Oscars 2021 – Who Will Win?

The Academy Awards almost seem like an afterthought given the situation we find ourselves in. But for what it’s worth, here are my predictions for this year.

Best Picture – Nomadland

Best Director – Lee Isaac Chung

Best Actor – Anthony Hopkins

Best Actress – Viola Davis

Best Supporting Actor – Daniel Kaluuya

Best Supporting Actress – Youn Yuh-jung

Best Original Screenplay – The Trial Of The Chicago 7

Best Adapted Screenplay – Nomadland

Best Animated Feature Film – Soul

Best International Feature Film – Another Round

Best Documentary Feature – Time

Best Documentary Short Subject – Hunger Ward

Best Live Action Short Film – Two Distant Strangers

Best Animated Short Film – If Anything Happens I Love You

Best Original Score – Soul

Best Original Song – One Night In Miami

Best Sound – Sound Of Metal

Best Production Design – Mank

Best Cinematography – Judas And The Black Messiah

Best Makeup and Hairstyling – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Best Costume Design – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Best Film Editing – The Trial Of The Chicago 7

Best Visual Effects – Tenet

What are your picks?

Until next time, bye.

Drishyam 2 – Writing Your Way To Success

When I first heard that they were making a sequel to the much celebrated Drishyam, I was skeptical. I wasn’t sure the film warranted another visit to this world. But what’s most impressive about Drishyam 2 is that Jeethu Joseph takes us back and expands this universe in fascinating ways. That we get to see the repercussions of what happened on that fateful night years go, makes more sense as you keep watching.

This is perhaps the film’s greatest success in that it makes us care about these people once again. And it keeps adding more and more intrigue to what Georgekutty does and what is being done to him. Without revealing too much, there is a point in the film where you feel that the director/writer has written himself into a corner. But the way he gets out of that and connects the rest of the dots is astonishing. It is very difficult to write about this film without revealing too much about it, but I will try. There is so much to admire about the writing here. From the way it brings in new characters, fleshes out this world and finds new ways to play with the central mystery is brilliant.

Mohanlal the actor shines in a few scenes where he lets his face do all the talking. These few scenes give you an idea about the psyche of this man and what he is going through. This is nicely contrasted with the way the way his family’s feelings are more outwardly shown. Here is where you want to sit up and appreciate Jeethu Joseph for infusing something new into these people. Somewhere along the way, you also wonder what you would have done in a situation like this. The director/writer does the right thing by not just sticking to Georgekutty’s family. There are other characters who come into the story and they each have a purpose.

The only issue I had with the film was that it felt a bit slow in the first hour or so. But once everything has been set up, and things start picking up, you are all set for one hell of a ride. Another aspect of the writing that shines through is the attention to detail. This is not just limited to what the police do but even the minor characters are sketched out beautifully. Nothing seems unnecessary or out of place. Even if it does feel like that in the beginning, it all makes sense in the end.

The film would certainly have been a roaring success if it had come out in theaters. But releasing it on an OTT platform gives more people a chance to watch it, analyze it and enjoy all the little highs that it provides. Getting the same core cast from the first part and infusing some new people into the mix adds freshness. So, instead of the story becoming repetitive, we look at it from a completely different angle. If there is one thing I would like you to take away from this film, it would be that exposition when done right can be riveting.

Ultimately what makes Drishyam 2 succeed is that the stakes feel real. This particular element makes the events more affecting. I would love to talk about this film in more detail after a couple of weeks after more people have gotten a chance to see it. That way, I wouldn’t have to tiptoe around the important plot points. There is a lot to discuss but what makes this sequel a true success, is the brilliance in the writing. Sometimes you just have to sit back and appreciate what has happened. And just as with the first part, you will feel satisfied at the end of this one.

Until next time, bye.

Soorarai Pottru – Time For Take Off

There has been a lot of excitement surrounding Soorarai Pottru and with good measure. This is mainly because it is the coming together of an actor and director that promised something different. Now what you get out of this film will depend on your definition of different. But for me, what I got was an experience that was memorable.

I’d like to look at Soorarai Pottru as that, an experience rather than looking at ways to analyze the film. For once I’d like to take off my critic’s hat and put on my fan’s hat. And as a fan of Suriya and Sudha Kongara, what I got was a sumptuous experience. Yes there are flaws in this film but I can overlook them for what it offers as a whole.

Before I go further, I have to appreciate two departments that elevate the film. One is the fantastic music from GV Prakash which shines more in the work he does with the background score. And the other is the camera work from Niketh Bommi. From the landscapes in and around Madurai, to the more expansive horizons of the cities, we feel immersed in the action. It doesn’t feel or look artificial and the color tones used help a lot.

Talking about the aspects that make this experience worth it, there are two key factors. The first and what will be the most widely talked about one is the acting of the leading man. You will hear things such as the actor is back or he has rediscovered himself etc. What I’d like to say is that the actor didn’t go anywhere, he finally found a script that matches his ability. This is a scintillating take on what is a ‘masala’ film. Suriya manages to find nuances is many sequences that will blow you away.

The other factor is the direction of Sudha Kongara. Yes, the film could have been shortened a little bit but what is impressive is the way she lets the action breathe. The dynamics between the characters are established clearly but the way they change is fascinating to watch. This is particularly enjoyable during the interactions between Suriya and Aparna Balamurali. Aparna knocks it out of the park with her attitude and charm. It also helps that she is a fully fleshed out character rather than just a plot device.

Soorarai Pottru also has some great actors for the supporting roles, primarily Urvashi. We know she is capable of pulling off anything effortlessly and that is on full display here. Another great addition to the cast is Mohan Babu. There are two “mass” moments involving him in the second half that will make you whistle. And this brings me to another unique aspect of the film.

Though we’re watching it on an OTT platform, it is clear that this film was made for the big screen. There are several moments that would have worked wonderfully with a passionate crowd around you. Perhaps if this was intended for a streaming platform, it would have been structured differently. But as the film we see today, it edges into the riveting category.

In this kind of a story, whether you know what happened or not, you know how the film is going to play out. So, what we want, is to be captivated by the specifics. What triggered this man’s dream, what interaction does he have with those who oppose him. It is these kinds of details that matter and those work big time in Soorarai Pottru. They do because we get to see an actor and director in top form.

Finally, what this film can do on a personal level is something that will stir some discussion. It might start a fire in you or it might not. But regardless of what happens, this is a story that had to be told. Amazon Prime has a winner with Soorarai Pottru as it takes off beautifully and sticks the landing. The latter is always hard for a film like this to do but the end is satisfying, at least for me.

Until next time, bye.

The Trial Of The Chicago 7 – The Cost Of Justice

There is only one feeling I had when I came to know that Aaron Sorkin was making a film about a trial and that was pure excitement. I had a vague idea of what The Trial Of The Chicago 7 was about but didn’t want to read up on it. I’ve found that going into these kinds of films cold, works better as an experience.

What I found most impressive about the film is the way the incidents are shown. It is not A-B-C but it gives you a more comprehensive outlook of what actually happened. We get to see the events that happen around the trial and the forces that are at play. This makes us connect more with the characters and their actions.

We aren’t simply thrown into the middle but taken there step by step. This achieves the sense of familiarity that makes the events unfolding feel more poignant. And what happens on screen feels relevant regardless of which part of the world you belong to. That perhaps is the biggest strength of the film. The ability to make us feel the sense of injustice, the sense of prejudice and a sense of hope as well.

But for a film like The Trial Of The Chicago 7 to truly work, it needs to be technically strong. And truth be told, this is an area where the film does wonders. Right from the casting, to the editing and the cinematography, it is top-notch. The editing and camera work provide the viewers with different moods. It can be frenetic, it can be steady, depending on what the action calls for. That makes it feel like the film is moving and you do not get bored.

Of course, when talking about a film by Sorkin, we do have to address the writing. In fact, it is probably one the main reasons why we love to watch his films. And he is in sparkling form in The Trial Of The Chicago 7. Be it inside the courtroom or outside it, the dialogue flows beautifully. Aided by some wonderful acting, the weight of the words being spoken can be felt by us. Without trying to spoil it, there’s a moment with Yahya Abdul-Mateen II’s character that will stop you in your tracks.

Moments like these keep popping up and before you can analyze the film, you are drawn into the proceedings. I wonder how this film would work the second time when you know what happens. Will it be as gripping? Well, that is a question for another day. For now, what we have is a film that is powerful, relevant and entertaining to boot.

The Trial Of The Chicago 7 is a film that should be seen for people to understand what the cost of justice can be. Perhaps the relevance of the film makes it feel like a better film than it is. Whatever the reason maybe, all I can say is that Sorkin has done it again. Netflix have a winner on their hands and a film that can surely spark discussions. Whether it will do so is for us to answer but if there’s one thing we know, the whole world is surely watching. Keeping an eye out for justice and for those who fight for it.

Until next time, bye.

Palm Springs – New Wine In An Old Bottle

WARNING: MILD SPOILERS AHEAD

One of the best things a movie can do is make you feel good after you have seen it. It doesn’t have to be a happy movie to do that but just be one that you like. This was the case with Palm Springs, a film that takes the concept of an infinite time loop and turns it into something fresh and exciting. Writer Andy Siara’s script is able to find new ways to play with this concept. What we get are jokes that feel organic and a resolution that is sweet, touching and ultimately satisfactory.

For a film like to work, the chemistry between the leads has to be spot on and Palm Springs is lucky to have actors who are in sync with one another. And this film adds another dimension to what Andy Samberg can do on screen and the way his relationship with Cristin Milioti develops is a treat to watch. The very fact that the movie begins with Samberg knowing he’s in a time loop is a touch of real genius.

You can look at this at a literal level as well as unpack the metaphorical meaning behind it as well. And for the latter part, I think this is what it all boils down to. As human beings, we are creatures of comfort and when a situation makes us feel comfortable, we rarely want to escape it. This does not make Samberg’s character immature in any way but just him accepting his fate and more importantly the comfort that comes along with it.

The film gets a shot of energy from Milioti’s performance. We are used to Samberg usually being the more active one but the reserved role he takes here serves the story better. The way she enters the world of the time loop, tries to make sense of it and eventually what she does in the finale is brilliant. In a way, she could be termed as the audience as she is getting to grips with this world the same way we would be.

Director Max Barbakow doesn’t waste any time with his storytelling. He gets to the point and that gives us a crisp and entertaining experience. A special mention must be made of the cinematography by Quyen Tran who keeps things in the desert glitzy and beautiful to look at. Palm Springs is also aided by a number of smaller characters who end up scoring in a funny way. The best of the lot would hands down have to be JK Simmons. The first time we ‘see’ him, all we hear is his voice and it brings a smile to our faces. I am not going to tell you to watch Palm Springs because it will restore your faith in love. I think you should watch it, because you will see a film that is entertaining and innovative and that in itself is a triumph.

Until next time, bye.

The Top 50 Films I Saw This Year

THESE ARE LIMITED TO ONLY THE FILMS I SAW THIS YEAR AND NOT JUST THE ONES THAT RELEASED IN 2020

I would like to begin by saying I hope all of you are doing well in these tough times. I would like to give a good reason as to why I haven’t been writing here but all I have is laziness to offer! I hope to change that in the coming days – I’m starting this with something like a recap of my year. Since the 1st of Jan this year, I have seen 312 films from all parts of the world. So, here are the top 50 films that made the biggest impression on me. They are split into 3 categories: Indian, foreign and English. The list is in no particular order and I would love to hear what you really liked this year too. I will also mention wherever applicable, the place where you can watch them. Here goes:

INDIAN:

  1. Andha Naal (YouTube)
  2. Jogwa (YouTube)
  3. Mughal-e-Azam (YouTube)
  4. Maqbool (Hotstar)
  5. Munnariyippu
  6. Ayyapanum Koshiyum (Prime)
  7. Kammatipaadam (Hotstar)
  8. HIT: The First Case (Prime)
  9. Unda (Prime)
  10. Rocket Singh: Salesman Of The Year (Prime)
  11. Thoovanathumbikal (Hotstar/Prime)
  12. Anand (Hotstar)
  13. Pushpak (Prime)
  14. Jewel Thief (YouTube)
  15. Garm Hava (YouTube)
  16. Uthiripookal (YouTube)
  17. Kaamyaab (Netflix)
  18. Yavanika (Hotstar)
  19. Devasuram (Prime)
  20. Monsoon Wedding
  21. Lootera (Prime)
  22. Namakku Parkkan Munthirithoppukal (Hotstar)
  23. Dil Bechara (Hotstar)
  24. Aparajito

FOREIGN:

  1. Portrait Of A Lady On Fire (Prime)
  2. Princess Mononoke (Netflix)
  3. The Lives Of Others
  4. I Lost My Body (Netflix)
  5. Train To Busan (Netflix)
  6. Moolaade
  7. The Platform (Netflix)
  8. Ugetsu
  9. The Circle (Hotstar)
  10. Nights Of Cabiria
  11. Poetry
  12. Bacurau
  13. Wadjda (Netflix)

ENGLISH:

  1. Uncut Gems (Netflix)
  2. The Lighthouse
  3. 1917
  4. Malcom X
  5. Good Boys
  6. Dark Waters
  7. Little Women
  8. Honey Boy (Prime)
  9. The Gentlemen
  10. Breaking The Waves
  11. Secrets & Lies
  12. The Half Of It (Netflix)
  13. The Wind That Shakes The Barley

Hopefully we get to the movies soon but stay safe till then. Here’s hoping for a good end to 2020.

Until next time, bye.

A Look Back At Piku 5 Years On

By Jaisri Nandhini S

“We are mad people, we are making a mad film!”
Says Amitabh Bachchan alias Bhaskor Bannerjee in the BTS clips of PIKU!
So true the words are for the film. Ever thought of watching a film where shit (literally) plays an important part in the entire narrative of the film? Ever imagined the Indian superstar who had been seen killing deadly villains over decades, could play a man whose only villain is constipation? Ever thought the OTT leading lady of Bollywood could be reduced to someone who could be as normal as the girl you meet in traffic could be? This is what PIKU is all about!

The significance of PIKU is all in its authentic writing that clearly defines the plot’s primary characters. Yes, the film is titled “PIKU” and it claims to be a women centric film which it is. But the core essence of the plot lies in the very fact that PIKU is not raised above any other characters. She is neither glorified nor kept in the limelight. She exists, like any other character in
the film. Yet, they make her strike hard and that is where the beauty of the characterization lies. She is neither Rani who explores herself nor Sehmat who experiments with her life. She does nothing special to be a special one, that is what makes PIKU one of her kind. She is neither a descendant from heaven nor a rebel without a cause.

The women flavors we see throughout the film makes us feel that it is written by a woman. Juhi Chaturvedi’s flamboyant writing makes us see PIKU elevated from being just a character to a real person. She is very much a human rather than a mere film heroine. She is someone who keeps eating something or the other. She is someone who stops the car to buy bangles in those roadside shops. She is someone who can’t stop playing with her catch clip. All these moments appear for a fraction of a second. But that’s where we see the real traits. She is blunt, straight, sincere, extremely moody yet adorable. She is as real as a film character could be.

She is hard and tough, yet there is a soft side to her which nobody really saw beyond that resting bitch face, except for Rana Chaudhary. There lies a realistic touch in every shade or emotion Piku shows. She is someone who has the strongest vulnerability and a fragile anger on the outside. When her life was no longer the way she wanted it to be, when she strives towards nowhere yet keeps trying and pushing herself, when she felt the heavy pressure of her parent’s indifference, when she misses her mother the most, all she does is to wander in the supermarket and fetch herself something to eat, in the most carefree fashion possible. But, she gets mad at her driver for her being late.

She is socially responsible. She hated a man on her date because he neither voted nor watched Satyajit Ray films. She even has a Ray poster in her room. She is financially and sexually independent. She is that woman who is aware that sex is a need and she was open about it. She was financially stable enough to take the decision of a break without any second thought and discussion. She believes in marriage, not because she can’t live alone, but she because believes in companionship. She is emotionally dependent. She’s in need of someone to understand her, but she was neither yearning nor desperate to find it immediately. She believed in going with the flow. She is sensitive to insensitivity. When you realize where she comes from, after all it is not an irony to find a “keep calm” poster in her office cabin.

The film’s cinematography is itself a language. It is a cleverly used tool to reflect the core concept of the narrative. Piku’s intro pans out from Ray’s poster, establishing her Bengali origin and her nature. She has more reaction shots than dialogues. Yet, things get conveyed beautifully from her perspective. When the entire family argues and discusses when Rana is about to leave Kolkata, all she does is eat mangoes unbothered by her surroundings. That says more about her than what she could have conveyed through words. The music understands the film and as it’s narrative needs an upper hand flows with it. Every single song has its purpose in the film.

The film is bittersweet until you realize that all got what they wanted. Bhaskor wanted free motion, a death not by constipation and no-hospital no-vein injection and a peaceful death, which he eventually got. He never wanted to sell Champa Kunj, which never happened. He wanted to ride a cycle in Delhi, which eventually happened in Kolkata. Rana’s much needed escape from his bugging family came in the disguise of Piku and Bhaskor. His not-so-evident crush on Piku is now at the stage of a blooming friendship. When Piku wanted to play Badminton with Rana in Kolkata and it never happened, the film ends with her playing Badminton with him in her Delhi home. Even the house maid who left home and promised to return, gets a happy ending.

Everything happens very subtly amidst all the chaos. Rana understands Piku like no other as he resonates with her. He is from a broken family stuck between his intolerable mother and sister. He empathizes with her situation of handling her household more than anyone else. This bond they share comes out openly in the car scene right before they enter Kolkata. There lies a sense of empathy along with the cute attraction he has for her. He can never be hard with her, because she is her softer version with him. This “silent pyaar” they share is the major take away from the film.

Bhaskor Bannerjee is that annoying yet unavoidable person. He has some lovely traits. He is the biggest feminist anybody could meet. He says marriage without purpose is LOW IQ. FACTS. He is high on ideology but falls flat in terms of empathy and emotions. He is a bit extra selfish in this already selfish world. But, Juhi’s success as a writer comes out when she manages to make the annoying Bhaskor Bannerjee lovable too. The balance she strikes between making Bhaskor tolerable and Piku non-angelic is all any writer should aspire to get. This is also pretty evident from her other works like October (wonderful arc Dan has) and Vicky Donor (both the leads). All her characters exist in shades, neither pure white nor plain black. And that is what makes Shoojit Sircar’s Piku one of the most relatable films with among the most relatable characters Bollywood has ever made.

So, mad people making a mad film is not really a MAD THING, afterall.

Until next time, bye.

Thank You For The Magic

How do you mourn the loss of someone you’ve never met? If they are someone like Irrfan Khan, it is difficult to come to terms with it. I never knew him personally but as with millions of others, I feel a deep connection. He felt like he was one of us. This was due to the person he was as well as the roles that he played. His death feels more personal than most celebrity deaths. I wanted to pen down a few thoughts yesterday but I couldn’t find the words. I don’t think I know where I’m going with this but as with life, I just hope that the journey is beautiful.

Irrfan was known worldwide for being one of the best actors of his generation and that is a fact. In the world of cinema, pretty much everything is subjective but ask around and most people would agree that he was among the best. But what made him such a good actor? I’ve thought long and hard about this and I’ve narrowed this down to three things. The first is his voice that seemed to flow like a body of water. Sometimes it used to gush like a waterfall and other times it was as still as a pond. But no matter whether he spoke in English or in Hindi, his words carried a power that most actors can only dream of. It never felt like he had memorized his lines, it sounded like words that were formed then and there. The second factor would be the way he walks. A good way to notice this is when he takes up roles where he has to play someone older.

Think about The Namesake and The Lunchbox, both are different films featuring different characters but Irrfan brings a sense of familiarity with them. With Ashoke in The Namesake, you feel a man who understands the weight of responsibility on him but wants to solider on. In The Lunchbox, we see a withered and resigned man who seems to have given up. It is one thing to bring this out through words and body language but the fact that we can sense this through walking, is a testament to his remarkable talent. And third is the gold standard by which most actors are measured against, reacting.

Whether he was being subtle or going a little over the top, Irrfan always seemed to find the right note for the required reaction. Take the above picture from The Namesake, this is a father teaching his son a valuable life lesson. But the smile does not indicate that he has achieved something, its just an acknowledgement of what he has done. And given what we know of Ashoke so far, it seems like the right reaction. This was a magical quality that Irrfan had and that permeated through every role he played. Whether he was being the badass Roohdar in Haider or the melancholic Pi in Life of Pi and even the student leader Ranvijay in Haasil, Irrfan made all of them feel like different people.

Today as we are reeling from the news of Irrfan’s passing away, the cinematic community gets hit with another hammer blow in the form of Rishi Kapoor’s passing. Two legends taken away from us without giving us any time to grieve. But as we know, the legacy that these stars have left behind is not the money they made but the love they inspired within us. Their work made us root for them, root against them, hate them, love them. Now and forever, they will always be a part of our lives. I’d like to finish this tribute with an excerpt from a poem by Mary Elizabeth Frye that seems apt on a day like this

“When you awaken in the morning’s hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry,
I am not there; I did not die”

Until next time, bye.

Dear Maeve Wiley,

WARNING: MILD SPOILERS AHEAD

When I thought about writing this, I was wondering what made Maeve one of my favorite characters from the recent past. There are so many things to admire about her. And she is without a doubt one of the best aspects of the show Sex Education. But what makes her so special? I think I’d like to talk a little bit about this. Meave played by Emma Mackey is a fiercely independent girl who stands up for herself all the time. Even when others talk bad about her or try to bring her down, she doesn’t back down. Her intelligence is another reason that makes her such an appealing character.

It is who she is and who she wants to be that makes her fascinating. We know a lot of about her, the way she has grown up etc. But we also get a glimpse of what she wants when in the second season, her dream house is revealed. What makes that heartbreaking, is how ‘normal’ it might seem but to someone like Maeve, normalcy itself is a dream. Added to this is the fact that the she is still not together with Otis and that makes us feel bad for her. But knowing Maeve, that is the last thing she will want.

Maeve is absolutely the kind of girl that I would like to have in my life. She will accept you for who you are but will still call you out. That fearlessness makes her so endearing. It is interesting to see where she goes in season 3 especially as the annoying Issac has made himself a part of her life. What about Maeve? Will she get the ending that she wants or is that something that will never happen to her? The way she has been written so far in Sex Education has been impressive and I hope that it continues.

This is different to what I usually write as it isn’t a review or analysis in any form. It is just me trying to pay tribute and show my appreciation towards a memorable character. If you have seen the show, you’ll understand why she is liked the way she is. And if you haven’t seen Sex Education yet, consider this as a plea for you to go watch it. To Maeve and to the writers, thank you for bringing such an incredible character to life. Time to go and think of that dream house with this dream girl.

Until next time, bye.

Singin’ In The Rain – Time For Joy

Writing about cinema during a time like this seems almost wrong. With the spread of the Coronavirus, it might not the be right time to talk about this but life has to go on. And if you are among the sensible people staying at home, you might be wondering what to watch. While we have an excess of quality content, I’d like to turn your attention to a classic from decades gone by. Singin’ In The Rain is one of those films that just fills with you with joy. In many ways, it is the perfect kind of movie for these dark days.

To begin with, it has some insanely catchy songs with incredible dancing to go along with it. The story is one that seems relevant even today as we have someone trying to keep up with the changing times. How we adapt to change is an emotion that all of us can relate to. Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynold and Donald O’Connor brings so much zest to their roles that their enthusiasm is contagious (pardon the usage).

This is one of the most iconic images in cinema and it comes in the middle of an equally iconic sequence. And in a way, it really captures the essence of Singin’ In The Rain. It is about finding that moment of joy that makes all the worries seem far away. A line in the titular song goes “I’m happy again” and that’s what all of us want in a time like this. I apologize for bringing this ‘review’ back to the current scenario but it is inescapable.

So, why did I write this? I myself don’t have an answer. But, I would like to implore you to give this film a chance. Will things become better by watching it? Probably not, but you will be filled with a little more happiness. Finding these brief moments of joy seems more important than ever before. That is what Singin’ In The Rain is capable of doing. Stay safe everybody and hopefully see you soon at the movies.

Until next time, bye.