Mohan's Measures:

✳ ✳ ✳ ✳ ✳ Superb
✳ ✳ ✳ ✳ Excellent
✳ ✳ ✳ Good
✳ ✳ Not Bad

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Vikram Vedha - story be told

Vikram Vedha
2017, Tamil 

Directed by Pushkar-Gayatri

R. Madhavan as Vikram
Vijay Sethupathi as Vedha
Kathir as Pulli
Varalaxmi Sarathkumar as Chandra
Shraddha Srinath as Priya

Mohan's Measure ✳ ✳ ✳ 

Did anyone say Tarantino? Vikram Vedha once again takes us into Tamil Nadu's ongoing love affair with pulp noir by introducing us to Vikram, a tough cop who kills on sight but sleeps well at night because of the fact that he only kills the bad guys. From the moment he appears, we can almost smell the mix of sweat, drugs and alcohol. His romantic moments are no prize either, his educated wife being little more than a toy to his desires and reluctant participant to his self-styled tough guy ideology. I am reminded of Spenser for Hire without the chivalry or culinary skills. 

But, Vikram's wife, Priya, can hold her own. Her obvious good looks make her flaunt her femininity, but she is certainly nothing less than a challenge to her husband's brutish ways. A no nonsense junior lawyer, she could care less for his career in her defense of his arch nemesis. 

It is Mr. Sethupathi's brilliant portrayal of the legendary nemesis, Vedha, which carries this movie. His name is the Tamil pronunciation of Baital, the vampire whose moral stories to Raja Vikramaditya was very much a part of even this ABCD's childhood. 

And he fills us and Vikram with stories, humorous stories, sad stories, violent stories. All are intended to teach Vikram something, namely, there is a very fine line between good and evil in this world, and indeed, a man has to watch his back. 

All the makings of good film noir, and yet something doesn't feel right. It has taken me a sleepless night to figure it out, but here it is. Truly good film noir has something which no one, not even Vedha has, a certain touch of overarching disillusionment, an awareness of a Greater Morality which keeps pulling at the characters, asking them to at least wish the world were different. There is a nonchalant acceptance in all the characters in this movie that makes us feel they are liking things as they are, surrounded by the smell of guns, drugs, and death.  Pulp noir lacking the pulp...forgive me for sticking to the classics. 

Friday, July 21, 2017

C/O Saira Banu - Hand of God(dess)

C/O Saira Banu
2017, Malayalam

directed by Antony Sony

Manju Warrier as Saira Banu
Shane Nigam as Joshua Peter
Amala Akkineni as Annie John Tharavady
Niranjana Anoop as Arundathi
Raghavan as Judge Janardhana Kurup
Sujith Sankar as Sebastian
Jagadeesh as Advocate
Mohanlal as Peter George (Voice only)

Mohan's Measure ✳ ✳ ✳ ✳

God could not be everywhere; that's why He created mothers.

Bollywood would have had great difficulty making a film like C/O Saira Banu; its stereotypical view of women merely as objects would have flown in the face of a film like this, leaving us all with a bad taste for the movie as well as Bollywood in general.

C/O Saira Banu is all about women.  Not bad women, not vamps, not femme fatales, not superheroes, but regular women, each trying to make it in a world where a woman is judged for her every action, not by a chauvinistic, backward India, but by a world which has long forgotten the Sacred Feminine, the power of being a woman.

Both Saira and Annie are good women, conservative women, and most importantly, respected women.  Their strength lies in their respective pride in what it means to be a woman and what it means to love a family in a way only an Indian woman can.  They could have been good friends, but a series of coincidences opens doors for each to be pitted against the other for an honor uniquely female.  For what greater quality is there in a woman than forbearance?

C/O Saira Banu is unique and wonderful because it isn't about women trying to take on men's roles; it is about women being women, operating from that amazing instinct, wisdom and a passion for justice over order which make men both awestruck and powerless.

A lesson to be learned by young Joshua, who steals his late father's motorcycle and takes it on a joyride, leading to his being accused of manslaughter.  Through the events and investigations which follow, bittersweet truths are brought about each person which make us respect the lead characters all the more, and makes men like me to feel, rather than think, through a crime noir - for the very first time.

The trial of the decade pits the two amazing women against one another, and allows two talented and beautiful actresses to provide near brilliant performances. 

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Hindi Medium - Chandni Chowk to Chinese

Hindi Medium
2017, Hindi

directed by Saket Chaudary

Irrfan Khan as Raj Batra
Saba Qamar as Meeta Batra
Deepak Dobriyal as Shyamprakash Kori
Sanjana Sanghi as young Meeta
Delzad Hiwale as young Raj Batra
Sumit Gulati as Raj's junior shopkeeper
Swati Das as Tulsi Kori
Dishita Sehgal as Pia Batra
Angshuman Nandi as Mohan
Amrita Singh as the principal of Delhi Grammar School

Mohan's Measure ✳ ✳ ✳

If there is a concept which confounds us expatriates about India, it is status.  For it is not simply having money, it is the fine art of flaunting it.  Branding, it is called and it captures the Indian mind more than the spirituality the West knows us for. 

And what better symbol of status than our children?  For the Batras, getting their young daughter admitted into the finest private school in Delhi is just what they need to get into the good graces of the elites. It is an idea becoming epidemic here too, as parents trade in their ordinary vehicles for BMWs just to look the part of private school parents. 

For the Batras, their obsession with status have them looking quite the opposite, joining the lower classes in seeking a seat through the reservation system.  It is here where they find out what they were missing,  the hard way. 

A movie with a powerful message about what really matters, Hindi Medium is a pleasant film about friendship, family and the fact that, behind all the corruption that is India, there is something to be said for the common man, what to speak of good old fashioned public school education. 

To quote Captain America, we all could use a little old-fashioned about now. 

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum - the scoop on the poop

Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum
(the stolen article and the witness)

2017, Malayalam

Directed by Dileesh Pothan

Fahadh Faasil as the Thief
Suraj Venjaramoodu as Prasad
Nimisha Sajayan as Sreeja
Alencier Ley Lopez as A.S.I. Chandran
Sibi Thomas as Sub Inspector Sajan

Vettukili Prakash as Sreeja's father

Mohan's Measure ✳ ✳ ✳

Interesting...the first word that came out of my mouth after seeing Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum, a quirky but engaging crime comedy directed by Mr. Pothan.  The movie is quiet, understated, and very realistic, showing Kerala in all its beauty and its ugliness. 

Communism abounds in the movie, the very air of the police station reeking of the layers upon layers of paperwork which needs to be filled out, and desperation of the police officers in having to fill out another set.  Equal to it is the suffocating fields of solar panels that skirt the village, while in equal desperation, people gather to celebrate a temple festival, the last bastion of humanity an inhuman world.

In all this desperation, a couple arrives at the station in an equally desperate mood. According to the wife, a thief, who is also in the room, stole her marriage chain, her thaali, while she was sleeping, and when she caught him in the act he swallowed it.  The thief claims he didn't do anything, and soon becomes subject to torture and repeated questioning.  His philosophy is simple, never give in to anything until the situation becomes desperate.

In the hopes of avoiding more paperwork, the cops decide to feed the thief, in the hopes he will give up the swallowed goods in the "natural way".  Thus begins a search for meaning, as the value of gold is weighed against the value of a human being, a cop's anger and disillusionment, and a dysfunctional couple.

In a poignant and extended sequence, the thief and Prasad battle it out in a canal.  It is at this point I got lost, because the otherwise simple story feels interrupted by this battle, and how it ends with both giving up.  I would have remained utterly confused today, but heartfelt gratitude must be given to Bollywood Scholar Margaret E. Redlich, who gave away the "Da Vinci Code" of this movie in her article this morning.  

There is little, if any, doubt that Catholicism has a lot to do with the culture of Kerala. That is why two men struggle to fight in a canal.  It is the Baptism, the redemption from the problems and sins which plague us, which is represented here.

And, it is the comedy, poignancy, and sheer ridiculousness of it all which brings meaning and all turns out in the "end" - so to speak.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Hare Krishna! The Mantra, the Movement, and the Swami Who Started It All - As American as Samosas

Hare Krishna! The Mantra, the Movement, and the Swami Who Started It All

directed by John and Jean Griesser

AC Bhaktivedanta Prabhupada Swamiji
Alan Ginsberg
Prof. Graham Schweig
Rukmini Devi Dasi
Gaura Vani Buchwald

Mohan's Measure ✳ ✳ ✳ ✳

It is with due thanks to the teeming Telugu American population that every American city has at least one Hindu Temple.  Never mind the ridiculous politics and emotional struggle it took to build them, the temples now stand out in the minds of Western Suburbanites as symbols of Hinduism of the US.

The Telugus, indeed all but very few Indians, are given any credit or even make an appearance in Hare Krishna!, a documentary marking the 50th anniversary of the ISKCON and the 40th of Srila Prabhupada's passing. Long before anyone had even thought of what a US Hindu temple should look like, there was ISKCON, its beautiful icons, music, and food reminding all US raised Indian Americans of what they had left behind.  

ISKCON is today more a part of the American fabric than any Hindu temple. It has been labeled a cult, ridiculed in movies, and mocked at by mainstream Hindus, who see it paling to insignificance before the powerful vision of Vedanta.  But, still it stands, an institution, an organization, and an icon for the theistic sentiments of a world of people who found refuge in Bhagavad Gita discourses and platefuls of delicious prasadam.

All thanks, then, should really befall on one man, HH Sri Bhaktivedanta Prabhupada Maharaj, the sole visionary of his own American Dream. By bringing the West into Vaishnavism, he has inspired thousands of others, including myself, to go on their own vision quest, to seek out greater meaning to life, and to find a message behind all the uncertainty.

Hare Krishna the movie tells us of this man, the near impossible mission he received from his guru, and how this took shape as a world-wide mission.  The documentary thanks the real Vaishnavas, George Harrison, Alan Ginsberg, and others who supported the lonely old Swamy in turning Hare Krishna into a household word. The movie is a self-telling documentary, with the voice of Prabhupada interspersed with conversations with the devotees who knew him and worked with him on creating what is nothing short of an empire of the spirit.  The story clearly illustrates how all that happened is nothing short of a miracle, and how in the decade or so years he had left on the earth, one aging man in orange robes transformed a world. 

One leaves the theater teary-eyed, but wondering, in a city the size of New York, with teeming populations of doctors, dignitaries, and taxi drivers, where were the Indians when Prabhupada stepped on our shores?  Something to think about, perhaps even talk about, at your next suburbanite social gathering.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Jagga Jasoos - Sing-Along with Shruti

Jagga Jasoos
(Jagga the Detective)
2017, Hindi

Directed by Anurag Basu

Ranbir Kapoor as Jagga
Katrina Kaif as Shruti
Saswata Chatterjee as Jagga's father
Saurabh Shukla as the Police Inspector

Mohan's Measure  ✳ ✳ ✳ ✳

When I heard that the movie was starring Ranbir Kapoor and Katrina Kaif, I began searching for the number of the Censor Board. But, Jagga Jasoos is a film which surprised me, and I am sure it will surprise you too.

The movie is a family-oriented, whimsical tale, particularly intended for wide-eyed kids who want to see other young people tell amazing stories.  In a style reminiscent of Barney the Dinosaur, Shruti is a storyteller who takes us into the world of Jagga through ad-hoc sets and a choir of clean-cut kids.

We soon learn that singing is the only true way that Jagga can communicate with all of us, his singing used to hide a severe speech impediment.  His treatment is found in the kind-hearted man who adopts him, played very convincingly by the very same actor who played the infamous Bob Biswas in Kahaani.  Through his kind father's practical wisdom, Jagga grows up to be respected by police and criminal alike as a brilliant detective. 

Mr. Kapoor finally sheds his sex-crazed druggie facade to re-introduce us to the Barfi-like Jagga, compassionate and innocent, appropriately clothed to remind us of Harry Potter, lost in a world where loneliness - at least without Shruti - is his constant companion.  To say he is convincing might be exaggerating the point, as much of the acting is hyperbole.  But, he does manage to make us forget Rockstar, if only through the length of this movie.

Ms. Kaif's clothing certainly is lengthened, at least to the point where are we are not covering the kids' eyes.  Great care is taken to turn Sheela Ki Jawani into underaged maami, cute enough to have a crush on, but far from sexy.  She wears oversized glasses and her face and clothing makes her appear more rounder than she actually is, at times to the point where we hardly recognize her.

Rounding out the story is Mr. Shukla as the corrupt and disillusioned ex-spy,  who laughs at Jagga's naivete as much as his over-pronounced sense of right and wrong.  But, it is this moral indignation which leads us through a very grown up story of gun-racketeering and terrorism, although the violence and language are lessened to a point where kids - and parents - can feel safe.

By the time the movie ends, we are enchanted with Jagga, Shruti, Santa boxes, et. al.,  to wait for the sequel. Now if only the smart-phone spoiled kids in the theater would take a moment to watch with us...

Friday, July 7, 2017

Ninnu Kori - "Kya?!" Bay ...Area

Ninnu Kori
(Wishing for you)
2017, Telugu

directed by Shiva Nirvana

Nani as Uma
Nivetha Thomas as Pallavi
Aadhi Pinisetty as Arun
Murali Sharma as Pallavi's father
Tanikella Bharani
Balireddy Pruthviraj

Mohan's Measure ✳ 

There was a time in not so ancient history when India drew a very fuzzy line between America and Heaven.  The US of A was the Land of Milk and Honey - perfect jobs, perfect people, perfect lawns, and perfect houses.

Well, now that everyone from there is here, America is little more than novelty.  The big house - everybody has somebody who lives in one, the perfect lawn - the gardener shows up once a week, the perfect people - how can there be when everybody in our neighborhood is from back there?!

First-time director Shiva Nirvana uses the Silicon Valley as a quaint backdrop to tell a soap-opera like tale of a complex love triangle.  No doubt, the fantastic set of actors make this movie believable, their joys and sorrows played out to detail, and the occasional moments of comedy subtle without the presence of Vennela Kishore and Brahmanandam.  Yes, this is a mature movie for a mature, and undeniably rich, Indian America audience.

So, why is it so damn boring?!  Director/Writer Nirvana has decided that Tollywood should become Bollywood, because it shouldn't be just the Punjabis who have torrid pasts.  But, try and keep a straight face when the mysterious past of Pallavi turns to be some schlep named Uma Maheshara Rao from Wyzag.

I mean doesn't the Telugu American community have enough problems in trying to run its innumerable organizations, umpteen hundred temples, and a plethora of heavily-accented gossip mongers?  Does it really need to have every old crush and lover from Andhra University show up at the doorstep?

Mr. Nirvana seems to think so, and in turn, he maintains significant distance from the Bay Area's thousand or so Andhra/Telengana restaurants and its dozen or so Hindu temples.  Perhaps, one should ask him to join a temple board for a week and see if he feels the same way.