along narrated by The Author (Tom Wilkinson). Soon we reach the fictional nation of the Republic of Zubrowka, in a dreaded condition due to the savaged war, and usher into The Grand Budapest Hotel, bereft of the charm, as The Author, now young (Jude Law), enquires about an old man meditating in silence on his chair—amidst the vast space of the hotel.

Zero Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham), his name and as it stands, the owner of The Grand Budapest Hotel; The Author comes to know about this hermit, who lives as a meek in one of the staff quarters despite owning the hotel. The camera rolls to that room—a small, insignificant hermitage of Zero, but with a legacy unparalleled dating back to the heyday of Grand Budapest Hotel, when he was a tiny lobby boy (Toni Revolori as the young Zero). Zero Moustafa invites The Author for dinner and with this excuse, he would finally tell his story, the story of the grand hotel—revisiting the life and times of the greatest concierge of the hotel, the man, the myth, perhaps legend, Monsieur Gustave H. (played by the unmistakable Ralph Fiennes).

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Travelling through three generations in a mere 100 minutes, The Grand Budapest Hotel gives us a sneak peek of Europe at its most happening age. The story moves from the modern age of democracy going back to the fringes of communism and further back into an age of military power, class distinctions, and the peak of bourgeois culture—when riches was heritage and power was inheritance. Amongst all these heavy dynamics of politics and ideologies, we have M. Gustave H., managing The Grand Budapest Hotel—the most happening hotel in all of Europe. This mystical concierge who is also prone to loving embraces with elderly beauties, rich and wealthy, seeking love only this man could bring to their empty safe boxes, Grand Budapest Hotel is nostalgic—expositing art and sophistication.

These melodious visual hymns deflect the serious topics of human bonding, the frivolous nature of social norms, and the constraints of time into a well-packaged crime caper satirizing the ever-changing dynamics of society and showing life in its mutability and the triumph of moments over the whole, quality over quantity, and depth over superficiality. Nobody quite paints such stories as Wes Anderson himself and in this fairytale about larger than life characters, Anderson draws a picture of European society just around the same period as the second manifesto of the Surrealistic Movement appeared.

The first glimpses of The Grand Budapest Hotel take us to a visual ride of the almost surreal landscape of the hotel and the surroundings of this state of the art luxury repose. The camera flies past these vibrant scenes and settles on the dreamlike railway soaring towards the peak, the hotel itself, almost signifying the heights of this grand hotel in comparison to the lowlands of the ordinary. Yet, The Grand Budapest Hotel is specialized in accepting the affluent as guests and the prosperous as friends akin to the social traditions of the 30s when the gulf between the oppressor and the oppressed was as wide as the elegance of the grand hotel and the coarseness of reality.

Wes Anderson’s artistic palette once again works extra time in glorifying the, almost, absurd drama—nothing more than a crime caper, as a genre, but richer and deeper as a cinema, as a story. Nostalgia almost seems to be the theme of this movie, with Anderson paying a tribute to the ultimate dysfunctional story, that of Europe itself. In fact, the movie is one for those who love to live in the past. Zero Moustafa, in the story, clings on to the best days of his life and keeps hold of his cherished, The Grand Budapest Hotel, despite the pangs of communism destroying the once central hub of joy and hospitality. The Author pays his version of remembrance to Grand Budapest Hotel and the great lives around this grand hotel. As a viewer, one finds many such levels of individual nostalgia in this embroidery knit with various sentiments, values, and moments—almost defining the lives and times of the people in the mesmeric world of the movie (shot exclusively in Germany).

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The splendor of the characters in the movie is almost like those legends people hear with each person considering himself or herself an authority on the subject. Summoning their version with panache, as if they were present when all that occurred, yet due to its mythical status, every individual has something to offer and more often, it would be worthy of lending an ear to in an attempt to grasp all the legends surrounding this docile place as it turned out, but once the beam of glory. The same enthusiasm is present in every frame; Anderson bringing his signature style and giving life and vigor to each scene, whilst concealing the deeper meanings behind the majestic mise en scène and the humorous comedy of errors.

Under these masks, we find the other secrets of human solidarity and the value of acceptance and friendship flying high, but masterfully, the themes of degeneration and innocence—that has always remained with Anderson—finds ample space in this magnum opus. Perhaps why Grand Budapest Hotel is so alluring is due to the inherent yearning of the past and the wish to grope with past glories, even in darkness, viewers themselves are lost in this mesmeric realm rafting in the scenic storm with quirky characters, themselves vain but adorably inspiring.

The story of this absurd movie is so very simple, yet the contrasting elements of seriousness hidden almost propels the movie as one bewildering piece of art, where one cannot comprehend whether to smile in appreciation or frown at the emancipation of such glorious times. Wes Anderson sets a subtle, light tone and adds his own spice to a movie that is simply about proving a man’s innocence, but you are left to ponder because it does contain so much than mere jailbreak that it’s almost hypnotic in the way it draws you to into the story, into that era. All such conceptions were squashed when I realized the man behind Anderson’s inspiration, Stefan Zweig—the great European writer from the pre-Nazi era, perhaps stretching to the Nazi era during an age of stupendous literary movements in Europe. Without any wondering, the philosophical tilt of this rather metaphorical story is inspired from Zweig’s own psychoanalytical interests mixed with realism, the longings of Anderson, and their ethereal collaboration—ironical on its own.

Common in Anderson’s previous movies too, Grand Budapest Hotel feels like one of those Shakespearean plays, but perhaps more so than ever. The bittersweet ending not merely one of the devices, the plotting is in a style Shakespeare structured his plays, and the rich ambience so mirroring the operas and the staging—almost like uttering poetry—Grand Budapest Hotel feels like a rehash of Shakespeare’s great plays on the screen. With the intelligent wits and the spiky twists and turns before the great climax, the story, apart from the alluring visuals, is engaging until the end and when it does end, a positive vibe ensues. How fitting, the verses define this movie—a lyrical staging on the screen, and a walking tribute to those who love to look back.

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Grand Budapest Hotel is a treat to watch and has everything you’d expect from a Wes Anderson film. Alluring visuals, assorted characters busy in their own unions, a time and space in oblivion, a unique variation of aspects ratios adhering to the era on-screen, and a humorous spin of an otherwise grave topic—it is picturesque showcasing the photography of a painter and the storytelling quirks of a neo-Shakespearean. Undoubtedly one of Anderson’s finest attempts and last but definitely not the least, a paramount performance by Ralph Fiennes mixing humor with panache with hospitality with wits with ardor and with bravura, one of the best from Fiennes and how lucky that he got the role of Gustave H. instead of the original choice, Johnny Depp.

Watch it to experience it, absorb it to realize it—Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel brings back memories of the glory of Romanticism.

Inception (2010) – Shattered Dreams

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Ten hours flying in the sky, a journey of a lifetime, and it could last 50 years in a state beyond consciousness—that’s just a sneak peek into a world of a dream within a dream. Billionaire energy executive Saito (Ken Watanabe) offers master extractor Dom Cobb, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, an assignment that could end his forced exile if he pulls it off. The plan is to implant an idea into the mind of energy tycoon Robert Fischer (Cillian Murphy), heir to the most powerful energy empire, by subconsciously cajoling him into doing the opposite of what a true businessperson would, consolidate and concentrate; instead, Cobb is supposed to inject the idea persuading Fischer to voluntarily dismantle his empire. An absurd idea and perhaps, out of mind, but that’s Inception in all its imperfections.

If Inception proves anything, it has to be Christopher Nolan’s stylish storytelling prowess. You have to hand it to him for staggering audiences with a fairly well-known plot surrounded by a nifty theme that has defined originality in movies, to some extent, in spite of being a signature heist drama from Hollywood. A template movie as such, Inception is a dazzling prototype demonstrating the art of innovative reprisal. It might be vain, although, to call it a reprise. After all, 4 years ago when it first hit the screens, the movie met with a plethora of rave reviews and audience acceptance—many considering it one of the most intelligent movies of our time. Hardly off the mark.

Inception is no doubt a shrewd movie, but what takes it a notch above is the intelligent treatment of a basic action drama with shades of espionage. For this sole purpose, Nolan deserves the plaudits for doing the ordinary in an extraordinary way. Consequently, people are bound to remember this brain-twisting saga for the story but also, more precisely, for arresting the imagination of viewers, thereby, involving them in the process of constructing and demolishing a mysterious labyrinth called, that’s right, inception.

Throughout the movie, one can’t help but recall Edgar Allan Poe’s poem, “A Dream Within a Dream.” The poem accurately summarizes the myriad of mayhem surrounding the inner and outer realities of our central protagonist here. The nature of Cobb is almost as delusional as Poe’s speaker in the gothic poem. Also, much of the high-fi Laws of Inception point to the gist the poem wishes to impart, which of course mayn’t be anywhere near Nolan’s psyche when he wrote this startling story, but the tone of the movie is similar to Poe’s hallucinatory poem on the flux of reality.

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In Inception, Nolan creates a maze of illusion in which dreams marry a singular reality, creating chaos in the process—ultimately extinguishing the thin line between subjective reality and objective truth. It’s not just a story about dreams within dreams. It’s rather a perspective into what is real, what feels real, and the abyss that we know as conscious existence. The dazzling effects and the fascinating gimmick notwithstanding, Inception speaks volumes on the philosophy of existence and the power of freewill. People have subjective memories and interpretations and we don’t need to dwell into sophisticated trances and dream travels to understand how reality comes from acceptance—embracing life in all its color, mood, and texture.

Some of the effects in this juggernaut are dreamlike, no pun intended. Paradoxical, the tinting and curling of walls, the coiling of streets and architecture, and the space devoid of gravity, these absurd realities almost point to a surrealistic state of mind—giving Inception a dysfunctional preview. This mixture of reality with dreams, the surreal, also attaches the movie with profundity; each action having a rippling effect, and the vulnerabilities increase as the characters go deeper into their states of fantasy.

As such, Inception solely treads on the path of Dom Cobb more than any other character. It wouldn’t have been off the mark if the movie was named The Life and Times of Dom Cobb and is most effective that way. The intricacies and greyness of Cobb keeps the clock ticking. As a man in peril, dejected, living with a devastating secret, and incapable of letting go of the past; we have a usual plot—one chance at retribution—and a traditional trapped protagonist who has to let go of his past to fulfill his desires. Cobb is the heartbeat here and as the protagonist (or anti-hero), his character brings a parallel layer of intrigue boosting the multi-layered approach Nolan adopts in the movie. Complimenting Cobb, we have other eccentric characters—a peculiar medical expert (Dileep Rao as Yusuf), another expert in forgery and deception (Tom Hardy as Eames), and an information geek (Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Arthur). Then, we have a certified architect who also happens to be a charmer (Ellen Page as Ariadne)—working, both, as the pivot of the story and as the shrink for the main character.

Inception takes one simple plot, fixes it with a clever concept and under the astute direction of Christopher Nolan, here we are now, the movie is on the verge of achieving cult status. The primary selling point for me was the destructive love story between Cobb and femme fatale Mal (played by Marion Cotillard). Those dreary and devastating moments, a powerful showcase by Cotillard as the diffused Mal, hijacking Cobb’s consciousness into a self-created prison of illusion stands out as the most intriguing cog in this well-oiled machine—working as a major plot device, punctuating the story, and bringing everything together as one complete whole.

The action and eventuality are less compelling compared to the occurrences and episodes, which in itself is fascinating followed by the complex science of travelling in dreams, constructing mazes (dreamscaping), and escaping the same. By less compelling, I don’t mean to suggest it’s not good. Far from that, but Inception makes you want to experience the process and know more about it than merely watch cars fly, buildings collapse, guns soar, and people thump one another. The climax also becomes an afterthought because the happenings just so happen to be very interesting. That is the biggest positive of Inception—it’s not just watching to know what happens, it’s watching because the lives and times in the movie are just that bit impressive.

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Inception is a smart movie from a very smart filmmaker. A mundane story about emotions mingles in a spiritual sphere and this tantalizing fusion of the ordinary with the extraordinary does the trick. As a filmmaker, Nolan enjoys startling his audiences, but I see nothing more than emotions in Inception. It’s right around the same level as Nolan’s previous brain twister, Memento (2000). Both have their strengths and weaknesses, yet the production value understandably sets Inception apart (from Memento). As a movie, there is hardly much to choose between the two. Personally though, his finest might be the bleak psychological thriller, Insomnia (2002), which stages guilt at its optimum. Sometimes simplicity simply rules.

In the case of Inception, the chaotic character of Cobb, the intrusive romance between Cobb and Mal, and the brilliant concept of dreamscaping might slot it as one of the most innovate movies of our time and an exemplary milestone in modern filmmaking.

City Lights (2014) – Life in a Metro

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Hansal Mehta’s City Lights depicts light beaming through the corridors of Mumbai in a demographic way. Contrasting much to daylight, these bright and sparky nocturnal lights of Mumbai tell its own story of a family seeking illumination—living in dimness when the entire city is grinning in florescence. The ignition of radiance being the major symbolic contrivance of the movie, Hansal Mehta shows us the cold world of Mumbai in its blurred nakedness prompting viewers an experience into, what many call, the City of Dreams, Sapno ki Seher, Mumbai. As such, City Lights is a movie about people who gaze into the mesmeric lights from their dappled huts of dread and scarcity—asking us, the viewers, a question—are those sources of nightly radiance only narrowed to those few who can?

A remake of the discretely acclaimed British-Filipino movie, Metro Manila (2013), written and directed by Sean Ellis, the team of City Lights, acclimatizes the Filipino story to Indian quirks—creating a characterized hybrid drama, with Rajkumar Rao as Deepak Singh heading the journey to the theater of dreams alongside his wife, Raakhi played by the incumbent Patralekha, with a stern, almost contrasting, grace. Deepak, Raakhi, and their daughter Maahi, leave the exoticness of Rajasthan for the crude reality of Mumbai to earn a happy, fulfilling life.

Once they arrive to the city, shown cold, calculating, and detached by the makers, things don’t gel for the family at the beginning. They are tricked into losing all their money by some sharks and are relegated to the streets of this heartless city. When circumstances start maneuvering in their favor, the spark runs out and the lights pervading the city turn into an endless nocturnal dump crushing the inner flame of hope, optimism, and vivacity by the pragmatic realities of paucity, starvation, and the sheer will to survive. City Lights follows the romantic voyage of Deepak and Raakhi, from their parish in Rajasthan to the dead coasts of Mumbai—a test of time and patience for both, a reality check, and a plunge into the heartless depths of the mechanical city in search for something to live by, cling on, hope for…

Coming from a director with the pedigree of Hansal Mehta, City Lights has a throng of positive facets working in its favor. The story, by Sean Ellis, is a daunting reflection of the reality not only in Manila or Mumbai, but also in most areas of the underdeveloped communities in the world. At its heart, City Lights is a story of a man’s quest to respect, prosperity. It follows the basic principles of the right to life, dignity, and the pursuit of happiness. With such a rudimentary concept, the story is extraordinary, and the way it unfolds coaxing Deepak or Raakhi into their exclusive nests is a representative of solicitous storytelling by Hansal Mehta. This Indian version of Metro Manila vindicates the decision to remake a movie that might be an echo of the predicament of various people, with dreams of flying high in those skyscrapers, but in reality, being emblazoned, crumpled by the taciturnity of those very towers.

Touching, distinct, City Lights, as a movie dethrones the glamorous side of films, revelling in the hardcore—a custom in which reality overtakes the tinges of allure; the performers helming credible performances and dashing the screen with a painful charm. Perhaps the penultimate prize the movie could boast of, the genuineness, the realness of the performances, the mannerisms, the dilemma, their quandary, and the way they jostle into and out of the situation; the domain and the destiny of people in that world is real, unpretentious—second only to reality. Without any hint of surprise, the performances reflect the phenomenal veracity of the story.

Rajkumar Rao as Deepak convinces the viewer of the quandary from which he needs to get out to salvage his wife’s dignity and his daughter’s future. After Shahid and now City Lights, Bollywood has a powerful actor in Rajkumar Rao. His wife, the beautiful Raakhi played by Patralekha, conveys her misgivings through those sensitive expressions—telling everything, even her silence echoing back, whilst convincing viewers of her faithfulness and her purity amidst the impure world of Mumbai. Another strong performance comes from Manav Kaul, as Deepak’s supervisor and friend. Prevailing in his attempt to win over Deepak and setting alight a plan to accomplish their dreams, the actor, Manav Kaul, gives a knock-out blow as the subtle cerebral assassin, and a mere friend of Deepak, in need and perhaps indeed.

City Lights is transfixing, almost contrasting to everything Bollywood stands for. Heavy in dramatic elements, devoid of the cumbersome aspects derailing movies, City Lights is a vivid movie about the basics of life, love, and survival. Presented in a faithful manner, it’s arguably the best movie to come out from Mumbai this year and alongside Queen holds a firm ground as a movie par excellence. Despite being a remake, it avowals an enchanting impression making it a faithful romance of existence and endurance, a movie that engrosses you, engrams your imagination, and creates a world that seems as real as reality, as sincere as the truth.

City Lights is an exceptional drama carrying a rich ambience, whilst using symbols to captivate the viewer and convey a message about a small section of reality that might be the largest section in existence, yet the one least sheltered in truth. Formidable, a comprehensive study of human society and struggles, City Lights serves as an alarming revelation of all the possibilities, and is a movie rich as a story, authentic as an exhibition, and arresting as a retelling of a tale beyond curtains. A must watch, and one of the best from Mumbai this year!

El Ángel Exterminador (1962) – The Exterminating Angel

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Affluence is a stain, a privilege exclusive to the notorieties of one community in contrast to the other slices of society, underprivileged, oppressed, and living as mere cogs in a grand machine run by the elites, Marx called—the bourgeois. In The Exterminating Angel, Luis Buñuel explores the world of the ostensible well-heeled benefactors of society, their social interaction, cognition, and the maquillage separating them from others, whilst forming a vivid imagery of their lives and times. The Father of Surrealism in Films, as he is known, the Spanish filmmaker made films in Spain, Mexico, and France—constructing a distinctive style heavy in alignment with the Surrealist Movement of the 1920s. Although, Luis Buñuel’s career spanned a decorating forty years, it wasn’t until the 60s and 70s, when he came on his own as a legendary filmmaker and creator of a niche, a Cinema most distinctively hailed as the Luis Buñuel Cinema.

The Exterminating Angel follows the tracks of Surrealism borrowing the lens of satire, a critique on the high society of Spain, almost reminiscent of the era around the Spanish Civil War. A group of prosperous families arrives at a dinner party organized by Señor y Señora Nobile. The high society dinner gathering reflects the mentality, the gimmicks of these elites and under the mask of cordiality and courtesy, we see shades of loathe, lust, envy, and disdain for one another—a cluster filled with pretentious charms and an abhor for the rest of humanity, perhaps even their own kind.

Joyful and full of merry, the invitees engage in mutual showcase of hypocrisy and have, what it appears, a glorious evening. After a beautiful piece of sonata by a woman, the etiquettes of the party fade away and the hour of departure approaches, but the guests find themselves unable to leave the lavish mansion, the music room, and opt to retire on the sofas, the chairs, and the floors of the room itself. Each of the guest reposes in the music room and by next morning, their inability to leave the premise becomes obvious. There is no physical reason for their apprehension, but precisely—apprehension it is, the psychological kind.

Since its release, The Exterminating Angel has gained a cult status. A metaphorical satire on the high society life, the movie may be set around Spanish diaspora, but as a cinema, the relevance could be stretched to all corners where the slant of class-based discrimination exists. Luis Buñuel takes a surreal approach, which is his forte, emphasizing on the communion of the subconscious and the conscious, the dream and the reality in formulating an austere story. It’s also ironical as the movie is almost comical to watch; the mockery viewers witness on the screen, mockery of human populous and the fictitious line of demarcation humans have drawn against their fellow humans, appears in a realist light.

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Much similar to a group of people stranded in an isolated island, the degeneration of these assumptive individuals, claiming to be on the right side of the demarcation line, grow dreary as they find themselves stuck in a perverse predicament. Soon the inmates, if one would, grow desperate for freedom and basic human necessity, and turn into savage creatures morphing their demeanor from elegance to barbarianism—becoming the antithesis of their own beliefs and standpoints.  Through such a stark mess, Luis Buñuel uses this vehicle to ridicule the presumptive and pompous nature of human beings. When it comes down to it, not one individual, save for a Buddha or a Jesus, could withstand the calling of savagery with a point vision to survive and live as humans and not creatures stuck in a tenacious fix. Whether part of the elites, or living as a meek proletariat, the theory of survival applies to all beings, and Luis Buñuel makes a practical statement on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs though this satirical drama—almost mystifying.

Whilst the guests are unable to leave because of their psychological make-up, not due to a physical defect, the rescuers outside the mansion aren’t capable of rescuing these stranded people either for the exact same reason. They just cannot seem to enter the mansion, even when they try. To put this into perspective, this inner apprehension might indicate the unwillingness of the high society people to allow others into their life and inner circle. Along with that, neither do these people care about those outside their society or dare and get closer to them, nor do the people from the other society dare or wish to come closer to these oppressors of life and living. Very symbolic indeed, The Exterminating Angel explores extermination of such insensible and ludicrous mechanisms that are neither real nor unreal, but exist as an omnipresent distortion of society.

When one of the women in the room (plot point ahead), La Valkiria (Silvia Pinal), as she is illusorily called, realizes the spatial positioning of all the guests—almost a replica of their positions during the twilight of the party, she pledges all to repeat their actions and seek liberation by accepting the right time in letting go, embracing change, and moving on. Letting go might be the central plug of the movie and unlike in the first instance, when the guests are rigid and pompous—stomping over others in their self-indulgence, this time around, the guests grow into miserable mortals having unmasked their illusions and forced to sustain as beings they’ve learned and lived to loathe all along. In simple words, when it’s time to release the grip, time to call it a day, or a time when one realizes that the only way back is forward, one should take the opportunity because life moves on and moving on is the only universal fact of life. The climax is revealing in similar ways. In almost a repeat of the same scenario, in a Church this time, people seem unable to leave. Armies take the initiative and fire gunshots this time, which could be representative of a revolution, or of hitting back. A cornered cat can be very dangerous—probably another analogy in a way to define this indefinable chapter.

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The Exterminating Angel is classic cinema rich with a social message and presented in an immaculate style real to the surreal filmmaker. Serving as a metaphorical rendering of a universal theme, the movie is true to Luis Buñuel’s interpretation of cinema and one of the finest from the enigmatic director. Trying to find meanings to the symbols in the movie might be futile, even though, ironically, that has been the prime motive of this analysis. With that, The Exterminating Angel exterminates any other interpretation and endorses Buñuel’s vision of cinema as an artistic field—open to multiple interpretations. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so they say. In the case of this movie, a glaring, contrasting tale of social classes, Luis Buñuel’s effort magnifies the bizarre world through the way thoughts function and the manner in which thoughts aid in interpreting a situation. Interpretations are always subjective and as a school of Philosophy, Solipsism, adds—only one’s mind can be known. Any other form of reality may not exist; hence, reality is subjective and never objective. Frames the world of Luis Buñuel’s cinema in one line!

Her (2013) – Social Networking

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Her is clear-cut. It’s a straight romantic drama gilded with a sci-fi element providing it a noticeable platform in creating a sophisticated predicament to tell a story that has been told countless times before and perhaps will share many more such instances if the success and raving reviews of Her are anything to go by. In that sense, Her is a picture perfect movie about relationships in a technological deterministic world, where social relationships degenerate into a bubble of obscurity, when humans seek companionship of machines, artificially intelligent machines, to fill the void glaring in their lives. Such is the melody of Her.

Starring Joaquin Phoenix as the lonely, depressed Theo coming off a noxious breakup against childhood sweetheart, Catherine (Rooney Mara), Theo finds love through the state-of-the-art computer operating system, OS 1—who calls herself, or itself, Samantha (Scarlett Johansson). Enter the grace of this OS rich in empathy, clouded by feelings, and a gregariousness of human epitome, Samantha brings love to Theo and in return, she gets the undiluted affection of the same man once lonely and suffering the pangs of separation.

Some movies are an exhibition of the austerity of cinema and symbolize the sheen of movies. Others are perplexing for various reasons. Some may be the perennial offbeat experience, whilst others may be the experience out of expression one gains watching a story unfold. After all, it’s life in motion and cinema is a medium of an expression that is born from words and climaxes with the perception of each unique individual. From an observational standpoint, Her is a paradox. It appears in the spaces between words, as the enigmatic reality called Samantha puts it in the movie, which is quite a right phrase to explain the world of Her in all its relativity.

I would classify Her in two categories. First, as a cinema and second, as a story. Talking about the cinematic composition of Her, the movie is a chef-d’oeuvre of art and expression. When I talk of the cinematic aspect, I’m capturing the essence of Her as an aesthetic enterprise focusing on the gloss that enhances the experience of cinema. We’ve probably seen this movie many times before. We’ve heard this story many more times, as such. But there is something about the lyrical screenplay of Her that catches you—holds on to you and lets you relax, enjoying the steady ride peeving into the life of one man and his interpretations of dreams. The unfolding of a clichéd story that could be interchanged to another setting or another dimension overwhelms the story itself and Spike Jonze gets the screenplay of the movie right, even though the premise is dazzling, yet the story isn’t quite up to the mark. That’s also where the aesthetic overtakes the story…

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Almost romantic in its swift, languid visuals, Her creates a world that is both warm and distant. When you observe the world around Theo, his quandary, and those various people around him, Her sets a subtle tone that engrosses your fancy and creates a mood that is euphoric at times, deliberate at others, and plain gloomy many other times, yet Jonze never fails to highlight the giant influence our surrounding, the society, and Nature has on us—no matter how much we evolve as a being and as a technological marvel. That, right there, flies high as the central theme of the movie under the multifarious mask of social relationship, technological singularity, technological determination—the underlying current of evolution and where it leads us—becomes the single-pointed foundation of Her. Wrapping these complex mechanisms that may be theoretical today, practical tomorrow, Her resembles a painted veil under which we find hidden the core of connection. How ironic, the fabricated connection of networks seems to be sweeping us away from the physical, natural connection that is the foundation of singularity in the world—from human singularity to technological singularity, the evolution of the world stemming from one root dashes into a zone promising to alienate one from the other and as always, the casualties are no one else but us, the morbid, vulnerable, and invincibly weak human beings.

The philosophy of Her, captured in a rhythmic motion; Her is just soothing to watch, even though the silence in that sphere is deafening. The deafening silence through the instinctive musical composition compliments the feel of the movie. While watching the movie, you’re taken back by the touching composition (Arcade Fire) ornamenting the grand experience, whilst giving us a firsthand information of the ailing absurdity presented in this exotic milieu called Her. Perhaps the biggest compliment would be that the background score makes this movie what it is. Despite the story being a glorified rom-com, the soothing, intuitive score facilitates the birth of a spiritual mood. This platonic score meshing with a musical cinematography (Hoyte van Hoytema), along with a terrific production design, the aesthetics of Her are hard to match, yet as an experience, it’s absorbing and dynamic—bewitching, for lack of a better word.

Flowering Her with all these adjectives, still, I found the story of Her to be the weakest link. The romantic relationship between a human and a machine may sound promising, but when it comes to the delivery of such a great premise, the story suffers from the same old treatment rom-coms are prone to suffer—great premise and decent progression, then the death of being in a Catch 22 situation. By the end, Her turns into a melodramatic saga, an affair between a man and a machine, with the makers, it would appear, losing vision on whether to sway philosophical, end it as a spiritual revitalization, or ultimately shed the message that each kind is designed for their kind and only such can take this massive ball of consciousness ahead, which if true is a deep thought translated awkwardly onto screen.

Take the instance of Samantha, replace her with your ordinary Jane or Mary, what difference would that provide? Not much… Perhaps instead of a machine with a sultry, sexy voice, we’d find an average looking human with an average voice. The point: the status quo would remain the same. The underlying crisis wouldn’t change and as far as humans go, that’s just the way we are, but for machines, the evolution of machines seems to be way out of the fizz called human understanding. For such a marvel of Nature, fabricated marvel that is, the standpoint stands completely different because they’re looking at the broader picture and we’re mere selfish social animals… Now the major point, isn’t that always the reason for grief in relationships? We’re always looking at the same scenario with different shades… In this entire tussle, I actually found Amy Adams’ character (as Amy) the most interesting and relatable. Amy’s simplicity, expressions, and the pure incorruptibility of her character were far touching and elaborate than Samantha’s fictitious tension, or Theo’s aura of dejection.

Regardless, Her is a complicated translation of relating. I wouldn’t call it relationships because it sounds passive. Relating sounds active and Her tries to cover the active trait of relating. In doing so, it manages to inspire us with the detailed camerawork, soulful music, and of course, the beautiful heavenly, isolated paradise at display in the movie. The way the movie unfolds; that’s perhaps not up to the level one would seek. Essentially, Her is stereotypical, has the same generic approach we see in most romantic comedies, but you’d still enjoy it and what sets it apart from the rest is the concept and the world we experience in the film.

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I won’t say I was as enlightened by the movie as many have been, but I’m glad I watched it and you owe it a watch too. Old wine, new bottle seems apt, but underneath the old wine, there’s a disquieting message and a bird’s eye view of our society and the direction we desire to move towards in the name of scientific evolution. Consequently, Her has a piercing downhearted tone to it, which it manages to convey. Amidst all the techno-craft and post-modernization phenomenon, some aspects of life never change. We never really stop connecting, whether it’s through visible wires, waves, invisible wires, or using the most aboriginal techniques of connection; we always seek that tiny bit of network, our tiny world we call it. Precisely, what Her wants to transport: the world of connections and in a silly, lovely, and flawed manner, Her manages to analyze society and more importantly, human understanding. All of this, in a visual way taking us through one end of the spectrum, the human side, to the other end of the same tube, the inhuman side. It’s always about Her after all, is it not?

Godzilla (2014) – King of Monsters

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In this reboot of the Godzilla franchise, much closer in resemblance to the series created by Toho Co. Ltd., we watch the King of Monsters pit against a massive unidentified terrestrial organism (MUTO) born out of abuse of radioactive chemicals in humankind’s quest to rule the world. As a reaction to such human cockiness, a destructive, hybrid of a terrestrial crawler and a sky sailing ave comes to existence and that could only mean that human existence in itself is at stake. It’s either them or us. Then again, let’s not ignore the role of Mother Nature. Using the truest adage, Nature evens everything out, Godzilla appears out of this chaos to eliminate the MUTO, and when it comes to knowledge that there’s not one but two of them out there, we’re set for an enthralling finale—a double bonanza, it’s Superhero Gojira vs. the Evil forces of human garbage. It’s show time, baby!

For a grand Hollywood fanatical movie, Godzilla is a damn impressive tale of human cockiness. Although, it’s filmed in a generic summer blockbuster format, Godzilla has the leverage to push the entrance of our main attraction, Gojira, as further possible despite not losing audience attention and interest. The first hour of the movie goes into building for the grand climax. In any other case, it would have had us in a maze of boredom, but knowing what to expect and the, by now, mystical and mythological charm of Godzilla, it keeps us anticipating the eventual entry of the showstopper. When it does make its heavyweight entrance, I felt like cheering for the unlikely hero, or villain, or antihero, or even antivillian, whatever seems appropriate. This mystical unsegregated characteristic of Gojira makes it appealing and a fantastic way to conclude the movie, with the King of Monsters fighting against other monsters, and humans—as tiny as ants—left to sit there is awe at the mercy of Nature’s calling.

Gareth Edwards, known for his Sci-fi thriller Monsters (2010), takes this reboot further than his predecessor Roland Emmerich managed in 1998, which is commendable for Edwards as he gives a new twist to this otherwise usual Hollywood summer blockbuster, only this time showing Gojira in a positive light as it’s been shown many times in Japan already. I did find the involvement of American military and the surge of the superpower a bit whimsical and regular, if you will. Nonetheless, when you look at the theme of this reboot, it almost seems justified that a superpower called America is dwarfed, bewildered by the children of Nature that is neither in control of the most sophisticated militia in the world nor comprehensible to the nation that makes other nations seem petite, like tiny dots. Here we have—three gigantic forces of Nature born out of human indulgence making a mockery out of human beings, human abilities.

With the staggering visuals dwarfing us even more, if the incredible creatures alone weren’t enough, Godzilla does what Hollywood does best—give us a visual treat and dazzle us with all the possibilities. Many times, it doesn’t work. In this case, too, it’s not perfect, or proverbial, but it’s something you’d want to experience once, even though the story is the same, the build-up—albeit enhanced—are the usual humans in peril, and the climax is an all-out exhibition of larger than life super extravaganza. Would it have worked if the legend of Gojira weren’t present in the movie? I doubt it. The iconic creature does much to get a hold of audience imagination and it’s only due to this creature, we were able to give screenwriter Max Borenstein the respect and time he expected before getting into the juice of the story. At one point, it feels like watching a hi-fi TV series in light of the detailed build-up and the deliberate motion in which the writers opt before exploding the bomb and when it does, the action is relentless—total non-stop action.

The mighty ticket prices aside, I’d recommend this movie. I doubt you’d take the sentiment away after it’s over, but it’s always nice to sit back, pop the corn, and enjoy watching one of the most popular brands unfold and make you giddy with the overwhelming effects, almost monstrous in its own right, and witness the destruction of a haven by our little Lizard. A much better indulgence than similar movies that have come out this year, Godzilla isn’t pitch perfect and the makers stretch the cradle as much as they could capitalizing on the brand value. Despite its storytelling ennui and the same old feeling it’s bound to inject into the viewer, Godzilla, in an almost right kind of manner, holds on to you and entertains you. And that’s all we seek from these types of movies, right? Arguably yes. Enjoy watching this beast stomp the city, swash monsters, devastate surroundings, if only to protect life and Nature—if only to do what Nature sent it to do. It is Gojira!

Quality: Where Art Thou?

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A Perspective into the Cinema of Nepal

Two days ago, May 16, I walked out of QFX Cinemas at Civil Mall after experiencing a great horror titled Aawaran (directed by Subhash Koirala). Indeed a horrific show, pun intended, Aawaran could be a milestone movie for the Cinema of Nepal. The sad part, it would be a milestone of yet another horror of a movie that, although taking the mask of the mystical horror genre, turns out to be a brutal horror show, for viewers, and I claim that on behalf of every filmgoer that appreciates the quality of cinema. By now, I’d assume it’s clear what I mean by horror in this particular case. The sheer fact that Aawaran is a horror movie is a mere coincidence because either way, it’s pretty dire—a shameful exhibition of Cinema.

The year 2014 has been an eccentric year for the fraternity of cinema that calls itself the sensible division, a select caucus within the broad facet of Nepali Cinema. Amongst the many movies, that has hit the screens, we’ve got two names to cherish upon and on both occasions, not because those movies were classics, but they were an aberration from the wave that’s hitting Nepali Cinema. Those two movies, of course, are Jhola (Yadavkumar Bhattarai) and Red Monsoon (Eelum Dixit). Apart from these movies, we’ve really had a lackluster year, yet would it be wise to call it such a year, thus far, when this end of the spectrum has a recurring tendency to produce the most uncreative sloths known to cinematic viewers? That is, as they say, the million dollar question.

What is the issue here? Why do movies like Aawaran and Ritu (Manoj Adhikary) even come to the stage where we have to witness the torture? Who validates these movies? How these unholy creatures are allowed to grow beyond the treatment phase—that in itself is beyond my bordered comprehension. With that said and having been a stern follower of the Cinema of Nepal, it is mind-boggling for me, even today with the amount of utter mayhem we get in form of cinema. Anywhere else, this would guarantee that the business shuts down and we look into other pastures. But that’s not the case, is it? Month after month, we witness the inflow of Nepali movies, with trends growing and visions expanding. Amidst all of this, it’s become a rarity that a good movie would evolve out of this chaos.

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Last month a movie called Kabaddi (Ram Babu Gurung) helmed the screens… Was it good? It was okay. The audience response was positive and the critics rose to praise the movie as a shining beam amidst the density of darkness. My friend, Pragyan Thapa, wrote an apt account on the movie. It can be found at http://pragyanthapa.wordpress.com/2014/04/27/kabaddi-kaji-and-friends/. When we compare Kabaddi to genuine movies of its kind, it hardly matches the yardstick. Individually and in relative terms to other movies from Nepal, Kabaddi is one-step at the right direction. Despite receiving mostly positive reviews, I never found Kabaddi to live up to the expectations of the plethora of fans hoarding cinemas on that day. I wasn’t excited or anything. I was calm and knew what to expect. What I got in return was a tight first portion of a movie, which created the right atmosphere and managed to hold my creativity in appreciation of the first half. Things slipped out of hands in the second half of the movie, and from there on, the “Nepali Attack,” the stigma surrounding Nepali movies made its grand entry. Although the stigma stung this otherwise well-intentioned effort, I found grace in accepting that Nepali Cinema is growing, bit-by-bit, slow, but it is moving to the right direction.

As a social experience, Kabaddi is an archetypal Nepali drama carrying the vibe of Nepali foibles and positively authenticating life in the sultry hilly terrains of Nepal. The social experience was priceless, even if the movie lost the plot completely in the second half and turned into a self-indulging, smart pep talk session whilst using the medium of cinema to crack inside jokes and create a synthetic crime feel that was neither warranted nor called for, if only the creators utilized their creativity a little bit more. I hate to say it, but Kabaddi had the backdrop resembling European Art Cinema, which it didn’t wish to channel into and the end result was a tale of neither here nor there—a tale of two cities, only disjointed and devoid of semblance.

Such a movie—as Kabaddi—received the votes of viewers and critics. It wasn’t for nothing though. Better than most other Nepali movies, even if the first portion was the only constructive aspect of the movie, Kabaddi is much better when you compare it to the melodramatic poison called Ritu or a pretentious falsification of epic proportions called Aawaran. Such movies would seem to wreck all the goodwill created by a select few filmmakers in their attempt to glide Nepali Cinema away from plodding stories and styles to an idiosyncratic flair that would aid in placing Nepali Cinema as a new type of cinema for the audiences of World Cinema. Ambitious much? Obviously, but for the love of trying, it’s only acceptable that you shoot for the stars in that attempt to fly above the ground.

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Coming back to Aawaran, there are movies one wishes to critic, analyze—and there are some movie where one would be lost due to the sheer stupidity playing on the screen. Aawaran is that stupid movie. I’m not being, not at all, harsh in my branding of this movie that would raise severe questions in the quality of movies Nepal is churning out, especially when it comes from the “pseudo-intelligent” wing of Nepali Cinema. Surely, is this all we have to offer? Is there dearth of talent in Nepal? Is it an economic handicap? Is the vision of Nepali filmmakers shrinking? Each of these questions demands its own argument—a valid, strong, and defiant hearing for both parties… Would that solve anything though? Again, this is very subjective. It could and it will—only if we broaden our perspective. If we continue dogmatizing cinema, no, we’re stuck in this revolving door of inanity. The question is how we view films… How does the audience understand cinema? What do the makers know about cinema? And this brings me to the theoretical aspect of cinematic reprise.

Most Nepali filmmakers fail in the theoretical paradigm of cinema. In today’s world, technology is there for the taking. We are living in a world of technological ubiquity. A brainstorming app, a screenwriting program, a camera, an editing program, and above all, a computer to converge these into that dream; these are enough to come up with an unsophisticated movie. That’s all an average filmmaker needs, which is also why the incursion of moviemakers in Nepal has shot up the roof. It’s not a question of human resources anymore. The major question is of the vision of these filmmakers, how they perceive cinema. There are areas where experts lag behind, but again, following the thought of Cinema as Social Expression, would that have ever hurt a Satyajit Ray, Kurosawa, or Tarkovsky? I’d doubt it. These stalwarts of filmmaking grasped that thinnest fiber of theoretical filmmaking – an art that has gone missing in many of Nepal’s filmmakers today, and the scary part—the cosmos of filmmaking in this country still doesn’t recognize the value of film theory, not just as a discipline but also as a rendering of the ultimate purpose of films…

Depending if you view Cinema as an Art, a Social Expression, an Industry, a Form of Entertainment, or as an Agent of Social Change, whatever be the theory, unless and until you’re engrossed, diluted, and immersed into that theory from which every tissue in your being screams filmmaking; I would never expect any maker of cinema to become an artist capable of telling stories. Whether such a person is a minimalist filmmaker believing in the supremacy of storytelling, or a techno-craft advocating in a technical mode of presenting a story, without that foundational theoretical recurrence, I’m sorry but filmmaking becomes what we see today in Nepal’s Cinema. And, out of that, we shall never achieve the true form of cinema that we all want but are incapable due to various complications that arise along the path.

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Anybody can jump into the sea and act to become a fish for a while, but the only way you know and feel how it is to be fish is by living as a fish. That is not, in a million years, possible, but what is possible is gaining as much experience, knowledge, and wisdom on the field that amongst those that are not the warriors underneath, you have the next best knowledge, the second best experience. That alone could steer you through this ambiguous territory, the dangerous game of filmmaking because no matter what we make, we can’t ever aspire for perfection, but when you have that honesty engrained into your psyche, a wonderful boon of faith is born, then and there. That boon of faith enchants you with a confidence in favor of your vision and if your vision is crystallized, single-pointed, and a result of those many laborious hours of study, good or bad disappears and what remains is art, what remains is what you have and—take my worthless word for this—you won’t fail, never, ever. An art can never fail. An artist can, but an art—never.

Coming back to my original point, as a cinematic nation, we’re gaining notoriety locally as technical, practical filmmakers. I can’t help but look at this idea with disdain. Cinema isn’t merely taking the camera and getting to work. What about the stories we tell? What about the lives and times of people? I recognize and empathize that such may not be entirely possible in the context of modern Nepal, but the only thing that sets us apart from Hollywood, cinemas of Europe, Korea, Iran, Bollywood, et cetera is the content we have. The anecdotes we want to share; the way we want to express ourselves—that is the only thing distinctive about us, our true selling point—unique to the rest, very personal to us.

As a fan of the beautiful world of Cinema and a Nepali by birth, I don’t want a movie like Aawaran spreading the wrong message about my society, my culture. A pretentious, unoriginal, craptacular disdain in the name of cinema, Aawaran is one wholesome example of everything wrong with the Cinema of Nepal today. The state, the mentality, the execution, the narrow minded vision of filmmakers who take the audiences for granted, insulting their intelligence, whilst the shameful producer who—for lack of anything creative—decides to produce and pour heaps of money on these unspectacular spectacles of mockery, a fundamental sin in the religion of filmmaking. Harsh it may sound, if the Cinema of Nepal is to propel into an acceptable level, more of Uma (Tsering Rhitar Sherpa), Badhshala (Manoj Pandit), Jhola, and Red Monsoon need to come to the front and less of the sadistic tendencies that the likes of Ritu, Aawaran, Dhuwani, and Chadke tend to promote… I dearly apologize. I’m not a masochist and I speak for thousands of such critical film analysts, and buffs when I say this—stop wasting time creating garbage because if we’d wanted that, we’d just go visit Bagmati or such a place glorified by the throwaways of society.

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Cinema is a medium. In today’s world, it is perhaps the strongest medium—because unlike TV, Internet, Radio, and even News at times, people pay top money to invest their time and resources in watching something somebody has to offer. This statement could be rebuked, but the essence lies in the box-office number a movie generates worldwide. If one project can have such suitors, it must have some sort of an influence. I’m not merely talking of film as a medium of change, but as a medium of expression, of understanding, of conveying, of entertaining, and ultimately—a medium worthy enough to engage the viewer into a world beyond theirs, or about a tale amidst them, yet hardly reached. That is the power of Cinema—the romance, as they say, of films. You get to see what you’ve never seen, and sometimes you get to see something you’ve always seen in a fresh light. See anything, but be sure to receive a changing experience because every little detail those visuals throw at us, we change a bit, our thoughts modify. Is that not wonderful about Cinema? Is that not why we love Cinema? I do for those tiny details and those moments that can change my life, the way I think, the way I believe. Cinema is much more than gazing into the screen for a period in time. It’s an experience. It’s rewarding. It simply is—a moment of somebody’s life captured in footage. Isn’t that wonderful? Isn’t that… Let’s just think about it for a while. Food for thought, eh?

Red Monsoon (2014) – When it Rains, it Pours

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2014 is shaping up to be a solid year for Nepali Cinema—in relative terms, of course. After the much-appreciated Jhola, here comes another movie, Red Monsoon, arresting the spirit of Nepali foibles and fluttering the panache of local cinema. Eelum Dixit’s Red Monsoon, already screened internationally in film festivals and in the latest edition of KIMFF in 2013, comes as a riveting original motion picture carrying a typical story at its heart told in a one-off style for Nepali Cinema—contrasting to any other kind from the prodigious élan of New Wave Cinema hailing in Nepal. The movie certainly stands out amongst various other Nepali movies released in 2014, and is a movie true to the quirks of Nepali Culture, especially coming from the vision of Nepali filmmaker who uses the stage of cinema for the first time after gaining reputation as a dramatist.

As a story, written by Karuna Sharma, Red Monsoon is a simple drama about people. I say people because that is precisely what you’d feel watching this saga unfold—anecdotes about everyday people written and filmed in a visceral manner. Featuring multiple characters, tangled in their own mini universe, Red Monsoon is reminiscent to the scenario of the 80s and 90s exhibiting the social capital of the era in the modern age of Nepal that is today. These real people in the movie carry along their own backstories, all of them ridden in Maya, if you will; challenging the cores of their sociological existence from the predicaments, they find themselves a healthy part of. Working as a no-nonsense, gritty drama, Red Monsoon engages people brought together by the distant proximity of Patan—an oxymoron presented exquisitely in the movie.

We have Karuna (Shristi Ghimire), a woman eloping norms and boundaries to be with her chosen person, Krishna Bahadur (Sandip Chhetri). On one disturbing night, Krishna stumbles upon a woman in peril, Chetana (Himali Dixit) with whom he forms a mutual bond. Simple stories, right? It just happens to be that simple… Going to back to Karuna, her abrupt decision to elope haunts her parents. Karuna’s younger brother, Babu, called as in the movie (played by Sudam CK), takes the Lion’s share of the floating assault exerted to him for all the mishaps occurring to Karuna’s family by their father. Thus, shaping this drama about trifles in a cross-hooked and interconnected complexion—each step relying on the previous for reaction and on the next for retribution…

These tangled webs of nobility define much beyond normal, flimsy conflicts. The story stems from a ruptured backbone taking each persona in the movie from the start to a breaking point, all with an unnerving discomfort and an enchanting immersion into the lives of the complicated ordinary beings. Almost like an anecdotal rendering of various people related to one another in peculiar light, Red Monsoon is ever too close to peering into these very lives—perhaps the reason for the extreme close-up shots giving the viewers a feel of unwarranted proximity and a sighing sense of awkwardness.

The story of Red Monsoon is nothing but a simple, pluralistic take on the lives of these dense characters. The manner in which Dixit has presented the story—offering a cold, disenchanting look makes it a powerful interpretation of an otherwise beautiful, yet very common series of events. Not without transmitting the essence of social realities confined to our society—even today, as stark as it may appear in the movie. This hypnotizing delivery would provoke any film enthusiast, buff, or critic to applaud the unique presentation that Eelum Dixit manages to instill into this artsy cinema.

What aids the movie in its expression, the most, is the atmospheric circle revolving around the characters; hence, the story—showing faraway ethers that are made utterly complicated by the photography (Bryan Emery) and the scenic contrast between the internal affairs of the characters and the external projection of the place they find themselves fighting against for acceptance. The timely usage of found-footage-esque cinematography along with the hand-held kinetic movement of the camera and, not to ignore, the proximity of the shots to the screen builds an aura of depleted emotions ailing the viewer deeper into the story and the ambience of the arena. That said; the extreme close-up shots become unbearable at times and downright annoying—almost to the point of repulsion. Despite those bothersome instances, the atmospheric charm might be the best accomplishment of the movie. It provides the stage for a still, calm motion that is almost haunting. The serene, striking visual representation creates an urgency and an experience that cannot be undiluted easily for it is catchy and mysterious, whilst the constant evolution of the characters keep the dynamics changing—almost like a flux.

For me, the winner in all of this, obviously, is how the story manages to engross the spectator into the whole drama, feeling for some, sympathizing with others, and loathing the guts of some. As they say, a perfect story is always the one that makes the receptor empathize with the characters, and involves them in the story in a shared mental assembly. That is what the persona of Karuna managed. Her predicament evokes feelings of sympathy taking us to a stage of mutual understanding—feeling for her sighs. Amongst the array of characters, Karuna accomplished in bringing that karuna out of me, seeing and sensing her plight. At the same time, her brother, Babu, has the depths and a nerve-wracking arc—travelling from youthful awe to silent contempt, his expression dictating his transition slow, yet steady. These two characters add a powerful punch to the movie. What the viewers’ interpret from these complex personas only strengthen the movie’s claim to genuineness—culminating into a provoking climax that feels just right.

Red Monsoon can be uncomfortable to watch at times, mainly due to the energetic camerawork, which ranges from infuriating at moments to absorbing at other times, but mostly it’s absorbing. The performances are apt, especially the piercing quandary of Karuna essayed by Shristi Ghimire. Most of the actors are impressive, yet when it comes to Himali Dixit, she is fine as long as she had her dialogs to a minimum. During the times she had to speak, it was a bit hilarious, to put it nicely. Minor flaws aside, Red Monsoon is refreshing to watch and a proud moment for Nepali film enthusiasts in watching a movie that tells a potent story of the fluidity of life and the undercurrent influence society has in dictating and shaping our lives. As cinema, it’s inspiring and wonderfully presented; as an experience, it’s a touching tale and a movie worth spending your time engrossed in appreciating this cinematic journey.

Make sure you watch Red Monsoon. It’s unlike your Nepali movie, with a firm telling of a world around you in an artistic and purposeful light akin to classic musical notes clutching your imagination. Speaking of which, excellent composition by Lochan Rijal—adding soul to this movie rich in artistry and beautiful in demonstration. Red Monsoon is just that.