Indian CInema, Uncategorized
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NOTES ON INDIAN CINEMA #1 2017

THE KARMA KILLINGS
dir. Ram Devineni, 2016

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However suspect Netflix may be in plugging the distribution-exhibition blind spot when it comes alternative, independent Indian cinema, Indian documentaries are certainly a form that seems particularly obscure to film audiences. The Karma Killings is based on a frightening true story about murder, cannibalism, sexual deviancy, power and the media. Using a mixed method approach, juxtaposing semi-reconstructions with animation and news media footage, the effect is enough to narrate a story in which the mainstream media comes under the spotlight as an ethically dubious, parasitic sensationalist machine. There is a pathetic lament for the migratory worker who is forced to leave behind his family so he can work for the wealthy middle class of an urban elite. This certainly rings true in the sentimental portrayal of the worker’s family. Whereas the elite come across as not only wounded figurines but also self righteously pure, the rabble-rousing open ending invokes an accidental silence that comes to denote a disputatious contemporary society.

TODAY’S SPECIAL
dir. David Kaplan, 2009

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I was going to make the silly proposition that Today’s Special is a precursor to The Lunchbox but to make that parallel is simply absurd when you consider how far removed the stories and characters are in the two films. The only notable link is the magic of food in bringing people together but then cinema has often does this before, turning the preparation and cooking of food into a sensory, if not sensual, experience. Today’s Special has some of this sensuality, much of it epitomised and channelled through Naseeruddin Shah’s Indian-American chef archetype. Based on Aasif Mandvi’s play, Today’s Special is a melodrama about disaporic anxieties in which the reclaiming of a cultural identity is intrinsic to the defence of the South Asian family. This is a film littered with potent archetypes and metonymic narrative situations that are played out with a reassuring comic touch, much of it anchored by Mandvi’s charismatic turn as the estranged son facing an identity crisis of sorts. Not everything works though. For instance the love story feels half-baked and it is terribly sentimental. However, the characters exude warmth that is hard to disagree with.

HAPPY NEW YEAR
dir. Farah Khan, 2014

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I had avoided this SRK-Farah Khan biggie for a while simply because of the obnoxious jingoism, Abhishek Bachchan’s double role, and the riff on the Oceans franchise. All of this was gleaned from the ostentatious trailer. Farah Khan’s cinema veers toxically close to her brother Sajid Khan’s vacuously inept cinema in which hyperbole takes on a parody all of its own. What separates them though is Farah Khan’s self-reflexive postmodern address, which found a respectable exhibition in the seductive playful charms of Om Shanti Om. Unfortunately, she has never come close to replicating that magic again, suggesting Om Shanti Om may have been a cinematic anomaly. Happy New Year sees a gang of noble Indiawallah banding together for a diamond heist in Dubai. But they also have to take part in a dance competition. I grew bored very quickly. Songs are terrible, comic timing is poor and a self-congratulatory malaise leaves this high concept vehicle stranded in a cinematic time warp concocted by a kleptomaniac. But Jackie Shroff people! So all is not lost.

MAROON
dir. Pulkit, 2016

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Manav Kaul, one of the most underused actors of his generation, stars in this well crafted psychological horror about marital strains. Set entirely in one location, the dwellings of a middle class family home, the hold on the narrative is impressively controlled so that we never entirely trust the central character, the unfairly maligned?, husband, and a university professor. However, by keeping us within the subjective space of the husband, we are forced to understand his perspective and gradually writer-director Pulkit begins to implicate us in the horrors that may have unfolded in the house in regards to the disappearance of his wife. Given the husband’s confinement to a single space, claustrophobia does play a gradually psychological role in sustaining a jarring ambience, much of which is complemented by an imaginative sound design. Kaul is superlative in the lead role, showcasing his nuanced skills as a very fine actor indeed.

UDTA PUNJAB
dir. Abhishek Chaubey, 2016

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I thought we had moved beyond the exhausted narratology of the multi-strand, kaleidoscopic cinema, but sadly this seems to have become a default, the stock reserve of the contemporary Multiplex Indian indie film. And while Udta Punjab is a film with an undeniably prescient socio-political temperament and although at times it simplifies essential political issues, it is director Abhishek Chaubey’s intimate, studied feel for characters and their respective milieu that helps him weave a cinematic tapestry of desperation. The swearing, a supposedly semi-realist marker, at first feels overdone, but gradually reveals and speaks a discourse that masks over an ugly and heinous social malady. Another risk is the casting of major Bollywood stars in the lead roles, which arguably could have worked against the film’s attempts to do justice to a pretty important issue – the drug culture of Punjab. There is also a superior technical polish to Udta Punjab. The songs, cinematography and editing give the film a substantial aesthetic depth that sets it apart from many contemporary Indian films.

BOMBAY, OUR CITY
dir. Anand Patwardhan, 1985

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Patwardhan’s work is arguably the most altruistic in Indian cinema. He illuminates that which we can see but choose not to confront in fear of having to stare into the abyss. Bombay, Our City is an audio-visual record of the crimes perpetrated by the state against slum dwellers whose homes were demolished to make way for economic liberalization. Patwardhan turns his lens on an underclass that we can see and hear testifying to their displacement from Indian society. What Patwardhan also manages to convey is the sense of equality, camaraderie and solidarity that exists amongst the underclass is defined by a deeper political class struggle, not religious identity. In doing so, like the title suggests, Patwardhan lets the slum dwellers reclaim their city in a rousing chronicle of cinematic disobedience and resistance.

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