July 23 2016
Our reviewers saw these films screened during the London Indian Film Festival…the festival continues in Birmingham till tomorrow – see the listing below…
A MISANTHROPIC study of upper-caste male Indian adolescence disguised as a teen sex comedy, ‘Brahman Naman’ comes on like the hornier younger brother to ‘Delhi Belly’.
But despite a few gross-out sight gags in the form of inventive, amusing masturbation set pieces, this plays less like ‘American Pie’ (you probably wouldn’t want to hang out too long with these teens) than an Anglophone 1980s Bangalore-set hybrid of Harmony Korine, Whit Stillman and Napoleon Dynamite.
Excitedly thumbing its nose at Indian morality (if not sexism), it’s a fresh, dry-as-sandpaper dramedy shaped from the dispassionate ends of US indies.
A schoolmate who pops up to brag of his sexploits provides regular laughs, but director Q and writer Naman Ramachandran seem to prefer their leads – headed by Shashank Arora as the titular Naman – somewhere between clueless and grotesque. It makes it tough to warm to these obliviously privileged, quiz-obsessed, wannabe sophisticates, presented in a form that treads between celebration, satire and self-loathing critique, but likability was probably never a priority for its makers. That bratty pledge to amorality, and abounding visual bravado (Q is a superb, energetic stylist) make this hard to forget, but you might be left with a slightly sunken, despairing feeling. (Sunil Chauhan)
ACV rating: *** ½ (out of five)
KUTRAMA THANDANAI (CRIME IS PUNISHMENT)
SLICK and quite a departure from his award-winning child-centred and much praised ‘Kaakkaa Muttai’ (‘Crow’s Egg’), Tamil filmmaker M Manikandan’s new film is a cut above the norm – and not just in production terms.
This is a crime thriller with a difference and a neat twist that starts almost inconsequentially and grows and grows until it becomes the very point of this film.
Without wanting to give it all away, the plot device is perhaps a little crude for western sensibilities but the situation in India is different, for many reasons.
Ravi (Vidharth) is a bachelor with a steady job as a credit card late payment collector. Opposite his flat block is a mysterious and rather attractive single lady who he seemingly has a crush on. There’s a trendy young guy who is friendly with her and it merely fuels our Ravi’s jealousy.
Back at his place of work, he is mildly pursued by one of his co-workers who takes to his quiet and low key approach to life. Ravi’s medical condition lurks in the background as do the financial pressures it will inevitably exert – these three people’s fate and that of a high flying and wealthy entrepreneur involved with the beautiful neighbour become entwined following her murder.
Not sure Bollywood/Tamil commercial cinema lovers would really enjoy this, as it is far from escapism and the central male characters are morally corrupt (in a very black and white way) and perhaps Manikandan is making a very pointed assertion about some Indian men.
The central relationship premise too is a little stretched (on a personal assessment) but overall this a well-executed film with an original story and a somewhat uncomfortable conclusion. (Sailesh Ram/SR)
IT WOULD, perhaps, be churlish to lament the high days of Bengali cinema – directors Satyajit Ray, Ritwik Ghatak, and Mrinal Sen and then sigh…Aparna Sen.
More seriously, this Sen, now 70, does show invention in a Shakespeare ‘Romeo & Juliet’ adaptation, remade in the contemporary suburbs of Kolkata and with two feuding ‘land mafia’ families – the Khans and the Mitras – fighting for every spoil on offer.
Into this bitter feud, Ronjoy Mitra (Dev) and Zulekha Khan (Rittika Sen) fall in love across the Hindu-Muslim divide and the outcome is predictably tragic for all.
Told in rhyming Bengali dialogue (completely lost in the English subtitles), and with some dozen songs, this film is a mish-mash and frankly, a mess.
The luminous Waheeda Rahman, once such an icon of Indian cinema, is wasted as a Khan matriarch and the miscasting of the near middle-aged Dev opposite the rather more able, believable, and teenage-looking Sen is just one offence among many in a film, which still has moments of great promise and even execution – the Sufi/Baul (folk) music is scintillating.
It looks as though Sen could not make up her mind whether she wanted to make a contemporary Bollywood fisticuff-romance tragedy or a more arty, Shakespearewallah inspired musical. (SR)
ACV rating: **
CENTRED around a student theatre competition in Pune (home to probably the biggest concentration of young people in higher education in India), this is one hell of a ride – both good and bad.
It starts strongly and conventionally, but then goes all over the place, including a scene where the lead character dresses up a nun and quizzes writers (possibly better known in India) about masturbation. Yes, honestly. Odd and yes, very funny…
Then it goes back to its tale of ambition, power, and relationship woes involving the two central characters.
Director Krante Kanade has flair and imagination and a cute eye for the comic and the absurd – there are shades of the early transgressive voice of Q (who has gone almost wholly mainstream with ‘Brahman Naman’ now, so maybe there is a vacancy…) but it doesn’t make for a satisfying cinema experience – at least for this critic.
Kanade is a voice to watch – he may just have thrown everything at this in the hope that someone notices and enables him to make more.
He needs discipline and a stronger idea of what kind of genre (yes, really) film he really wants to make.
As a conventional drama, this might have been close to ‘Whiplash’ (2015) or perhaps with a more clinical sense of the subversive, Kanade could have produced India’s version of ‘Kentucky Fried Movie’ (1977). It had shades of that. Ditch the niceties, Krante, and just offend everyone! (SR)
ACV rating: **
ACV KFM rating: ***
TOBA TEK SINGH
PART of international broadcaster Zee’s ‘Zeal for Unity’ slate, which looks to bring India and Pakistan closer together through films and marking 70 years of Indian Independence in 2017, much was expected of this adaptation of a short story from great ‘Partition writer’, Saadat Hasan Manto.
Director Ketan Mehta is a celebrated and singular voice, eschewing the lure and lucre of Bollywood, for a more sensitive and arty type of filmmaking, but still very Indian in colour and scope.
It is 1947 and the patients (really inmates) of a mental hospital (jail) have to be divided up according to their religious dominations and sent on their separate ways.
Of course, it is a plainly absurd notion – Manto above all (according to accounts and still rather neglected in Britain), was an acute and clearly gifted chronicler of the pain and trauma of Partition. Who are the mad people…really?
Mehta’s device of transplating Manto (Vinay Pathak) into the story by making him the governor of the institution works well and while this is a powerful ode to our better instincts and a plea to look far beyond mere labels, the film is laboured and doesn’t quite carry the pathos it should.
We don’t believe Manto can carry any responsibility for this. Some will still be moved. A great and lovely idea, but Mehta working on a low budget (£70,000), perhaps would have been better to have made this shorter and more incisive by focusing solely on the governor’s task in hand and his difficulties – with more of Manto’s own commentary. Instead, it’s a little soapy (as, perhaps, befits a TV commissioned drama) and lacks real lasting oomph. A very noble and valiant message remains though. (SR)
ACV rating: **½
‘Toba Tek Singh‘, Closing night gala film – Sunday, July 24, 6pm, Cinemaworld, 181 Broad Street, Birmingham B15 1DA
More info/book: http://www.cineworld.co.uk/films/liff-toba-tek-singh-hindipunjabi
More LIFF 2016 reviews