October 21 2015
Reviews of the South Asian connected films we saw at this year’s London Film Festival…more and others to follow…
“Guilty” – Meghna Gulzar, India
PACEY, smart and adroitly directed, this film has been doing decent business back in India – it released there earlier this month.Irrfan Khan is hugely watchable as the personally disgruntled but efficient cop, who is handed a case with seemingly a thousand riddles.
One morning in 2008, a dentist father (Neeraj Kabi unforgettable in “Ship of Theseus” as the monk) in Delhi and his wife wake up to find the horror of horrors: their 14 year old daughter has been brutally murdered in her own bed.
Cue: betel-chewing cops, who are worse than anything associated with Keystone, declaring it an “open and shut case” – obvious the murder was committed by live-in odd job man, Khempal, who tried it on ‘Shruti baby’ and rebuffed, lost his rag and knifed her clinically in a rage. He is nowhere to be found, until Dad and others from the apartment block venture to the rooftop to dispose of mattress and other items the cops have agreed can be removed…they find Khempal’s body lying in an even bigger pool of blood with the same incisive cut. How did the couple sleep through all this and other questions are well dealt with, and sympathy builds for the couple.
This is the basic set-up and it really happened. The case sent India into a complete tizzy and the ordinary cops decided it was obvious the dentist had murdered his own daughter and their servant, after finding the two in a compromising position. It was as the cops say obviously an “honour killing”. It is anything but…
Slowly, the detective uncovers one error after another, but the damage is done and the dentist is already in custody and facing the fight of his life.
This is a film that is hugely critical of the rank and file police force in India and blames them squarely for the messy and unconvincing initial inquiries. You could read it as a parable for middle class rage but it is about a deeper malaise. Something of a tour de force, it’s entertaining and engrossing and throws a much needed spotlight on the quality of routine criminal investigations and justice in India. (SR)
“Sunrise” – Partho Sen Gupta, India-France.
AMBITIOUSLY assembled by director Partho Sen Gupta and a French-Indian production with help from the National Film Development Corporation of India (NFDC), this a narrative feature which opts to tell us the story of trafficking young children, and especially girls, in a non-realist manner.
Beautifully shot by Jean-Marc Ferriere, a French director of photography, the story itself moves from the realism into surrealism and deals with child trafficking of girls with a policeman chasing an elusive shadow down the rain soaked streets of Mumbai.
It opens with a police inspector, Joshi (played by Adil Hussain) drinking tea and looking grim while it keeps on raining – he has a missing daughter and when someone else comes to report a similar incident – it wrenches at his heart strings but the ennui that grips him leaves him unable to respond immediately.
There is a young man waiting in the rain soaked courtyard to talk to him but is prevented from doing so by the Inspector’s subordinates which leads to disastrous consequences.
Later, Inspector Joshi ends up in the Paradise Club, a seedy male bar looking like something out of ‘The Lower Depths’, shot sumptuously in all rich colours featuring young girls dancing while the men leer and peer.
Tannishatha Chatterjee plays Joshi’s (Hussain) bereaved wife, Leela who hasn’t gotten over the loss of their child and while Joshi makes attempts to find other lost girls – such as the scene with the brothel madam – Sen Gupta isn’t really interested in presenting the reality of the situation and using part fantasy, part reality, he is trying to get under the skin of what it means for parents who have lost children – here the plight of Madeleine McCann comes to mind immediately – but the fact is there is no redemption at the end of the story and it leaves you feeling short-changed.
However, there is a card at the end of the film citing statistics of the number of children who disappear in India each year. (SB)
ACV star rating: *** (out of five)
“Salaam Bombay” – Mira Nair, India, reprint from 1988.
Has a better film been made on India’s young poor city-dwellers? Nearly 30 years on, Mira Nair’s debut is as bold and urgent as it ever was. This restoration doesn’t significantly improve on the film’s image, but luckily it benefits from failing to scrub clean – a sterile image would be a poor fit for Nair’s roving portrait of late 80s Bombay. Refusing both Bollywood and arthouse convention, Salaam Bombay is as energetic as the city itself, shifting perspectives among a cast of characters that includes pimp Baba (a mighty Nana Patekar) to the untrustworthy but sympathetic Chillum (Raghuvir Yadav), yet never losing sight of young runaway Krishna (Shafiq Syed, giving one of cinema’s great non-professional performances). Rather than soften the impact, Nair’s pace somehow accentuates the inexorable sense of tragedy hanging over the film, her direction retaining all the empathy but none of the detachment of much social realism. This is soul-stirring, compassionate filmmaking, free of pity or sentimentality but with lots of heart. Some of the score has dated, but the reality it captures has not. (SC)
“Beeba Boys”- Deepa Mehta, Canada.
GIVEN the kudos of a Thrill Gala presentation at the festival, “Beeba Boys” promised much – but sadly failed to deliver.
Few films have so much going for them in peripherals – the clothes, the music, the visual aesthetic.
If this was just a music video with a somewhat gory and predictable backdrop to a thumping tune about discrimination, life on the margins, drugs and violence, all could happily be forgiven – but this ladies, and gentlemen, is not some kid out of film school with a wad of cash and some cool angles, this is Deepa Mehta.
That she has a body of work which leans towards art and integrity, rather than cash and commercial considerations, make you wonder what came over her when she decided to do what is essentially a turf and drugs caper.
She adds nothing to the genre except the bad boys in this are Sikh and still respect their mothers, while gunning down rivals mercilessly and being sweet to their kids and other relatives.
Instead of delving deeper into this beguiling paradox, Mehta plays to superficialities and little more.
Inside there is a decent tale, but to enjoy this, you have to leave your brain in the popcorn and get off on the bad boys being brown, playing with their big guns and kissing forbidden fruit (white girls) – either that, or the sight of Bollywood heartthrob Randeep Hooda topless, all macho and prowling around for 90 minutes or so, is sufficient cinematic payback. The female gaze sure don’t come cheap. (SR)
“The New Classmate” – Ashwini Iyer Tiwari, India.
ITS TONE pitched at ‘inspiring’, director Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari’s debut is slickly polished, but the stylised visuals are part of a film that doesn’t want to get too close to its themes – poverty, education, or social betterment, it just wants to use them to deliver a syrupy dose of high-gloss sentimentalism.
The premise – maid and single mother Chanda joins daughter Apeksha’s class so she can inspire her to aim higher in life – is potentially comedic (she even wears the school uniform!) but Tiwari plays it straight.
There’s much going on here – role models, the social status quo, the premium placed on education, a child’s autonomy, but in the end, Tiwari settles firmly on traditional notions of filial piety and mother-knows-best moralising. One for mother’s day. (SC)
ACV rating: ***
“Aligarh” – here
“Kothanodi” – interview with director Bhaskar Hazarika coming soon
“He named me Malala” – currently embargoed – coming soon, releases UK November 6
“Dheepan” Releases early 2016 (no date set) video interview with Jacques Audiard and see Tamil actors Anthonythasan Jesuthasan and Kalieaswari Srinivasan here
“Sherpa” winner of the best documentary at the London Film Festival http://www.facebook.com/sherpafilm
More non-South Asian reviews to follow…
Contributors: SB (Suman Bhuchar) SC (Sunil Chauhan) SR (Sailesh Ram)