Monday, December 06, 2010

Mukhaputa - A movie review

As is usually the case, most watchable Kannada movies go unrecognized unless they get some non-local award. As sad and tragic as it is, it continues to be one of the banes of a once flourishing and creatively vibrant film industry that now reeks in the ruins ruled by mediocre-heavy jingoism. Fortunately, 'Mukhaputa' avoided that inevitable fate into oblivion as it bagged an award at the Ireland Film Festival and the Silver Sierra Best feature film award at the California Film festival.

The story revolves around 7 year old Bhavati (quite an unusual and striking name) who is adopted by a social activist/PhD student/Bharatanatyam dancer Gauri (Roopa Iyer in her first debut venture as film maker) after the kid's parents commit suicide. Gauri is an orphan too, so the relevance of her understanding the kid's emotional distress at a deeper level than most comes as no surprise. The two bond quite naturally and soon she signs papers to become her official caretaker. Also in the loop are Gauri's foster father (Shashidhar Kote) and also her teacher/guide/philosopher. She turns to him for all sorts of guidance on both her career and life. With his untimely death Gauri's world is shattered more than that of his wife and unemployed son Shankar (a neat cinematic liberty naming his character that to ensure we are told that the he and Gauri would end up together at some point). The bereaved family takes care of little Bhavati as one of their own and time moves on.

One day Bhavati falls ill. On further investigation it is revealed that the child is HIV-positive which could possibly explain her parents' sudden deaths. Gauri is caught in a pool of dilemma on this discovery. On the one hand she definitely wants to ensure that Bhavati has as normal a childhood as she can get, but she also isn't sure how to go about it. On a chance encounter with an aged guru at a spiritual center, she gets some sane advise. An advise that is possibly the only deciding factor in how things are made and broken in today's world. That, of knowledge. She seeks out to know everything there is to know about the disease so that she may plan the best route to the future possible for Bhavati. Shankar, in the meawhile, is shown to be an out of work IT guy who isn't really keen on doing anything special in life. Since he harbors romantic feeling towards Gauri (no points for seeing that coming) he decides to join forces with her in bringing warmth, love, affection and most importantly a sense of normalcy in little Bhavati's young life.

What struck me most about the movie was its optimistic take on something as dire as AIDS and its associated taboos in India. It is obvious that Roopa Iyer is personally vested in both the awareness and education of the disease given her commitment in making this feature come alive. Though her prowess as an actress could have been sharper, it doesn't really interfere much with the bigger picture/message the movie tries to send across. The supporting cast lend apt support including the little girl playing Bhavati. A few scenes are placed just to get a popular face into the mix but I guess it is only such marketing strategies that helped her get the movie across to these festivals. A slightly stronger screenplay was needed specially in the scenes where Gauri confronts Bhavati's teachers for isolating the child due to her illness. A grand opportunity to highlight the irony of an educator practicing blatant discrimination purely based on ignorance is woefully lost by Iyer. She chooses, instead, to smear the scene with a background score whilst making the goings on inaudible. The gist is clear of course, but a concrete vocalized version would have made the audience root more firmly for Gauri. It is in these inadequacies that Iyer's lack of experience in film making becomes apparent and makes her character more impersonal.

All said and done, 'Mukhaputa' is eventually about the bigger picture which is killing the social stigma associated with AIDS and the millions of innocent kids who are targeted each day around the world for absolutely no fault of their own. If even a few hearts are forced to reflect on their beliefs after watching this movie, then I'd think Iyer's efforts have found success.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Sugreeva (2010)

Ever since its marketing campaign began, the team behind 'Sugreeva' had blown several trumpets to herald the making of a movie as being a historic one in the entire time line of Kannada cinema. With 10 directors,10 cinematographers and a super tight schedule of 18 hours, if not anything else it certainly created the apt amount of curiosity. Such an ensemble, needless to say, requires immense coordination and dedicated team work which I must admit is a rarity in all of Indian cinema, let alone the Kannada film industry. For this, I certainly tip my hat to the crew of 'Sugreeva' with special mention to the producer Anaji Nagaraj.

Now to the meaty parts of this multi-layered dish. It is the story of a middle class income father Sugreeva (Shivraj Kumar) who takes a bunch of people in the emergency ward of a hospital hostage since he doesn't have the money to finance his only son's heart transplant operation. While the concept by itself may seem new to some, one has to realize that this just happens to be, sadly, a remake of another mediocre movie called 'John Q' starring Denzel Washington which was released in 2002. Whats worse is that movie was then remade into Hindi starring Sanjay Dutt in 2006 as 'Thataastu' which sank into oblivion without so much as a whimper. Why this Kannada team would hence choose to remake a mediocre original and a flop Hindi counterpart is beyond me. But nevertheless, they did and the outcome unfortunately isn't anything spectacularly different either.

What does help the cause is Shivraj Kumar. Given his age and the fact that the schedule was a jam packed 18 hours, it wouldn't have been easy to make the swift transition from set to set, place to place and the roller coaster of emotional quotients. It is his energetic presence which actually makes this otherwise mediocre fare seem somewhat bearable. Had it not been for his consistent conviction, this movie would have been an absolute disaster to view. For that, one needs to congratulate the veteran for still being in high spirits when it comes to physical and mental contribution to such a project. Right from being the doting father to the ambitious dancer to the desperate hijacker, Shivraj Kumar brings a lot of commitment to the stage which just about manages to keep this movie engaging enough to watch till the end credits roll. Yagna Shetty sort of repeats her role from 'Eddelu Manjunatha' as the helpless middle class wife stuck in desperate situations. I look forward to seeing more of her given her immense potential to be onscreen level of comfort but I also hope she doesn't get typecast in the same role each time! The supporting cast chips in as appropriate with the slight exception of the ill tempered cop who, for some unknown reason, takes the whole event rather personally and wants to shoot the hijacker dead without proper introspection of the causes and consequences of the event. Cinematic liberty, perhaps.

Given its limited time frame, 'Sugreeva' doesn't feel entirely like a haphazard attempt. It certainly is inconsistent at times with some portions being action heavy and other being extremely melodramatic but still feels like a regular movie. How the presence of 10 directors and the 10 cinematographers really aided in enhancing the quality of the story is something that alluded me. What's sad is had this been an original thriller, it would have probably gone on to be an iconic milestone in all of Indian cinema in fact. But it seems the focus was more on making that 18 hour shooting record rather than spending a few more hours thinking of an original script. This semantic ends up harming the film profusely with some needlessly forced comedy scenes and an extended version of a reality dance show with a mandatory dance by Shivraj Kumar which doesn't gel well with the narrative.

Many years ago 'Idu Sadhya' had suffered the same problem. The plot was so cliché and predictable despite being a murder mystery that the entire marketing gimmick of it being shot in 24 or 48 hours (I think!) was absolutely meaningless. Producers tend to forget that the time taken to shoot a movie has nothing to do with its eventual quality. If that had been the case then the 'Lord of the Rings' trilogy should have been a gigantic disaster at the box office. Nevertheless, 'Sugreeva' is certainly a one-time watch.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Manasaare (2009)

Dear reader,

This seems to be a month to get after the esteemed Kannada film maker Mr. Yograj Bhat. I had already posted a blog taking a shot at the man for dishing out a plate like 'Pancharangi' but this time, after watching what I was told was a very popular 2009 movie - 'Manasaare' - last night, I just had to use a different way to explain myself. Its an experiment, I know, but I still hope it is entertaining. :)

Please feel free to click on the strip below (might take a little time to load!) to view the entire enlarged version of the comic strip. It is in English for purposes of a wider audience. If for some reason it does not load according to your liking then you can always go to the direct link here.

Also, if you've seen the movie and have a different take on it than I do, you know there is a comments box right below. ;)


Krishna'n Love Story (2010) - a review

Ever since the golden age where movies like 'Nagarahavu' were made in the Kannada film industry, the theme of young love has been explored to a great extent. Now almost every week we have a movie that invariably claims to have found a new way to depict that same funny emotion – love. In that aspect, the publicity material I saw of 'Krishnana Love Story'(KLS) in Bangalore earlier this year weren't any different. What did catch my attention though was the director Shashank's statement that the movie was based on a real story. Now being a huge aficionado of stories that reflect some degree of reality, I actually was quite eager to watch KLS after hearing over the grapevine that Shashank's previous venture 'Moggina Manasu' was also a successful venture. From the posters of the flick I had seen around the city, I was expecting it to be a clever, amusing, sarcastic even witty take on modern love among young adults and how friendship plays a critical role in enhancing the same. In short, a very mature love story seemed at hand.

The movie started off on a promising note. We have a college dropout Krishna (Ajay) who is involved in the clothing business along with four of his close friends. He also, on occasion, helps out in his father's kiosk selling biscuits and cigarettes. He comes from a middle class family that depends largely on numbers and statistics to make their month find some coherence. He rides his father's gift to him, an aging motorbike christened 'Hombegowdru' after his late grandfather. A bike that is shown in the publicity material as being an integral part to the plot. So far, the backdrop is refreshingly interesting and pretty relatable.

Then we move on to Geeta (Radhika). Yet another middle class girl who is finishing her graduation and is quite conscientious about her studies and is shown to have neither the time nor the patience to find a boyfriend and roam the city streets aimlessly. Her older brother, uncharacteristically somehow, is a local rowdy who makes his moolah by slashing off people's cheeks. There is also the mandatory inclusion of their husband-less mother(Umashree) who works as a tailor and of course has a weak lung. Slightly cliché for my taste but well, I waited on hoping the main plot wouldn't be so.

Then the obvious happens. Krishna sees Geeta and falls in love immediately. But Geeta makes it clear to him that she isn't the kind who has the mental faculty for such silliness and that she has other priorities that need taking care of. She also conveys that it's not even his middle-class status that is stopping her from reciprocating his initiatives by clearly declining similar motives by a more wealthier and much well established rival of Krishna. This characterization of hers made sense and certainly set up the platform on which the movie could've been potentially narrated in a meaningful and consistent fashion.

But near the intermission portion is where things start going on a familiar, almost bizarre, curve. Suddenly one day, after having confessed her love to Krishna since he helped out during a family crisis once, Geeta decides to elope with the rich fella. Reason? Mysterious. On her way to their secret wedding in Dharmasthala, Geeta and her beau are involved in what appears to be a pretty intense car accident and miraculously, but not surprisingly, Geeta escapes with minor injuries while the rich fellow dies. Geeta returns home but refuses to show any emotion to anyone around her, including Krishna who in the meanwhile is shown to have forgotten all about her and started moving on with his life. Now that she is back, with great effort Krishna re-enters her life trying every trick in the book to get her to share her hidden feelings with him. In fact, both the families also agree that Krishna should take her away from the hubbub of the city to try and get her to open up about two things – a) why she took off with that rich guy so randomly and b) why her personality has changed so much since she returned.

This is where I was most hopeful about the story. At this juncture, I thought, was where the plot would give us that much needed surprising twist that would justify the entire premise of Geeta's insane behavior after returning from her escapade.

Reader, sadly, that moment never comes. The only justification, if we can call it that, we get is that she had realized that Krishna's love came with budget limits. That her life had been spent so much already in woeful financial misery that she wanted to get rid of her middle-class status and finally live life the way she truly wanted to. This is where the whole story turns on its head and becomes an absolute farce. One of the biggest loopholes in the plot is right here given that she had been so averse to the concept of wealth and living big that she had declined every motive from the rich chap initially. If we argue that it was indeed the desperate need for funds that drove her over the cliff eventually then why couldn't she share this with Krishna whom she trusted so much? Did she not genuinely see a future with him?After all, when things got bad with her mother, was he not the one who was taking care of both of them? So why on earth would a rational seeming girl like her reject his love and choose to go with someone with a lot of money? Whats worse is that she then goes on to blame him for accepting her back! She goes on to accuse his unconditional love for her as being the reason she cannot put her guilt behind her! I am sorry, in the real world, where meaningful things tend to take place, a girl in her situation would have thanked the guy who is so large hearted and genuinely good, that he is willing to give her a second chance. Heck, even if we assume she eloped under stressful conditions, all she had to do was tell him this was the reason she did what she did instead of sticking her head into a pot full of self pity and extreme insecurity about her own decisions. Very, very bizarre turn of events, I thought. A serious, obvious and painful hole in the plot. The story ends on a needlessly tragic note where you don't really feel any compassion for either of the lead characters since their actions post intermission have been so contradictory to their initial shades.

Speaking of technical stuff, sure, the camera work is pretty good and the songs are well choreographed. A couple of hummable tunes are also included with 'Santeyalli Nintaroonu' being the pick of the lot. But as is the case mostly, the songs do not help the story move forward and act merely as place holders for people to get a breather from the intensifying plot. For that, I thank Shashank. Performances are stable but all limelight is on Radhika Pandit in the post intermission parts where she seems inspired by Kalpana's Kaveri in 'Sharapanjara'. Her mood swings are overacted in some places and she ends up falling seriously short of justifying what could have been a milestone role in her still budding career. Ajay is alright but he doesn't seem to have a wide range of emotions to display like Radhika does. The only time he does display some variation in his performance is during the final scene, but its too late for anyone to care.

The bottom line though, remains this. In a time when Kannada movies are so desperately seeking some decent plots, some challenging characters for the female leads, some coherence in the narrative, KLS comes across as a contrived effort in its eventual execution. It becomes blatantly obvious that the director could not think of a creative way to justify Geeta's whimsical decisions and so decided to smear her wonderfully crafted character with juvenile reasons of self-doubt and self-apathy. KLS eventually turns out to be a colossal waste of good talent, great opportunities and most importantly, our precious time.