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Monday, August 22, 2016

Oru Melliya Kodu - no-body knows...

Oru Melliya Kodu
(the thin line)
2016, Tamil
directed by A.M.R. Ramesh

Arjun Sarja as Shakthi
Shaam as Akshay
Manisha Koirala as Maaya
Aqsa Bhatt as Bhoomika (Amurtha)
Seetha as Dr. Brinda

A. M. R. Ramesh as Deva

Mohan's Measure ✳  ✳ 

Oru Melliya Kodu starts off being a good noir.  It has all the elements of a thriller, a missing body, a mysterious suspect, a femme fatale.  But, as things progress, it's credibility as a noir, as well as it success as a convincing story, start to unravel.

The reason seems simple.  Noir is based on justice, doing the right thing simply because it is the right thing.  It is often poetic, existential, not always logical, but always meaningful.  As such, the movie slowly progresses through the introduction of complex characters to an equally complex ending.

But, justice, it seems, is an Occidental thing; it is revenge that plagues the amoral Hindu mind, such as it does the characters in this film.   Who the revenge belongs to is the question, the object being obvious, the man who did the crime.  But, is it possible to catch a man from a crime which the police made him do?  Who is guilty, the criminal, or the people who instilled the crime?  Such questions are ignored in a movie that wants to make us laugh an evil laugh at the fate of the villain.

We are engaged through this, but at the end leave it to our bad fate.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Dharma Durai - Those were the days...

Dharma Durai
Tamil, 2016
directed by Seenu Ramaswamy

Vijay Sethupathi as Dharmadurai
Tamannaah as Subhashini
Aishwarya Rajesh as Anbuselvi
Srushti Dange as Stella

Raadhika Sarathkumar as Vijay Sethupathi's Mother
Rajesh as Professor Kamaraj

Mohan's Measure ✳  ✳  ✳

This poster, far more than others, tells you what Dharma Durai is all about.  Quite contrary to the original Rajnikanth cult classic, as well as Tamil film in general, Dharma Durai is a deeply open film about human emotions and that rare type of friendship and community found in Indian college life.

Such a fraternity includes competition and camaraderie in the same breath, as well as romance and platonic fidelity.  It is a unique set of emotions jealously guarded by Indian youth.  More than family, more than friends, it is college.

Dharma Durai is trying to return to this world several years afterwards, after a tragic incident makes him realize how little he is worth in the eyes of his own biological family.  Told in flashback, the movie takes the adults back to their own college days, when studies and books interwove themselves naturally around a world just opening up to the complexities of human life.

An open mind is what you will need to see this film, as everything from alcoholism to premarital sex are dealt with as though they are an every day thing.  Perhaps in a new India, they are.

There is something of the old in the film too, told through the quiet wisdom of the senior medical professor.  But, the clear contrast leads to choppy editing, which we observe despite the brilliant acting of all the stars.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Rustom - consenting adults

2016, Hindi
directed by Tinu Suresh Desai

Akshay Kumar as Commander Rustom Pavri
Ileana D'Cruz as Cynthia
Esha Gupta as Preeti Makhija
Arjan Pajwa as Vikram Makhija
Pawan Malhotra as Inspector Vincent Lobo

Mohan's Measure ✳  ✳  ✳  ✳

When we think of the city once called Bombay, we are immediately reminded of the gangs and thugs of inner city life which have been the ongoing subject of Indian film for decades.  Rustom takes us to another side.

In 1959, among the rich, powerful, but conservative Parsi community of the city, a murder takes place.  A husband, a soldier, a gentleman, finds his loving wife in the arms of another man, and kills the man.  But, he proclaims himself not guilty.  The famous Nanavati case is stylized and presented to us as the story of Rustom Pavri.  This could easily have played this itself out as yet another murder mystery story, and I still would have liked it.  But, what makes Rustom different is one extraordinary woman.

I have called her the prettiest face in South Indian film, but Ms. D'Cruz has pulled off something I did not expect her too.  The talented actress plays the shattered wife with certainty but not full believability.  But, where she excels is her screen presence, a presence so strong, so radiant, it is being compared to someone who was once considered one of the most beautiful women on earth, Ms. Audrey Hepburn.

That is saying a lot, and because of that this movie revolves around her as much as the camera does.  Because it immediately means the storyline has to go from ordinary Mumbai-walas to people of sophistication, manners, and a subtlety in acting style which will tie in with a woman of grace.  

Mr. Kumar does just that, despite the rough around the edges style of his obvious Punjabi upbringing.  His poise, especially in the courtroom scenes, remind us of Richard Gere, and perhaps that is whom the director wanted him to play.

Now, if Bollywood could just play this more.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Star Trek - metal heads

Star Trek Beyond
Directed by Justin Lin

Chris Pine as Captain James T Kirk
Zachary Quinto as Commander Spock
Zoe Saldana as Lt. Uhura
Karl Urban as Lt. Commander Dr. Leonard McCoy
Simon Pegg as Lt. Commander Montogomery Scott
John Cho as Lt. Sulu
Anton Yelchin as Ensign Sulu
Idris Elba as Krall
Sofia Boutella as Jaylah
Lydia Wilson as Kalara

Mohan's Measure   ✳  ✳  

There is something bittersweet in Star Trek Beyond which can only be felt by those who love the original series.  It is clear now, to no uncertain terms, that the we are in witnessing a reboot, a new set of adventures which will no longer pay homage to the past, but move forward into the future.  Gone is Ambassador Spock, the crew will very soon have a new Enterprise, and the uniforms are evolving into a 21st century fashion statement.

But, there is one statement which remains, a dream prophesied by Gene Roddenberry, the unity of humanity will bring mastery over technology and in turn, spread the message of peace throughout the galaxy.  And such a galaxy will be filled with humanoids like us, who share our value for life and tinkering with the latest techie toys.  For those that don't usually wind up being the bad guys in the Star Trek Universe, and you know what happens to them.

Technology is what makes Star Trek so different than Star Wars.  In the latter, it usually stands as hindrance to more ancient ways; in the former, it is about something wonderfully American, hope for the future, hope for humanity, hope for the essential good in all of us; and that all this hope will be set around machines, and our use of them.  This is told to us, however, in a story so ludicrous, only the die-hard will like it. Perhaps this is why it is surprisingly a flop.

But, despite the over the top action, the incredible spills, and the death defying CGI stunts, like the cast, the movie is far too good looking to overlook.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Babu Bangaram - ‘ayyo ayyo…’

Babu Bangaram
2016, Telugu
Directed by Maruthi

Venkatesh as ACP Krishna
Nayanthara as Sailaja
Sampath Raj
Posani Krishna Murali

Vennela Kishore

Mohan's Measure  Minus 1

You didn't believe us when we told you, Telugus.  Never use the "a" word by itself.  Use it with the name of deity, and things work out.  Otherwise it's bad luck.

I don't know if the bad luck will be yours but it certainly was mine.  Paper was thrown in the air, the crowded theater filled with Venkatesh fans, and I sat back in my seat ready for an entertaining film to review.  I fell asleep sometime between the pretzel bites and the closing credits.

What is this movie about? Who cares? Did you see what I gave it?  This is the possibly the worst movie to ever come out of India in recent years.  See it if you must; I'm not responsible for the psychiatric care you'll need afterwards.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Pyar Ki Kahani - Love and Honor

Pyar Ki Kahani
(Story of Love)
1971, Hindi
Directed by Ravikant Nagaich

Tanuja ... Kusum Sharma
Amitabh Bachchan ... Ram Chandra
Farida Jalal ... Lata
Anil Dhawan... Ravi Chandra
Bipin Gupta ... Mahadev Sharma
Madhu Chanda ... Shakuntala Sharma
Praveen Paul ... Ram Chandra's mother
Agha ... Advocate N. Prasad
Prem Chopra ... Banke

Mohan's Measure  ✳  ✳  ✳  ✳  ✳

Whether it is Mr. Bachchan, Ms. Tanuja, or even Ms. Chanda, who captures your attention, you cannot help be swept away by Pyar Ki Kahani, a simple but beautiful family drama that brings to light the character of North India just one generation after freedom.

Here were families who still loved education, Indian culture and values, and still held themselves in awe and esteem of a man their parents called Mahatma.  To relive these values is what this movie is all about, and the acting and depth of characters only adds to it.

Ms. Tanuja gives a sweeping performance as an innocent belle whose reputation is being falsely questioned, while Mr. Bachchan is charming and dignified as the handsome Ram who enters her life.  Through their simple arranged marriage romance, we are handed questions about friendship, dignity, what it means to be a man, and how faith and family work things out.  

Although my passion for South India is widely known, the UP-wala India of the 70s has the original (Kai Koduttha Deivam) beat by a long shot.  For there is an air of decorum and sophistication which appeals, and it is in it that we can all be proud to be Indian.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

James and Alice - a second chance at death

James and Alice
2016, Malayalam
directed by Sujith Vaassudev

Prithviraj Sukumaran as James
Vedhika as Alice
Saikumar as Davis Thekkeparambil
Kishor Satya as Dr Alexander
Parvathy Nair as Nandana Varma/Nandu
Manju Pillai as Advocate Rohini
Emine Salman as Isabel (Pinky)

Mohan's Measure ✳  ✳  ✳  ✳  

Those who convert to Hinduism or Buddhism often say it is the cruelty of the god of Abraham who chased them away from their faith.  As a practicing but not fully convinced Hindu, let me say that the religion of Kerala tells me you are all going the wrong way.

James and Alice is not without cruelty, but it is the cruelty of human beings which is the point here.  James's obsession with his work buddies and his job is at odds with Alice's constant dissatisfaction with him.  In a true adult world, divorce is the best answer, but what about little Pinky - lovely little Pinky, with the winning smile and loving attitude? What is to happen to her? It doesn't seem to matter, as separation leads to divorce papers being filed.  

In these moments of selfishness, we are all immortal; our decisions, our feelings, our values being placed above all else.  But, there are forces of work which are completely outside of us, forces of not necessarily what is right, but certainly what is good.  In the case of this couple, Death lends a hand, and shows the way.

James and Alice is a secular film with strong Catholic overtones, and as such, is honest, straightforward and undeniably aware of the human foible.   Because in all Occidental faith, none of us are gods nor can become God; we are simply accountable to the One Who Rules over us, like it or not.  But, it is in this frailty where the best in all of us, and in Him, can be found.