Saturday, May 25, 2013

Neecha Nagar: Risen from the Depths

A piece I did on Neecha Nagar, the only Indian film to win top honours at the Cannes Film Festival; read it here on the always-interesting Big Indian Picture website. 

Friday, May 17, 2013

Celluloid Man: Review

The hastily written review that follows does little justice to this film. If it's being screened or becomes available on DVD, grab at the chance to see it.

Who, the vast majority of audiences might ask, is PK Nair? Why is there a film on him in theatres? And why do Shyam Benegal and Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Mrinal Sen and Basu Chatterjee consider him to be a legend? The answer is as unlikely as it is true. PK Nair created Indian cinema history. He did this not by directing or producing or acting in or writing about films. He simply collected the reels and stored them for future generations to see. If today we can view the surviving fragments of Raja Harishchandra, India’s first-ever feature, it’s because of him. And, that’s just one of 12,000 odd reels he collected for the National Film Archives, that great repository of Indian cinema.

Shivendra Singh Dungarpur’s Celluloid Man is a tribute to Nair’s life work of archiving film. For this 2012 film, Dungarpur conducted interviews with dozens of Nair fans, from Naseeruddin Shah to Rajkumar Hirani to Girish Kasara­valli. He also waited 11 months to speak to the man himself, eventually shooting him in elegiac black-and-white on the Film Archive’s premises. One might assume that a two-and-a-half-hour film consisting solely of talking heads and grainy clips might be dry and academic. On the contrary, this is likely to be one of the most moving films you’ll see this year. The cumulative effect of watching legend after legend appear and attest to Nair’s zeal, gruff generosity and passion for cinema is heart-warming, and more than a little inspiring.

Nair turned 80 this year, and hasn’t been in the greatest of health. He’s a legend at the Film and Television Institute of India – the place he began his career at in 1961, but is largely unknown outside it. But for Dungarpur’s efforts, it’s a very real possibility that Nair’s contribution to Indian cinema might have remained an obscure legend, discussed only by those who know the man. Celluloid Man rights this wrong in the most emphatic way possible. It shines a deserving spotlight on a life in cinema.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Go Goa Gone: Review

There’s a little moment in Go Goa Gone that’s quiet and haunting and entirely at odds with the rest of the movie. Luv (Vir Das), Hardik (Kunal Khemu) and Bunny (Anand Tiwari) are three friends on the run from the walking dead in Goa. Their trio becomes a quartet when they rescue Luna (Puja Gupta), and a quintet when Boris (Saif Ali Khan), a zombie killer with a dodgy accent, saves them. After one of many narrow escapes, they find themselves in a forest. There’s a brief interlude when there’s no screaming, no jokes, just silence and beautiful tall trees. It lasts all of ten seconds, but feels like something out of Ivan’s Childhood or Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. Then it’s back to wisecracks and zombie slaughter.

One wishes directors Raj Nidimoru and Krishna DK had thrown in a couple more moments like this. Their previous film, Shor in the City, mixed humour, suspense and pathos very effectively, especially in the harrowing scene with the child and the bomb that won’t go off. Go Goa Gone is a return to the motormouth craziness of their 2009 breakthrough, 99. (No other director in Bollywood gets in as many words per minute as Raj and DK.) Like their debut, Go Goa Gone is a hip, quick-on-its-feet comedy, though neither the plotting nor the writing – which includes some lazy, self-referential jokes – is as sharp as before.

Though the Ramsays might be sad to hear this, the biggest influence on Go Goa Gone is Ruben Fleischer’s Zombieland. (While it isn’t named outright, Luv fishes for the title so he can pinpoint which flesh-eating species is hunting him and his pals.) That 2009 film is an evident template for Go Goa Gone’s deadpan slaughter and wisecracks on the run. Perhaps, Raj and DK also had in mind John Landis’ An American Werewolf in London. That 1981 cult classic was funny and frightening in equal measure, and even though Go Gone Gone is more com than zom, the scarier moments do – quite literally – have bite.

Another element imported from Zombieland is the specialist zombie killer character. Woody Harrelson owned the part in Fleischer’s film, but here it’s mangled by a blonde, snarling Khan. The faux-Russian accent he puts on for the part is ridiculous, and the film ties itself in knots trying to explain why it’s there one minute (he’s a former member of the Russian mafia), absent the next (he’s actually from Delhi), and then back again. The rest of the cast is on the money, especially Khemu, who should only sign films with Raj and DK. As for the directors, it’s been three good films in a row now. Next time, maybe they’ll aim for great.

This review appeared in Time Out Delhi.