Friday, June 28, 2013

The Master: DVD review

When Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master released in theatres earlier this year, it received a couple of unnecessary – if predictable – cuts. A lovemaking scene was removed, giving the film an entirely different ending; further, the apparently depraved image of a breast made out of sand was blurred, as were the offending bits in a song sequence where the onlookers are naked. Still, that’s a comparatively elegant solution compared to what the India edition DVD of The Master does to the scene. It is missing in its entirety – which makes the subsequent scene in which Amy Adams scolds and pleasures her husband at the same time even more perplexing.

This singing husband is Lancaster Dodd (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), leader of a Scientology-resembling ’40s cult and mentor to a troubled ex-navyman called Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix). Freddie, who has no discernable aim in life besides making alcoholic concoctions so potent they’re borderline poison, quickly falls under Dodd’s spell. He becomes a willing subject for Dodd’s psychological experiments, never pausing to question if his leader has any idea what he’s doing.

Even if you feel that this film is a little too satisfied with its own vagueness, you’ll find your resistance tested by cinematographer Mihai M─âlaimare, Jr’s gorgeous images (shot in 65mm) and Jonny Greenwood’s dissonant score. The Master isn't close to Anderson’s best work; his control has increased since the days of Boogie Nights and Magnolia, but he's mislaid (or deliberately parted with) the forgiving humour of his earlier films. Still, The Master is an abidingly strange film, filled with marvellous performances – not only from Hoffman, Phoenix and Adams (all nominated for Oscars), but also the many actors in walk-on parts; especially Christopher Evan Welch as a rare critic of Dodd’s, and W Earl Brown as an irate department store customer who looks too much like Hoffman for it to be a coincidence.

Mere Haule Dost: Review

If you’ve ever lived in a college hostel, chances are there’s been a moment when your roommate has looked blearily into your eyes and said, “You know, we should make a movie on our time here.” (It’s between you and your conscience whether the response was “Hell yeah!” or “You should really stop drinking”.) Still, if one of those thousands of unrealised films actually got made, it would probably look a lot like Mere Haule Dost, which reduces college to a never-ending series of courtship rituals and paints its unremarkable protagonists in a very flattering light.

Mere Haule Dost, directed by debutant Nitin Raghunath on a visibly small budget, looks at one summer in the lives of five college-going layabouts in Hyderabad: Dada, Mota, Bheja, Bong and Paisa. There isn’t much by way of plot – the boys mooch about, chase girls, make plans to participate in a Himalayan mountain bike rally, and get roughed up in some of the fakest fight scenes in cinema history. “Haule” means “crazy” in Hyderabadi parlance, but this careful, inert film seems scared to reach beyond the commonplace.

The film does fall within a sub-sub-genre of Indian cinema – the Hyderabad-set shoestring indie. The trend started in 1998 with Nagesh Kukunoor’s Hyderabad Blues, a touchstone of sorts for DIY films in the country. There was also Kuntaa Nikkil’s The Angrez (2006), a film whose grasp of local Hyderabadi patois made it a YouTube favourite. Mere Haule Dost tries hard to be hip and loose-limbed like these films, but the actors never seem at ease, and the silences between their line readings hang in the air like unspoken cries for help. The female members of the cast are reduced to objects of affection and mojo-stealing harpies. There is exactly one moment of invention and beauty – a character on a bike attempting to steal cotton candy off the bicycle moving alongside.