Andhadhun : Sriram Raghavan Does A Hitchock, Or Is It A Coen ?

Of the four movies made by Sriram Raghvan until Andhadhun, Johnny Gaddar defines his sensibilites as a filmmaker the most I’d say. The man obviously has an obsession with Bollywood thrillers and music from the 70s and makes conscious effort to use it as a motif in every movie of his, not much unlike Tarantino’s thing for B movies from Italy and Hong Kong. Though his debut as a director was in the Ram Gopal Varma stable with Ek Haseena Thi, it was indeed with Johnny Gaddar that Sriram Raghavan truly came into his own. Everything about the movie was alien to Bollywood at the time it was released. Sriram Raghavan had quietly slipped in neo-noir into the Bollywood portfolio. He has the most outlandish choice of lead actors too interestingly. Saif Ali Khan broke new ground with Ek Haseena Thi, Neil Nitin Mukesh had a gritty debut in Johnny Gaddar, Varun Dhawan dropped his Govinda-born-again desi boy act for the first time, briefly though and asked the audience to take him seriously as an actor in Badlapur and now Ayushmann Khuranna has gone and done the same, explore new territory as an actor, I mean. The twist in Sriram Raghavan films starts right with the casting I guess.

Andhadhun is Sriram Raghavan in top form and he makes your time in the dark hall worth every second of it. The premise was initially Hitchcockian with a dash of Billy Wilder thrown in. More noirish than neo- noir, the proceedings on screen early on invoked memories of classics from Vertigo to Double Indemnity to The Big Sleep. Sriram Raghavan is a man born in the wrong age of cinema I could’nt but help feel and that’s when I noticed a thematic homage to the Coen Brothers brand of filmmaking, a cinematic wormhole between ages I’d say. Like in life and in the Coens’ world, most notably the one in Fargo, in Andhadhun too ordinary people have their lives turned topsy turvy by extraordinary acts of crime in the heat of a moment. Quirky criminal characters are around here too. Sriram Raghavan’s greatest success in Andadhun is that he has managed to imbue a genuine element of humor throughout the film without compromising on any elements of suspense in this taut thriller. It’s that humor factor which might make this film more endearing to the viewers in stark contrast to the gritty thriller that Badlapur was.

Any discussion about Andhadhun would be incomplete without an elaboration about the two individuals who carry this film almost entirely on their shoulders, a measured Ayushmann Khuranna and a terrific Tabu at her wicked best, the Ruk Ruk girl almost but with a deadly twist. She pulls off the difficult role effortlessy and when I tell you that you can’t hate her even in her meanest moments on screen, you could accuse me of being a biased fan boy but trust me, once you get to watch her you’d agree too. You can tell she’s having fun with the role too. Anil Dhawan relives his brief glory days in a role that’s almost him playing himself. Radhika Apte is her brilliant self again and no she’s not frowning, entirely. Zakir Hussain is a Sriram Raghavan regular and transforms into character like always. Another Sriram Raghavan favorite Aswini Kalsekar makes her mark in a brief yet fiesty role. Manav Vij was a new face to me. From the guy who played the autodriver and Chaya Kadam who played Maushi to the kid next door, no character, however short their screen time, is without reason in a Sriram Raghavan film. Everything counts and nothing is what it seems to be, so don’t blink when you’re watching Andhadhun.Kidding.Am I? Find out for yourself.

ഫഹദ് ഫാസിൽ ഈസ് വരത്തൻ.വരത്തൻ ഈസ് സ്ട്രോ ഡോഗ്സ്.

പണ്ട് ഹിന്ദി പടങ്ങളിൽ ധർമേന്ദ്രയും ജിതേന്ദ്രയും ചെറുപ്പത്തിൽ കുംഭമേളക്ക് പോയി വേർപെട്ടു പോകുന്ന പോലെയാണ് ബിഗ് ബിക്ക് ഞാനും കണ്ണനും വീരയ്യയിൽ കേറി ഇരുന്നത്. ഫസ്റ് ക്ലാസും ഹൌസ് ഫുൾ ആയ കൊണ്ട് ഞങ്ങൾക്ക് അടുത്തടുത്ത സീറ്റ് കിട്ടിയില്ല.ഒരുമിച്ചു പടത്തിനു കേറീട്ട് കൂടെ വന്നവനോട് ഇടക്ക് ഇടക്ക് കമന്റ് പറയാതെ പടം കാണുന്നെന്റെ വിഷമം കല്യാണം കഴിഞ്ഞവർക്ക് ഒരു വല്യ സംഭവം അല്ലായിരിക്കാം എന്നാലും ഏതാണ്ട് പകുതി കഴിഞ്ഞപ്പോ ആണ് ഇതൊക്കെ എവിടെയോ കണ്ടിട്ടുണ്ടല്ലോ എന്ന് തോന്നിയത്. സണ്ണിയെ കണ്ട തിരുമേനിയെ പോലെ. ചോദിയ്ക്കാൻ ആണേൽ ലവൻ അടുത്തും ഇല്ല. കുറച്ചു കഴിഞ്ഞാണ് എനിക്ക് ഫോർ ബ്രദേഴ്‌സ് ആണ് ബിഗ് ബി എന്ന് കത്തിയത്. ഒരു ഡിസപ്പോയിന്റ്മെന്റ് തോന്നിയെങ്കിലും ലോകത്തിന്റെ ഒരു ഭാഗത്തു ഒതുങ്ങി പോകേണ്ടിയിരുന്ന ഒരു കല സൃഷ്ടിയെ ഭാഷയുടെയും ഭൂമിശശാസ്ത്രത്തിന്റെയും അതിരുകൾ കടത്തി ജനകീയവത്കരിക്കുന്ന സേവന കർമം ആണല്ലോ അണിയറ പ്രവർത്തകർ ചെയ്തത് എന്ന് ആലോചിച്ചു ആശ്വസിച്ചു. ബിഗ് ബി എന്നാലും ഇഷ്ടപെട്ട സിനിമകളിൽ ഒരെണ്ണം തന്നെ. സാഗർ ഏലിയാസ് ജാക്കിയുടെ ടീസർ ഒരു ബി എം ഡബ്ള്യു പരസ്യം ഓർമിപ്പിച്ചു കെട്ടടങ്ങി..അൻവർ കണ്ടപ്പോൾ പക്ഷെ ഡിസപ്പോയിന്റ്മെന്റ് കോപ്പിയടിയുടേതായിരുന്നില്ല ട്രെയ്‌റ്റർ പോലൊരു സിനിമയെ വെറും സ്ലോ മോഷൻ മഹാമഹം ആയി കുറച്ചതിന്റെതായിരുന്നു.വീണ്ടും ഇത് പോലെ ഒരു അനുഭവം ഉണ്ടായതു ചാപ്പാ കുരിശ് കണ്ടു ഇറങ്ങിയപ്പോഴാണ്. വീരയ്യയിൽ തന്നെ.അന്ന് പക്ഷെ കണ്ടിറങ്ങിയപ്പോൾ അറിയില്ലായിരുന്നു കൊറിയൻ ഹാൻടെൽഫോൺ ആണ് മലയാളവത്കരിച്ചിരിക്കുന്നത് എന്ന്. വണ്ടിയിൽ കേറി വീട്ടിൽ എത്തുന്ന വരെ മലയാള സിനിമ ഒടുവിൽ പ്രമേയപരമായും അവതരണശൈലിയിലും കൈവരിച്ച മാറ്റങ്ങളെ പറ്റി ഞങ്ങൾ വാചാലരായി. അന്ന് സ്മാർട്ടഫോണും ഡേറ്റയും ഇല്ലാത്ത കൊണ്ട് വീട്ടിലെത്തി ബിഎസ്എൻഎൽ വഴി പിസിയിൽ നിന്ന് നെറ്റിൽ കേറി കുത്തുന്ന വരെ ഡിസ്പ്പോയിന്റ്മെന്റ് കാത്തു നിന്നു. ഒരുമാതിരി പണ്ട് ഹൈസ്‌കൂളിൽ വെച്ചൊക്കെ നമുക്ക് ഇഷ്ടപെട്ട കൊച്ചിന് വേറെ ലൈൻ ഉണ്ടെന്നു അറിയുമ്പോ തോന്നുന്ന ഒരു ഫീലിംഗ് പോലെ ആയിരുന്നു. എക്സൈൽഡ് ബാച്ചിലർ പാർട്ടി ആയപ്പോ പക്ഷെ കോളേജിലെത്തിയിട്ടും ലൈൻ ആവാത്തവന്റെ മരവിപ്പ് ആയിരുന്നു . ഇയോബിന്റെ പുസ്തകം പക്ഷെ ഒരു അപവാദം ആയി, ലാസ്‌റ് ഓഫ് ദി മോഹിക്കൻസിലെ ഡാനിയൽ ഡേ ലൂയിസിന്റെ കാട്ടിൽ കൂടെയുള്ള തോക്കും പിടിചോണ്ടുള്ള ഓട്ടത്തിന്റെ പാവനസ്മരണ ഒഴിച്ച് നിർത്തിയാൽ. ഇതിനിടക്ക് ട്വന്റി ടു ഫീമെയിൽ കോട്ടയത്തിന്റെ പേര് പല ഇഗ്ലീഷ് പടങ്ങളുടെ പേരിന്റെ കൂടെ പറഞ്ഞു കേട്ടെങ്കിലും എനിക്ക് അത് ബ്രോക്കേഡൗൺ പാലസ് ആയിരുന്നു. സ്റ്റേക് ഔട്ട് വന്ദനവും വൺ ഫ്ലൂ ഓവർ ദി കുക്കൂസ് നെസ്റ്റ് താളവട്ടവും എ റോമൻ ഹോളിഡേ കിലുക്കവും ആയപ്പോഴും പ്രിയദർശൻ സീൻ ബൈ സീൻ പുനർനിർമാണം ഒഴിവാക്കിയിരുന്നു എന്ന് ഞാൻ പറഞ്ഞാൽ എന്നാ പിന്നെ സ്‌ട്രൊ ഡോഗ്സ് വരത്തൻ ആയാൽ നിനക്ക് എന്നാടാ എന്ന് ആരേലും ചോദിച്ചാൽ ഒരു കുഴപോം ഇല്ല ചേട്ടാ ആയിക്കോ എന്ന് മാത്രമേ എനിക്ക് പറയാൻ ഉള്ളു.ഇതൊക്കെ പിന്നെ എന്തിന് എഴുതിപിടിപ്പിച്ചത് എന്ന് ചോയിച്ചാൽ ഇന്നസെന്റ് ലോ ലാ പടത്തില് രാത്രി കുന്നിന്റെ മോളി കേറി നിന്ന് വിളിച്ചു കൂവുന്ന പോലെ ആണെന്ന് കരുതിയാ മതി.ബട്ട് എ പവർഹൌസ് ഓഫ് ഒറിജിനൽ ടാലന്റ് ലൈക് ഫഹദ് ഫാസിൽ സിംപ്ലി ഡിസർവ്സ് ബെറ്റർ എന്ന് പറഞ്ഞു കൊണ്ട് ഞാൻ ഉപസംഹരിക്കുന്നു.

Theevandi : Far From The Madding Crowd.

That there was something endearing about the visuals of Theevandi was evident right from the time the first song streamed it’s way into the hearts of Malayalis across the globe. If you were away from Kerala, the song made you want to hop on the next ride home. It presented before us a place that we wanted to go back to, away from the maddening swipes left, right, up and down our lives are. A place you were not quite sure if it existed for real anymore but desperately wanted to believe it did. Of late more than one film maker has used this as a tool to rope in the audience in the southern most tip of the country who feeds on anything nostalgic with fervor. It started with Maheshinte Prathikaram if I’m not wrong. Felt its tugs again when the song of Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum debuted and then to some extent in Godha. In Theevandi director Fellini TP and writer Vini Viswa Lal have done their  best to ensure that this element of nostalgia flows unhindered throughout the movie.

Theevandi chronicles the lives in a rustic smalltown and the characters are a cross section of the people we would find in a place like that in any part of Kerala. The film focuses on the problems faced by a chain smoking slacker whose habits ultimately end up having even political ramifications in the sleepy laidback countryside where the stroy unfolds. Opening to an incident which lays a sort of mystical foundation for the significance of smoking in the life of the character played by Tovino, the movie is part family drama,part love story and part political satire of sorts. There’s no magical realism  here, in fact Mario Vargas Llosa whose book is seen to be held by a character in a passing scene was never exactly an exponent of the literary style though it could be an indicator to the inclinatons of the individuals at the helm. The film takes it’s sweet time to tell the story and there are more than a few laughs once the film gets going. Every actor has delivered in perfectly cast roles. Tovino, Suraaj and Surabhi prove their mettle again. Samyukhta Menon has made a decent breakthrough though it remains to be seen if she is going to stick around or move to the more lucrative industries next door. Most notably Sudheesh has finally shed the tag of the eternal boy next door of Malayalam Cinema that he held close for almost three decades here and makes a mark too.

When it comes to humor in Malayalam Cinema, the bar was set more than a bit high by the likes of Sreenivasan, Sathyan Anthikad, Siddique-Lal and Priyadharshan. In fact these stalwarts themselves have never come close to the standards they set from the mid 80’s to the late 90’s in their more recent works. So it’s hardly surprising if the new crop of filmmakers and actors have fallen short often in their attempts to make Malayalis laugh their hearts out. Sequels to the most loved classics were attempted by desperate wannabes and the results are unforgiveable, at least in my book. Theevandi may not be perfect but it is indeed a functional homage to the golden era of humor. Tovino, who has won hearts with compelling and diverse performances is on a roll with movies like Mayanadhi, Maradona and now Theevandi striking a chord with the audience.

 

 

 

Stree : Raj & DK Gets It Right Again, So Does Rajkumar Rao.

If you have followed the work of writer-director duo Raj and DK in Bollywood in the recent past you obviously do not need to look for more reasons to spend your hard earned money on their latest offering, Stree. They have stuck to just production and writing this time around but their brand of humor and quirky filmmaking is more than intact here. Unlike most Indian filmmakers who try to emulate Hollywood genre films the duo have always tried to put a delicious Bollywood spin to the most western of themes. They did it to the zombie genre with Go Gone Goa, gave us the slick spy action-comedy A Gentleman and now they have decided to give horror a most desi of twists. In Stree they have ventured into Anurag Kashyap territory, the North Indian hinterland, only gleefully.

Stree manages to make you laugh and scare you in equal measures successfully and that is no mean task, in fact its the most difficult thing to do cinematically. The movie is based on an urban legend, a ridiculously true one as the makers proclaim in writing on screen early on. Lending his creative energy in abundance to the brilliant writing is Raj Kumar Rao who has literally stretched every acting muscle in his body to the limit. His performance in the climactic showdown with the titular demon is worthy of an Oscar I’d say. Giving him ample support are Shradha Kapoor, Aparshakthi Khurrana,Pankaj Tripathi and Abhishek Banjerjee. Atul Shrivastava who plays father to Rajkumar’s character makes his mark too. Stree is one of those movies where you the viewer, at some point stops being just a viewer and becomes a part of the events that unfold on the screen. You are not watching a movie anymore, you are in fact hanging out with the characters and you love it so much so that you end up not wanting the movie to end.

Amar Kaushik has graduated from assistant to independent director with flying colors. Raj and DK have  helped him deliver a slick yet intelligent debut film here. Strewn liberally across the are hilariously bold digs at the political situation in the country. They’re so subtle that you might actually miss it if you’re not listening intently. Some you might miss because it’s almost hidden in plain sight. One such joke that runs throughout movie is  about motorcycles that run out of petrol constantly because people just can’t afford to fill up their tanks like they used to do. There’s one about how some people think peacocks reproduce. Another deadpan line asks you not to be a blind believer. That brings me to the fact that seeing and hearing is believing and believe me this is one movie which proves that despite Netflix and it’s clones watching movies in a packed house where people laugh out loud at the same jokes and jumps at the same scares is an experience in its own. You end up taking sides when you are watching sports. Cinema on the other hand brings people together like no other form of entertainment. Stree is that kind of cinema.

 

Ghoul S01 | Netflix : Z meets The Exorcist In A Familiar Landscape.

Ghoul lured me in with it’s trailer. Hot on the heels of Sacred Games, here was an Indian Original that looked interesting and featured a prominent cast member from that other rage of the season Anurag Kashyap – Vikramaditya Motwane production too. Though the series speaks Hindi it is set in a more or less unnamed land – except for a brief historical reference by one of the characters-  and looks nothing like anything that we have come across on Indian screens, the fact that Sacred Games had set the bars high notwithstanding. Adding to the intrigue off-screen is the presence of a non-Hindi speaking writer-director, Patrick Graham at the helm. Maybe that explains the kind of tone and mood that’s alien to shows and films from our part of the world. Ghoul is pitched as a superatural horror series and it is scary, but not because of the horror element.

Costa Gavras’s Z  is as political a movie could get and The Exorcist set the mould in which every other horror movie since has been made. Ghoul has elements of both the classics and their genres in a delicious mix. It presents a dystopia which is not about a dusty, windy, rundown future or a world where machines have taken over, neither is it one where humans have moved to Mars, rather Ghoul leads us into a very real place where the government has taken control of lives and any voice of criticsim and dissent is in danger of being clamped down ferociously. Patrick Graham was researching torture in modern warfare when he hit up on the idea he claims. Now, that must give you an idea. Ghoul even reminded me of The Silence Of The Lambs not necessarily because it had a female officer walking down a dark corridor with prisoners in cells on either side. Radhika Apte seems to be doing at home what Priyanka Chopra is trying away. Manav Kaul transforms into an army officer who’s eons apart from other characters he has recently portrated with ease.One actor to watch out for.

Anurag Kashyap’s first two films never saw the daylight thanks to run-ins with the regulatory authorities, namely CBFC and it later turned into a regular excercise for almost all his productions. So when a giant like Netflix streamed its way onto Indian screens with the kind of creative liberties it bestowed upon talented individuals with whom they joined hands like Kashyap, who has been working the system from within for decades us as an audience were definitely the ones to benefit most. If Kashyap flexed his muscles with Sacred Games, he has gone for the sucker punch with Ghoul. It’s not the demon that’s the scariest in this miniseries, it’s the people in it and the system they represent that leaves you disturbed. If you thought Sacred Games was perfectly timed, Ghoul would leave Rahul Dravid drooling. The release eerily coincided with the crackdown on activists across the country . Kashyap and Co have almost done a Nostradamus I’d say.

The Equalizer 2 : The Equalizer With New Bad Guys.

Denzel Washington is a favorite. So when he took on the Russian Mafia with DIY tools at the local home improvement retailer in the first Equalizer movie, I enjoyed it. He remains a favorite and that’s the sole reason why I didn’t mind watching him do it all over again in The Equalizer 2. Having said that, I’m not too sure I’d look forward to a third Equalizer movie unless  Antoine Fuqua comes up with maybe an Equalizer origin story, with Denzel Washington of course. You don’t go to a Denzel movie necessarily to watch him go all Jason Statham on his opponents, you already have Statham doing that. You just want to see him do another John Q, another Training Day, another Remember The Titans. There was even a movie where he chased a bad guy lying paralysed in a hospital bed. But I guess it’s that era cinematically where every actor either joins the MCU or finds a franchise of his own.

The Equalizer of 2014 banked on an element of surprise where you as a viewer was curious to see Denzel in an out and out action role which involved more physicality than what he displayed even in his frequent collaborations with Tony Scott. Here in the sequel Antoine Fuqua uses the same tropes as he did in the first. The only major difference being his change of career as an online ride for hire who does’nt hesitate to beat the hell out of his riders for a better rating. If McCall was helping a co-worker in the first, it’s the troubled neighbor kid who is in bad company that he helps out this time. He is still reading but not as much as he used to. There’s more of incoherent globetrotting vigilantism but, which could take a toll your reading habits, there. You expect each of these encounters to turn into the main narrative but they end up as minor amusements mostly. When McCall finally gets going it’s for the sake of his former colleague who was introduced in the first film. Pedro Pascal who made a name for himself in Game of Thrones and Narcos is a notable addition to the cast.The climax of the film is set in a coastal town hit by a hurricane which probably is supposed to hold a mirror to the truth that climate change is but it mostly served to remind me of Hurricane Heist.

Between The Magnificent Seven remake and Equalizer 2 Denzel Washington did two movies that are more “Denzel Washington” than the ones he has done in the recent past. Fences was directed by Denzel himself and was a success commercially and critically, Roman J. Israel Esq not so much. Movies like The Equalizer might be necessary to keep Denzel the star in the reckoning but as a viewer from the other side of the globe it’s his acting chops rather than his Karate chops that I’d pay my money for. Nevertheless the man doesn’t disappoint in any of his avatars.

The Meg : Statham vs Huge Shark .

When Jason Statham jumps off a boat after a friend who is being pulled into the depths of the ocean by a giant prehistoric shark, another character screams not in fear but in excitement, almost echoing the emotions of any average viewer out looking for some plain old fun on a lazy weekend at the local IMAX screen. Yes, when it’s about a giant shark you have to have a giant enough screen too. If it’s in 3D, all the more better. But this is no Jaws mind you, The Meg is more Deep Blue Sea than any other shark film from our collective memory as viewers. It’s exactly how a monster film would look like if AI was asked to make one, without the discriminatory algorithms of course. People are at risk of being eaten by the shark irrespective of barriers like gender and race. Still if you do have to watch it, do that at a cinema with the best screening facilities.

There’s absolutely nothing novel about the plot simply because with such film formats you as a maker either choose between jaw dropping CGI or a moving storyline and there are no prizes for guessing what’s on sale here or you could ask Marvel to make a shark movie. Rich investor, good scientist, reluctant hero, jump scares, the movie has it all and more. It’s basically Jurassic Park set in the sea only this shark isn’t cloned. Within the limitations of the genre, The Meg tries earnestly to deliver a fun 113 minutes for the audience and much banks on the broad shoulders of Statham and his on screen persona as the tough guy with a sense of humor.The makers have tried every trick in the monster  movie handbook to keep the proceedings on screen interesting. They do get most of it right unless of course you’re at the movies with National Geographic or Science journals on your mind. Not much on screen time is wasted here. The shark doesn’t wait around much and is quick to attack and kill. Statham and his co stars too are quick with the acts of saving lives, the mandatory self sacrifices and the dumb moves which are integral to the genre.

Two of the last surviving  action heroes of our times who aren’t part of the Marvel or DC Universes , Statham and Dwayne Johnson aka The Rock have had curiously similar cinematic turns recently I’d say. Rock recently took on a giant Gorilla ,a giant crocodile and a giant wolf in Rampage. Then he saved his family from a fire in a Hong Kong skyscraper in the eponymous film. Here Statham battles a giant shark to save his Chinese friends and a whole crowded Chinese beach towards the end. Trump wouldn’t be too pleased I think but then he isn’t the one funding the films. Or he could simply ask Marvel to take a pause and let the likes of Rock and Statham to do what they do best, save the day that is, but exclusively in the USA.