MOVIE REVIEW: Killa : Poignant tale of growing up

There are many pieces of art that touch your heart, but only some of them can hit you personally, make you feel that whatever happened to you is universal – that something can be intensely personal and shared at the same time. Killa is the latter – a fine piece of art made with such loving attention to detail that hits and stings your heart.

Made by cinematographer Avinash Arun, this national award winning film is a moving tribute to parenthood and coming of age. A story about how a single parent is transferred from the bustling city of Pune to a small sleepy town Guhagar  with her 11-year old son Chinmay. A widow – she struggles to come to terms with the loss of her husband and is always questioning her parenting; a child who has just lost his father – Chinmay is grappling with his own issues of abandonment.

A new place, new school, new friends – all Chinmay wants to be is accepted. Not that he realises that. What follows is his personal discovery of friendship and himself. A tale of realising that sometimes, it seems like the world is coming to an end, but it’s not. Of realising that true friendship has its way of coming back to you. Of realising that the first big heartbreak in your life need not always be a romantic relationship, and being okay with that fact.

Killa is about that one moment that defines the end of childhood as we know it. That one moment that changes our perspective, is more often than not sad, but in all probability – makes us a better and stronger human being. Killa will resonate with anyone who has poured his heart and soul into the act of making friends and relationships; with anyone who can trace that exact moment in their life when someone broke the rose-tinted glasses they viewed the world with; with anyone who appreciates the power of silence over words that mean nothing.

Sensitive direction and gorgeous cinematography by Avinash Arun, fantastic performances by Archit Deodhar and Parth Bhalerao and images and moments that stay with you for a long long time after you’ve walked out of the theatre, Killa is an absolute gem and another gem from the new wave of Marathi cinema that continues to impress and delight.

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MOVIE REVIEW : Elizabeth Ekadashi : Simplicity wins!

Elizabeth Ekadashi is a simple story of a Dynanesh, a bright kid preparing for his scholarship exams, his family and his set of friends and what happens in the holy week leading up to Ashadi Ekadashi, the holy day when devotees make the pilgrimage to Pandharpur, to worship Vithoba, a local form of Lord Vishnu.

Madhugandha Kulkarni establishes her credentials as a good writer very early on in the film as we are introduced to a family with a lot of quirk. A grandma who worships Newton along with the other Gods just because her deceased son was an admirer, Dynanesh – a child who loves his bicycle and names her Elizabeth and Mugdha aka Jhendu (another lovely detail) who treats the bicycle as another member of the family. The characters are fresh and relatable, with sensitive treatment throughout.

It is the holy season – when the entire population of the sleepy town of Pandharpur aims to make profit off the lakhs of devotees who would descend upon the city in a bid to visit the various temples in the area. Bad luck strikes and Dyanesh’s mother loses her knitting machine to a mortgage she had been trying to push for the last 3 months. She needs Rs.5000 to save her machine and get back to earning money for the family but only 4 days to get it. The kids make an endearing case and offer to set up a bangle shop in the holy season to help out. However, the mother rules it out and announces that the cycle, Elizabeth, would be sold off to raise Rs.2000.

The rest of the story is dedicated to the story of Dyanesh and his motley group of friends, who then go on to set up a shop near the holy temple and what happens when they try and earn some money. At this point, you may feel there is not much substance to the story and that it may end up being predictable, but that is where Paresh Mokashi’s treatment of the story will surprise and capture you.

The childlike wonder and naivety stays throughout the movie. Like in a child’s world, there are no villains, in Elizabeth Ekadashi, the only villain is the situation. This is just as a child would treat the situation, always looking at the bright side and always looking for the good in people. Be it the often swearing Ganya or the prostitute’s son who make up his friends, it is a refreshing take on life in a small, holy city. The city is never used as a character in the story but the essence of holy city comes through in the ending of the film and you have to watch it to know why and how.

The performances are very natural, with special mention for Shrirang Mahajan, Nandita, Dhuri and Pushkar Lonarkar – the child actors. They are at ease and make the film a joy to watch.

This film is another film in the continued trend of simple, rustic stories in Marathi cinema, narrated in a superb fashion. Though not high on aesthetic value like Tapaal (another beautifully simple story) – Elizabeth Ekadashi will make you laugh and cry along, because it will remind you how good life was when you were a child – in awe of the world and not believing for a second, that tomorrow will not be better than today.

It is showing at multiple theatres with subtitles. So, go ahead and sample this sweet film.

Sexuality, Gender, Being Indian and ‘Water’

Set in 1938, Water by Deepa Mehta is a brutal portrayal of the realities of that time, with the frame of reference being the plight of widows in India. The story begins with a newly-widowed 7 year old girl called Chuhiya, who is left at a ‘widhwa-ashram’ (literally meaning, widow-home) to stay with other widows, facing social ostracization.  Confused and scared, Chuhiya is unable to bring herself to accept this change in her life. That she has a hot temper, and a ever questioning mind does not help either.

The entire film delves deeper into the prevalent social issues at that time, the prevalent power structure where there was the supremacy of the male over the female, and the other big power structure in India- casteism, existing at the same time. Being Indian has always been considered to be traditional, to be respectful of the culture that has been passed down through generations,ever since Manu was born. This film showcases the crossroads that India as a country was facing, going from British rule towards Independence. At the same time, the wave of Indian reformers like Raja Ram Mohun Roy, who were challenging the regressive customs of Indian society, was getting stronger.

Being Indian has also meant being respectful of power structures in the society. While some of them explicit, some of them have been drilled into us with such dexterity that we no longer acknowledge their existence or feel them. Water looks at the trauma a widow in those times. While Chuhiya is more or less the change agent in the film, her questions and acts triggering actions both desirable and undesirable. She is a representation of the generation trying to break free from the shackles of ancient India. On the other hand, Shakuntala, who fills in the gap that Chuhiya’s mother would have done otherwise, represents a generation resigned to the customs and functioning of society. A generation who was born in the British Rule, had to keep up with economic developments and changes, while sticking to their ‘Indian’ philosophy of life, never challenging the status quo.

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It is a beautiful portrayal of a society so bound by its scriptures, its ancient texts that it is losing the ability to progress with the times, affording upliftment and success of only those classes of society that were doing well anyways. The representation of sexuality is also very interesting. A mirror to a society which at that time, thought of women as second rate citizens, whose lives were bound to the men in their lives. First the father, whose house she would live and grow in, and then her husband, who would give her his name and when he would die, her identity was more or less lost in the process. A woman, who was a widow, was no more than a burden to her husband’s family, one more mouth to feed. People of the upper classes exploited widows for sex, but at the same time, the emotions of a widow meant nothing – her sexual desires were supposed to be non-existent, her desires of getting appreciated, or appreciating the good things in life like fine food, clothes and jewelry were also considered appalling and she was denied all this.

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The soon-to-be lawyer, Narayana who eventually turns out to be a savior for Chuhiya and in a way, Shakuntala, represents the intellectual class of the society at that time and in a sense, even now. As the Indian society still struggles to address gender issues and mistreatment of widows, Water remains a deeply relevant film.

Udaan : Flying high, like a bird in the sky..

The first movie review of my blog and it had to be this gem of a movie called Udaan.
Udaan was this year’s official selection in the Un Certain Regard at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival and that itself had created a lot of buzz about this movie and I am so happy to state that it has lived up to  all expectations.
Udaan revolves around Rohan, a 17 year old kid who gets expelled from his boarding school and has
to return to his hometown, to his father who he has not met for the last 8 years. Rohan comes
back to the rude shock of finding a complete stranger in the form of his father – an emotionally detached, emotionally damaged sadist who tramples over Rohan’s dream of becoming a writer, and forces him to study in an engineering college, and subsequently help him out at his not-exactly prospering steel factory.
What follows is a brave-hearted teenager’s tale of how he overcomes all hurdles, of how he gets beyond a father who asks him to ‘stop flying, and keep his feet on the ground’ and finally break all shackles for the flight of his life, the flight of his dreams.
Udaan is everyone’s film, especially if there has been a single moment of friction between you and your father. One cannot help but feel the connect with the movie in various scenes, many, which people might feel, to be straight out of their lives. The frustration of a father, his own concerns, of earning well and parenting his kids, the angst  of a rebellious teenager who is fed up of his dominating dad, the caring paternal uncle, the silent younger brother.. Udaan is realistic in every sense of the word.
What’s even more beautiful is the way the movie has been treated. Shot at a modest production cost, Udaan more than makes up by the beautiful cinematography and screenplay. Crisp and effective, the scenes will stay on with you long after the movie has ended. Each frame, each shot, so laboriously put together that the entire movie feels like a poem, like one of those the protagonist, Rohan recites during the movie.. Udaan unwinds at it’s own pace but never bores you. Udaan is poetry it motion.
Two thumbs up to Vikram Motwane for his eye for detail in this outstanding debut feature. Hats off to Anurag Kashyap for backing Vikram and such a beautiful story with everything he could. Hats off to the casting director, Jogi for such apt casting for each and every role and special mention to Satyanshu whose poems have been used in the movie.
The selection of Jamshedpur as the location where the story unfolds is another brilliant choice, with the city feeling like a character in the story- leading to the different situation in the film. The steely, cold, industrial feel of Jamshedpur complements the father, Bhairav Singh’s cold, icy demeanour. Also interesting is the fact how Udaan later turns to be a sub-story of two sets of brothers – Bhairav and his brother, Rohan and Arjun. One could go on with the metaphors used in the movie, and I leave it to you to discover and relish the numerous metaphors used – right from Bhairav Singh’s Ray-ban glares which never leave his eyes to morning jog, used so aptly throughout the movie.
Udaan makes you laugh, it makes you cry. The end is open to all kinds of theories and assumptions, and that is Udaan’s true victory. It does not imply anything, it just narrates a story in the most beautiful manner.
Coming to the cast, Rajat Barmecha is first rate as the young Rohan, just having crossed over to the adolescent stage of his life, craving for love, attention and freedom and coming to terms with life’s realities. Ayaan Boradia who plays Rohan’s step brother, Arjun is another delight – his eyes say it all.. fantastic choice.
The true show-stealer, however, was Ronit Roy who had the guts to accept and perform such a complex role as that of Bhairav Singh. He is just brilliant! It was very easy to let this role look like a caricature, make the audience completely hate the character but Roy gives a very human touch to the character of the seemingly tyrannical Bhairav Singh, giving us a faint idea of why he is that way, never redeeming himself but enough to make the audience’s heart go out to him in those few scenes. Ram Kapoor lends able support and the supporting cast is great.
All in all, Udaan is a must watch if you are a cinema-buff – because THIS is what true cinema is all about- this is what storytelling is, this is how a story soars – how it takes Udaan 

Rating – *****
Do NOT miss this one!