Jatt & Juliet – Diljit Dosanjh is adorable in this Punjabi Rom Com

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Many people recommended Jatt & Juliet on my quora post.  After I saw Diljit Dosanjh in Udta Punjab, Jatt & Juliet moved to the top of the list.  I was completely taken with Diljit in Udta Punjab, and he was one of the best things about that film.  In Udta Punjab, he played a very quiet policeman who was shy in romance, but who could step up with the action when needed.

Diljit’s role of Fateh Singh in Jatt & Juliet is a bit different.  It’s a romantic comedy and he has a zany manic energy that reminded me very much of Varun Dhawan in Humpty Sharma ki Dulhania.  Margaret of Don’t Call It Bollywood compared Jatt & Juliet to DDLJ.  It does have the hate to love similar trope in the first half of the film.  But Diljit has this silly energy about him that reminded me more of Varun in Humpty — also because Pooja (Neeru Bajwa) is the rich girl that seems out of reach to Fateh.

Fateh’s goal is to marry a Canadian white girl and become a resident in Canada.  He meets Pooja at the airport and the sit together on the flight where he annoys her no end with his antics and incessant patter.  Pooja is flying to Vancouver to attend fashion school.

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Pooja is robbed when she’s about to put down a deposit on an apartment.  She hesitates to ask her parents for help because she doesn’t want them to tell her to come home.  She and Fateh end up living in the same rental house.  And then they end up working at competing next door restaurants.  Pooja thinks Fateh is ridiculous with his talking to his biceps every morning, and he loves to tease and torment her, nicknaming her “pest”.

There is an annoying subplot in the first half where Pooja helps Fateh scam their landlady’s white step-daughter to try to get Fateh a white Canadian bride.  That leads to both being kicked out of the rental house.

After the interval, they are both in dire straights and have to help each other.  Their competing restaurants were once one, owned by an estranged married couple.  They get the owners back together to save the restaurants from bankruptcy, and bond by working together.

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This was what I loved about their romance.  It wasn’t a bolt of lightning love at first sight.  It was gradual.  Little acts of caring.  Sharing work together, and teasing each other, and the romance happening organically.

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This is where the sweet Diljit I loved from Udta Punjab shone through in Jatt & Juliet.

Just like DDLJ, there’s another fiance for Pooja, and some misunderstandings on Fateh’s journey to get together with Pooja.  It has a great ending.

These two actors have fantastic chemistry together, and I’m looking forward to watching Jatt & Juliet 2.  Both films were mega hits in Punjabi cinema.

The negatives for me for Jatt & Juliet were some of the silly comedy side bits.  Instead of a comedy uncle like in Telugu films, there was sort of a comedy cousin.  Not that funny to me, but it may have also been the subtitles not portraying language play.

The other negative was that there weren’t enough songs!  Diljit Dosanjh is a leading Punjabi rapper singer, and he just lights up the screen in the song sequences and dance numbers.  I’m guessing it was the lower budget for a Punjabi film that limited the number of dance sequences, and maybe there are more in the sequel.  This one was my favorite from a wedding in the film:

 

Three and a half stars out of five.  I’m hearing that after Diljit’s Bollywood debut in Udta Punjab, that he is looking for more Bollywood roles.  That’s great news, because he is a real talent.  After seeing what he can do in this low budget dance song, I can only imagine what he would be like in a full blown Bollywood number.

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The Academy makes a bold step and invites 683 new members – including Sharmila Tagore!

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After all the lack of diversity at the Oscars this year — not any actors of color and with no nomination for female director Ava Duvernay the year before, Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs has taken a very bold step to change the makeup of the Academy membership.  Last year they invited a large number of new members, but this year goes way beyond that with a whopping record 683 new invited members, many of them women and people of color.

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The list is really exciting!  There are so many new women directors now in the group, and that may have the most impact.  (Both Wachowski sisters were added.)  I note many new women cinematographers, too.  The total list had 46% women and 41% new members of color according to Variety.

Idris Elba, who won TWO SAG awards, and was shockingly not nominated for an Oscar for Beasts of No Nation was invited.  Other names in the acting category popped out at me like

Nate Parker (for acting, but he’ll be up for directing and best picture next year).

Chadwick Boseman – “Captain America: Civil War,” “Get on Up”
John Boyega – “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” “Attack the Block”

Michael B. Jordan – “Creed,” “Fruitvale Station”
Daniel Dae Kim – “The Divergent Series: Insurgent,” “Crash”
Regina King – “Ray,” “Jerry Maguire”

Freida Pinto – “IMMORTALS”, “SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE”

and then Sharmila Tagore!

Among the directors, I was excited to see this name

Deepa Mehta – “MIDNIGHT’S CHILDREN”,“WATER”

And especially for Marielle Heller who directed the wonderful THE DIARY OF A TEENAGE GIRL

AND!  Taika!

Taika Waititi – “HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE”,“WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS”

Taika Waititi is also the director of the upcoming Thor movie.  (Hunt for the Wilderpeople is amazing and is in limited release now in theaters.)

Check out the entire list here.

 

 

 

Udta Punjab -A Triumph. A triumph of film making, acting and most importantly, over the censor board

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I saw Udta Punjab on my birthday which may not have been the best idea.  Because it’s a very dark film.  It’s taken me some time to process it and mull it over.  I’m really impressed with the film making of writer/director Abhishek Chaubey.  I enjoyed his film Ishquiya, and he was also a writer on Kaminey and Omkara.  This film straddles the issue of drugs in the Punjab (the title means Punjab’s High or Punjab’s Flying) by telling the stories of four people affected by it.

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Alia Bhatt is a field worker who comes across a packet of drugs from Pakistan.  Shahid Kapoor is a coke addicted rapper rock star who sings about drugs.  Kareena Kapoor is a saintly doctor who runs a drug clinic, hands out needles and speaks out against the drug problem.  And then there’s Diljit Dosanjh who plays a cop, complicit in looking the other way and taking bribes until he realizes that his younger brother is an addict.

This reminded me immediately of the Hollywood film Traffic that told the story of how the Mexican drug cartels impact four people.  I actually have not seen that Oscar winning film, but I did see the BBC series it was based on, Traffik which dealt with drugs from Pakistan in the UK, and it’s a British politician’s daughter who is the addict.  The story of Traffic/Traffik and Udta Punjab are not the exact same plot, but the intention is the same — show the impact through four different characters involved in the drug crisis in different levels.  And show how the problem is very political.  That is overt in Udta Punjab, and that’s why the Indian Censor Board demanded 89 cuts.

Abhishek Chaubey fought back, with the backing of other filmmakers and took it to the High Court.  In the end, the only cut and change was re-editing a scene where Shahid’s rock star urinates all over his audience at a concert.  Which we saw in the trailer!!  I’m so glad this film was released on time and that it is basically exactly what the filmmakers wanted to show us.  There was such a rush that the subtitles on the copy I saw still had some copy errors – when characters sang the subtitles were supposed to be italicized, but we saw typed out <i>.

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I don’t want to spoiler the movie.  The performances were amazing.  Kareena Kapoor was well cast as the cool, collected doctor.  I wasn’t surprised that she was good.  After the bomb of Shaandaar (which I did enjoy parts of), Alia and Shahid are back with a bang.  Shahid in Udta Punjab is acting at the levels he reached in Kaminey and Haider.   His character is a rock star.  He’s larger than life at nearly every moment, but he’s not just a comic caricature – Shahid manages to find some nuance and depth in the quiet moments, like when he’s arrested for lewd behavior and is thrown into a cell filled with criminals.

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Alia Bhatt just keeps getting better and better.  I thought she was a lightweight when I first saw her in Student of the Year, and she is very good in romantic comedy roles.  But when she’s in a drama like Highway, she can really pull out the stops with some amazing scenes.  And there are even more show stoppers in Udta Punjab.  Horrible things happen to her in this movie, and it is her indomitable spirit that carries us through.  I was stunned at what happens to her and how she just perseveres to the end.

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But Diljit Dosanjh’s humble policeman was the revelation of the film to me.  Diljit is big star in Punjabi films, but I have not seen him before Udta Punjab.  I have had Jatt and Juliet recommended to me, and I’m definitely going to seek it out now.  He was adorable in his timid romance with Kareena Kapoor’s doctor.  He wants to be the hero, and show her he can make a difference.  He’s trying to save his drug addict younger brother, as their father has died and he is the head of the house.  He has amazing quiet everyman screen presence and then can be explosive when an action scene calls for it.

This is a film that left me stunned, as it has realism like you rarely see in Hindi cinema.  It gives you a lot to think about.  And it lays bare just how big the drug problem apparently is in Punjab.  Udta Punjab already garnered a lot of press and talk just because of the censor fight.  I hope now that everyone can see for themselves the content of the film, that it will spur conversations about the issues raised in the film.

Four and a half out of five stars.

If you don’t mind spoilers, or if you’ve seen the film, I urge you to read Margaret Redlich’s excellent analysis on her blog Don’t Call It Bollywood.  She delves much deeper into the film than I have here.

 

 

Swiss Army Man – The craziest weirdest movie I saw at Sundance 2016

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Swiss Army Man was the craziest film we saw at Sundance 2016. (And we saw 22 films, so that’s really, really saying something.)  I saw the trailer before my viewing of The Lobster this weekend, and that reminded me that Swiss Army Man is coming to theaters June 24th.

The film begins with Paul Dano trying to hang himself on a deserted island.  A dead body (Daniel Radcliffe) washes ashore and begins to fart.  Copiously.

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Dano rides Radcliffes’ flatulent body like a jet ski off the island.  This is the first 10 minutes of the film, and it sets the tone of magical realism.  I don’t think I’ve ever been at a Sundance showing at Eccles Theater (the largest venue) with so many walk outs.  I was seated 7 rows from the front, and two groups of 4 people in seats in front of ours walked out only half an hour into the film.  From an article in Variety, they weren’t the only ones.  And this was after there were huge lines of people trying to get in to the showing.

This film was very divisive at the fest.  My husband hated it and found it juvenile.  My 23 year old son loved it, and gave it four stars (out of four).  I think it was his favorite of the whole festival.  I was in the middle.  I laughed quite a bit, but it wasn’t my favorite, by any means.

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The title, Swiss Army Man refers to all the ways that Daniel Radcliffe’s dead body saves Paul Dano’s on their journey back to civilization. Strike a spark, and the farting corpse lights a fire. Dripping rain fills the body with drinkable water (gross!). The body begins to talk, and they have conversations on the meaning of life, and what it means to be alive. It’s philosophical, and crazy weird. The body sees a picture of a girl on Dano’s phone, and his erect penis becomes a compass. Really.

The acting is great, and I have to give kudos to Daniel Radcliffe for his physical work.  He had to hold what looked like extremely uncomfortable poses as a dead corpse with a broken neck.

“The Daniels”, the directing duo of Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan, won a special jury prize for directing this film at Sundance. I wasn’t familiar with them before the fest.  Evidently, they “broke the internet” with their music video Turn Down For What.  Daniel Kwan, one of the directing Daniels duo stars in the music video:

 

You, dear reader, have the advantage over all those festival goers at the premiere.  You can watch the trailer below and decide if this is your kind of movie.  It’s certainly one I will never forget.

Two and a half stars out of five.

 

 

 

I loved The Lobster, every surreal absurdist minute of it

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I adored the absurd surreal film The Lobster.  I missed it at Sundance, where it premiered in January.  This is a love it or hate it kind of movie.  I loved it, but some of the people walking out of my suburban theater HATED it.  They really hated it.  For me, it was just my cup of tea, and a welcome standout after a string of mediocre films I’ve seen this past week.

The film opens with a woman driving in the countryside in the rain.  She stops her car, gets out and shoots a donkey in a field.  Gets back in her car and drives away.  It’s never referred to again, but that sets the tone of how absurd this world is that Greek writer/director Yorges Lanthimos has created.  We then first see David (Colin Farrell).   His wife is breaking up their 12 year marriage for another man.  And that means he has to leave immediately to be taken away to “The Hotel” to be paired up with another woman.  Singles and loners are not allowed in this near future dystopian world.

When David arrives at The Hotel (in County Kerry, Ireland), the manager (the always exceptional Olivia Colman) explains the rules to him.  He has 45 days to find a new mate or he will be turned into an animal.  He chooses a lobster, because they can live for 100 years and he’s always liked the sea.  “Excellent choice.”  He is warned that if he doesn’t find his true mate in time, he cannot couple after he is transformed if she picks another animal. “A wolf and a penguin could not couple because that would be absurd.”

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This film is populated by so many of my favorite character actors.  Olivia Colman of The Night Manager.  John C. Reilly is a man with an unfortunate lisp.  Ben Whishaw has a limp.  Ashley Jenkins of The Extras is known as “Biscuit Woman”.  Couples must come together with the same distinguishing characteristic.  Limping Man (Ben Whishaw) bangs his head against tables to get nosebleeds to pair with a woman with that frequent malady.  All the single residents of the hotel must go out on hunts into the woods with tranquilizer guns to search for “loners”.

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If they catch a loner, they can extend their stay at the hotel.  One unfeeling woman has bagged so many loners that she has an extra 160 days.  David (Farrell) has brought his brother with him, who has been turned into a dog.

Every one of the actors delivers their lines in a quirky deadpan manner.  I think that’s what inspired some of the hate of my fellow viewers at the theater, but I just thought it added to all the absurdity.  These actors commit to the bizarre rules of this film world.  It borders on absurd comedy, and then there are some sudden scenes of violence or drama.  Lisping Man is punished for masturbating in his room, by having his hand forced into a toaster, for instance.

The-Lobster-2016David escapes and becomes part of the Loner band in the forest where he meets Rachel Weisz.  They have to pretend to be a couple to venture into the city for supplies, and David enthusiastically falls into the playacting and kissing.  The young woman leader of the Loners is just as strict in her no fraternizing rules as the manager of The Hotel had been with her coupling rules.  Farrell and Weisz plot together to escape.

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The ending was a fade to black that left you hanging a bit, and was my most unsatisfying moment of the film.  The rest was just fantastic.  Colin Farrell gained 40 pounds for this movie.  He has quite the paunch and “dad bod”.  I think he relished being more of a character actor leading man in this film.  I thought he was so good, as was the always great Rachel Weisz.

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This film is not for everyone.  But if you love absurd surreal “Sundance” kinds of movies, this will be right up your alley.  Four and a half stars out of five.

U Turn – Shraddha Srinath and Roger Narayan shine in Pawan Kumar’s Kannada supernatural thriller

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U Turn is a Kannada language supernatural suspense thriller written and directed by Pawan Kumar.  Pawan Kumar blew me away with his amazing low budget Kannada film Lucia.  Lucia had twist after twist and I never knew what was going to happen next.

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U Turn starts upside down.  Literally.  We see the divider of a road, and the camera travels along it, but upside down as the opening credits roll.  Then the camera does a u-turn and continues to travel the urban highway.  Throughout the film there are ‘U’s sprinkled around, both in the visual framing of shots, and horseshoe knockers on doors, etc.

Shraddha Srinath, the star of the film, is introduced to us in a really clever way.  Rachana (Srinath) is riding in a rickshaw with her mother, and through their arguing we learn that she’s single, that her mother is pressuring her to marry, that her family is going away on a trip, and thus she will be alone.  It’s a really clever bit of writing.  She draws the rickshaw driver into the argument, showing us a bit of her moxie and personality.

Rachana is an intern reporter at The Indian Express.  She’s working on a story about people who make illegal u-turns on the flyover highway, moving the divider bricks out of the way, but not returning them after they make the turn.  She has a homeless guy at the intersection writing down their license plate numbers.  She goes to interview one of the drivers but he doesn’t answer the door.

Later that night after she is dropped off from her first date with the crime reporter, Aditya (Dilip Raj), the police come and arrest her.

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The police interrogate her as she had written her name in the visitor book, and is the last person to visit a man, found hung in his apartment.  They don’t believe her at first that she is a reporter and working on an investigative story.  Finally, the young cop, Nayak, listens and checks out her version of events.

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Roger Narayan played Nayak and he was my favorite actor in the whole movie.  He was great, and had a lot of subtle reactions.  You can tell he has a bit of a crush on Rachana, but he plays someone trying to hold it back, but still let’s you see it.

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I admire Pawan Kumar for turning some conventions on their head.  Rachana is the active heroine of the script, and later her boyfriend Aditya takes on the ‘damsel in distress’ role, and she tries to save him.   Shraddha Srinath did a good job carrying the film, and while he doesn’t have as much screen time, Dilip Raj shone in his supporting role.

I saw U Turn in a theater, and while there were a few jumps that scared me, the film just didn’t have enough suspense or thrills for me.  It’s based on a real incident, evidently, but the film did not have the magic of Lucia for me.

Part of the problem was the score.  The background music is critical in a suspense film, and this music just did not evoke the creepiness or scariness that it should.  The recent low budget Tamil film Pizza had not only music but a soundscape that added greatly to the creepiness.

Don’t believe me what a difference music and soundscape can make?  Watch this Scary Mary Poppins trailer with some different music:

 

U Turn is a good film, but it just wasn’t as scary and creepy as I was hoping it would be, or as mind-bending as Lucia.

Three and a half stars out of five.

Te3n – Amitabh Bachchan as an obsessed grandfather searching for clues to a family tragedy

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Te3n is a Hindi thriller starring Amitabh Bachchan as the grandfather of a young girl who was kidnapped and killed 8 years ago.  He can’t let the unsolved case go, and visits the police station every day for an update.  Vidya Balan is the police detective who tries to gently get him to move on.

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Nawazuddin Siddiqui was the police officer investigating the case 8 years ago, and botched it.  He has since become a priest, and Amitabh (John) also torments him regularly about the cold case.

Amitabh neglects his disabled wife, the bills and regular life in his obsession to find justice for his granddaughter.  He uncovers what he believes is new evidence in the case, and gets Martin (Nawaz) to accompany him to track down more clues.

Then another young child is kidnapped, and the details of the case seem to be an exact copy of the case of John (Amitabh)’s granddaughter.  Vidya calls on Martin (Nawaz) to help her find the kidnapped boy.

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What this movie got right was the obsession that family members can fall into, especially the elderly, with an unsolved case.  Our family happens to have a missing person/probable murder cold case.  Having a tragedy like that hanging over a family can take a heavy toll.  Amitabh lets all the despair and pain show in this movie.  His wife, and every one urges him to just let it go, but he can’t.  He just can’t.

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Te3n is written and directed by Ribhu Dasgupta and produced by Sujoy Ghosh of Kahaani fame.  It’s an authorized remake of the Korean film Montage, which I have not seen.  Te3n is set in Calcutta, but just never manages to reach the level of suspense and tension of Kahaani, or true surprises.  Here you have three of my favorite Indian actors in Hindi cinema, and while the film is good, it’s not as great as I was hoping it would be.  The ending was a satisfying conclusion to the thriller, but I had some unanswered questions.

Amitabh’s John is fleshed out, but I was left wondering if it was just this one case that led Martin, Nawaz’s former cop character to become a priest.

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Three and a half stars out of five.

Athadu – Killer disarmed by love and affection, my total catnip

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After the searing Malayalam gangster film Kammati Paadam, I wanted something lighter to watch.  Someone had recommended to me Athadu as their favorite Mahesh Babu film and it’s free on Youtube with subtitles.  (Love you Telugu Cinema industry for doing that!).  Athadu evidently means simply “He”.

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It starts super violent.  A young street kid murders someone, and then joins a gang.  And then we see the now grown up Mahesh and there is more violence.  I despaired at first as it was all this violence and blood — I’d had plenty of that with Kammati Paadam.   Mahesh is Nandu, a killer – a stone cold hitman, and Sonu Sood is his getaway driver.  He’s hired to stage an almost assassination of a politician, and is double crossed and chased for the murder.  During his escape on a train, an innocent person is killed.  And he takes on that victim’s identity, as the victim Pardhu was on his way to reunite with long lost family who hadn’t seen him in over a decade.  Pardhu had been orphaned and his grandfather and family had been searching for him.

Mahesh arrives in the village, and is welcomed as the prodigal son returned.  No one had seen Pardhu since he was a child, so they just say, “My you’ve grown tall!” and the like.  Nasser plays the grandfather, and Trisha Krishnan is Poori, Pardhu’s cousin.  Mahesh lays low and stays at the rural family compound for over a month.  You can tell he’s never had a normal family life and that this is all new to him.  And that’s when I realized, that this was going to totally be my catnip trope — killer disarmed by love and family!!   With a heaping helping of taking on an identity and trying to blend into a family.

It’s like Witness crossed with The Professional crossed with Sommersby!  (In a good way.)

Poori is infatuated with Pardhu/Mahesh.  She is fairly immature and has obviously been very sheltered and pampered.  She tells Mahesh that she is staying away from her sister meeting her potential bridegroom because she doesn’t want to overshadow her sister with her beauty.  Mahesh tells her she is not beautiful — her family’s just been telling her she is.

Thus begins the teasing and mock fighting between the two which escalates to an accidental brushing of lips.  (Swoon! — that’s both me AND the two characters swooning.  Poori actually sinks to the floor in a heap from the emotional impact of it.)

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Mahesh/Pradhu then fantasizes that he’s playfully nipping at Poori’s ear, and jolts back to reality in another favorite scene of mine.  There’s some very nice song sequences as they each fall for each other.

Mahesh/Pradhu also comes to his grandfather’s aid in a land dispute with an evil neighbor.  Cue the machete fight sequence!  (It’s nearly a requirement in a Telugu film.)  Mahesh finds out that the real Pradhu had played a mean trick as a kid, and gives money to the family anonymously so that their daughter can get an operation.

This film is filled with some of my favorite Telugu character actors.  Nasser, as I mentioned, plays Pradhu’s grandfather.  Prakash Raj, polyglot character actor of Hindi and many regional cinemas, plays the CBI officer on Nandu (Mahesh)’s trail.  And Sunil, my favorite comedic Telugu character actor, plays the childhood friend of Pradhu.  Mahesh confides in him that he’s not really Pradhu.  The two comedy Uncles are in it, too, but not so annoying.  Brahmanandam dares Mahesh to punch him in the stomach which he does so Brahmanandam actually made me laugh for once!

After one fight, Mahesh/Pradhu is fussed over by Pradhu’s aunt.  She tends to his cuts on his hands, and then feeds him with her own hands as she’s afraid the spicy food will sting his cuts.  This kindness affects Mahesh so much that he has to wipe the tears from his eyes.  He’s been trying to quietly resist the family, because of course he’s not really Pradhu, their long lost nephew or grandson.  He doesn’t think he’s worthy of any of their love and kindness.  I was almost wiping the tears from my own eyes at this scene because you can see the loneliness of the life he had led up to this moment.

Poori was more than a little irritating in how immature her character was.  She’s trying to be coquettish, but she really doesn’t know how.  She pouts that Mahesh/Pradhu hasn’t told her she’s beautiful, and then came one of the best declarations of love I’ve seen in an Indian film.  (I’ve posted the video starting at the scene below:)

 

He asks who said she wasn’t beautiful?  “You did!  You told me I wasn’t beautiful!”

Then he tells her that it was true.  “Then I didn’t know you were so beautiful.”

“But I’m the same even now!”, she replies.
“I’m not.  We see a moonbeam everyday.  Only sometimes do we think it is beautiful.  But it’s the same every day.  The change is not there.  It’s here!”, as he touches his heart.  “I fought Buji…How else did you want me to express my love?  I’m not like the others.  I don’t know how to live.  Only now I’m learning to live.”

I had to rewind and rewatch that scene a few times.  So great.

One of Mahesh/Pradhu’s acts of generosity leads to Prakash Raj finding him, and his true identity being revealed.  There is a fantastic scene that Mahesh has then with Nasser, the grandfather, that I won’t spoiler, but I really loved.

Then we’re back to action, as Mahesh goes back to the city to find out who the real killer was who framed him.  There’s an amazing final fight scene, and great comeuppance for the villains.  This is what Indian cinema does so well.  Great action paired with emotional drama and romance.  The plot is really nothing like Witness, but that is the film that I thought of immediately.  Hardened man used to violence is forced to adapt to a rural family life.  Total fish out of water, Nandu is not a cop — he’s who should be the villain, but we see through his actions that he has a marshmallow center.

athudu 3This film goes right up there as one of my favorite Mahesh movies now.  Really enjoyed it, and there were a few scenes that were truly magical.

Four stars out of five.

Kammatti Paadam -Dulquer Salmaan is the star in this gripping gangster movie, but Vinayakan and Manikandan steal the show

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Kammatti Paadam is a gangster epic. This film has a lot of depth and meat to it.  Dulquer Salmaan was amazing.  I’m admiring his choices of films and roles this past year.  He’s breaking into new ground and showing his acting chops outside the charming romantic lead type.  The poster shows him present day as a salt and pepper haired 42 year old security guard living in Mumbai.  (Yes, we see him doing security for a Bollywood film doing a street shoot!)  Just a touch of gray to his hair and mustache.  And I think he must have gained weight for the role.  He just looked more like his father Mammootty than ever with that substantial thick mustache.
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I looked up during the interval who the director is – Rajeev Ravi.  He’s only directed a few Malayalam films, but he’s worked extensively as a cinematographer in Bollywood, with Anurag Kashyap especially.  He was cinematographer on Bombay Velvet, Gangs of Wasseypur, Dev D, etc.  And key in Malayalam cinema, he was cinematographer for Classmates.  There were some really interesting shots — into plate glass windows, some shaky handheld work during action scenes, etc.  It just was visually interesting and not all straight forward shooting as we sometimes see in Indian film.

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The story is shown in a series of flashbacks after he gets a call in Mumbai from an old friend in Kerala who is in trouble.  Dulquer is Krishnan, a Hindu middle class kid and the name of the movie is the neighborhood he grew up in and the name of his gang.  We see his exposure to violence as a very young child, as he and his best friend Ganga see a local tough kill three men who challenge him.  Then another actor plays Dulquer as a young teen and we see that he has fallen in love with a Dalit girl.  The trouble is, so has Ganga.  Ganga and the whole gang are dalit, and the ringleader is Balan, Ganga’s older brother.  The actor who played Balan was incredible – newcomer Manikandan.

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Balan is played by newcomer Manikandan
We see Krish’s descent into violence as a teenager.  He gives a necklace to Anita, the dalit girl, and another reviewer pointed out that it was an echo of Michael Corleone in Godfather.  I recognized a Nayakan poster in one scene, but evidently there are more references and posters to other Indian gangster films in flashbacks.

Krish is jailed after he saves Ganga from being arrested by slashing a cop with a knife/machete in an impulsive act, ending up killing the cop.

When he gets out of jail, it’s young Dulquer acting the part.  We keep flashing back and forth in the narrative, and we can see present day Dulquer/Krish is injured with a bound torso, trying to keep conscious while riding a bus.

Balan, Ganga and the gang introduce Krish to their current operation — mostly transporting illegal hooch and bootlegging.  They also are hired to run off some poor families who are refusing to sell to a real estate developer.

Balan’s grandfather confronts Balan with his shame that his relative could do this to their relatives and people, and then the grandfather dies of the shock and shame.  This changes Balan and he wants to get out of the business as does Krish.  But they know too much, and a new rival in the organization won’t let things stand.  Balan is killed and Ganga blames Krish for it.

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Ganga, Krish and the gang go after Johnny, the rival and then lay low after the altercation.  Ganga tells Krish that he knows that Krish and Anita love each other but their families will never allow them to marry as it would be intercaste.  He says that he will marry Anita and try to make her happy.  Krish then goes to Mumbai.  The mystery through much of the film is how if Ganga was his romantic rival and “stole” his girl, why would he leave everything to help him and look for him all these years later?

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Vinayakan as the young and older Ganga

The guy who plays Ganga as an adult, Vinayakan was also fantastic.  I just looked him up and he was the villain John in Kali! The director found some great actors, and your sympathies are with the Dalit and how they keep getting screwed.  Their boss goes respectable and becomes a business tycoon in legal liquor and real estate, but the gang are left with nothing.

There is a final revenge scene, and Krish looks out over the city Ernakulam, Kerala.  He says to the person he’s killing that the city was built on the thick black blood of the Dalit people.  And then I realized that the idyllic country place from the childhood scenes, to the motley semi-rural shacks in the young men section to then the present day bustling city were all the same place.  And the point of the movie was that this vibrant young new city was built on the Dalit community being dispossessed and they did it for quick money to their own community.  That was probably obvious to the Kerala audience but I didn’t really get it until the end.

The women in the movie didn’t have much to do, much like many gangster pics.  One interesting note was that Balan’s wife seemed to have become a don herself after his death (and more successful.)  She assists Krish to find the answers at the end.  And there is an unrequited romance for Krish, and a whisper of a song motif for them, but no full fledged song numbers at all.  It was very much parallel cinema.  I’m guessing it’s much like Gangs of Wasseypur (which I haven’t seen yet), Kerala version.

Krish is our entre to their world, but he’s more a witness to what happens to the Dalit community.  He’s still middle-class and Hindu in the end and can move to Mumbai to start over, unlike the rest of the gang.

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The film felt long to me, and I wished it had been edited a little tighter.  (The filming ended in March evidently.)  It’s a sprawling gangster epic in the mode of Nayakan, Godfather, Casino, etc.  It’s not my favorite type of film.  So, so violent.  Shockingly violent in several parts.  The acting was great, but it’s a story of brothers of circumstance if not of blood or caste.   It’s the story of Ganga and Balan, and also Krish.

I admire this movie very much, but it’s not something I want to see over and over again.  It’s just very dark and violent and searing.  It was hard to see Dulquer be so violent in Kali, and this is even steps beyond that.  It’s not a silly action Masala movie.  He does the action scenes well, but he’s not a hero.

I thought we were seeing Dulquer play an adult in Kali, but this film shows him really, truly coming of age.  I’m excited to see him take on that mantle, and looking forward to see what roles he’ll take on next.

Four stars out of five.