CHITTAGONG

When it comes to depiction of freedom struggle our mainstream film-makers have always looked at history through the superstars – Gandhi, Bose, Nehru, Patel. Like a Bollywood film, they see the freedom movement as a commercial venture which needs to cater to U.P., Punjab or Gujarat territory. Bengal doesn’t matter to them, nor does the northeast. There may be a tribute to Bhagat Singh here or to Ambedkar there but we seldom get to see stories about a set of heroes who might get a page in history books but whose contributions were crucial in giving the struggle a pluralistic character.

Debutant Bedabrata Pain has come up with a small little independent film which quietly challenges this misplaced notion through the rousing story of 50-odd teenagers who took on the British might under the leadership of their astute teacher Surya Sen or Masterda as he was popularly called. They managed to push the colonial power out of Chittagong for just a day but the seeds the uprising sowed led to a rich harvest of freedom fighters on the ground. It shows how the urge for independence spread.

As Pain opens a chapter that has been out of syllabus of popular imagination, we get important lessons in integrity and courage and, as Masterda says, the film underlines the fact that change will happen only when you work towards it. The thought has a contemporary punch to it and the taut execution makes it a stirring experience.

Told through the eyes of Jhunku (Delzad Hiwale), the youngest rebel of the lot, there is never a dull moment as Pain crafts it as a thriller where the content is the hero and not a particular actor. Yes, I am referring to Khelein Hum Ji Jaan Say , the Ashutosh Gowarikar film which saw the same subject from the prism of platitudes.

Supported by Piyush Mishra’s dialogues, Pain never goes didactic but subtly touches all the contours of the plot. Be it the ethical question of recruiting teenagers in the freedom struggle or the gradual erosion of faith in the British virtues, told through the experiences of Jhunku with the district magistrate Wilkinson (Barry John), Pain covers most points. Usually the British officers are reduced to cardboards in our films but here Pain tries to give a little space for the other’s point of view as well. And between the layers there is a quiet romance between Nirmal Sen (Nawazuddin Siddqui) and Pritilalta Weddedar (Vega Tomatia).

For an independent film made within a tight budget, the technical details are top notch. The immersive cinematography by Eric Zimmerman, immaculate set design by Late Samir Chanda and impressive sound design by Resul Pukotty makes Chittagong a believable experience. Add to it bravura performances by Bajpayee, Siddiqui, John and Delzad and you have a film that you can’t afford to miss.

AIYYAA

It is the season of the heroine in Bollywood. After Kareena Kapoor and Sridevi, it is time for Rani Mukerji to capture the canvas with a crazy comedy about a middle class girl’s journey into the forbidden.

Sense of smell played a crucial role in director Sachin Kundalkar’s acclaimed Marathi film Gandha and here again he uses odour as a leitmotif in an overtly dramatic tale about a set of seemingly cracked characters. It is not easy to like because the form and idiom doesn’t fit into established norms.

Meenaxi (Rani Mukerji) lives in a dream world and is inspired by the queens of the dreamland. At one moment she is Madhuri, at another she is Juhi. She sees the world from those oversized glares that she seems to have borrowed from a fashion catalogue of the 1970s. No wonder her favourite book is Alice In Wonderland .

An unhinged comment on how Bollywood melodrama seeps into our everyday life, every member in Meenaxi’s family is a character. Her mother swears by daily soaps, her father smokes four cigarettes at a time and her brother is in love with stray dogs.

Meenaxi has a childhood ambition to have a love marriage. She dreams of running away from home but her parents have obviously ‘arranged’ ideas. Her dilemma makes for several Aiyyaa moments. She works in the library of an art college where she falls in love with the smell of a Tamil student of art Surya (Prithviraj). There is a reason for it. In front of Meenaxi’s house there is a big garbage bin and the girl has grown up in the midst of foul smell. So when she gets a whiff of fragrance she gets obsessed with it.

If garbage’s filthy odour stands for her inhibited existence where she has to show up every day for a prospective groom, Surya’s smell is her desire to break free. Perhaps that’s why she believes that he is on drugs and that’s why he smells good. But all this is beneath the layers of deliberate exaggeration.

The Marathi girl learns Tamil to impress Surya but hardly ever manages to convey her feelings. Eventually her parents manage to find a suitable boy but he turns out to be a Farooque Sheikh-Deepti Naval fan, which doesn’t match with Meenaxi’s hardcore commercial taste.

The problem is Kundalkar fails to create enough wonders in the path of this Bollywood Alice. There are too many meandering sub-plots to keep count of. Meenaxi’s obsession for Surya’s odour doesn’t permeate through the screen and her habit to sniff everything that belongs to Surya becomes irksome after a point. Also the subject doesn’t have the potency to keep you engaged for two hours and thirty minutes.

Kundalkar manages to create moments but they simply don’t add up. Amit Trivedi’s music perks up the proceedings as the songs provide a kind of contrast to Meenaxi’s existence but if you go to the film thinking the film is about “Dreamum Wakepum” then you will be in critical conditionum.

It’s Rani’s vehicle and she has given it all but it is not enough to salvage a film that is neither formulaic enough to indulge the masses nor intelligent enough to engage the discerning. Reduce it by 40 minutes, give the immensely talented Prithiviraj a chance to express himself, and the experiment might work but as of now it is a case of out of odour!

BHOOT RETURNS

Ram Gopal Varma returns with yet another bhoot story and this time he has a third dimension up his sleeve making his famed camera angles a little more sinister. Varma doesn’t need a reason to tilt his camera but in horror films audience discover their own reasons.

A wall hanging here, a ceiling fan there, Varma has made ubiquitous items leap out of the screen.

Most of the time he has made his frame in such a way that these objects appear at the corner, disturbing the viewer’s attention in the process.

It is a good ploy but soon it gets repetitive.

As for the plot, it is the same old blend of The Omen , Paranormal Activity and his own production Vaastu Shastra . A couple (JD Chakravarthy and Manisha Koirala up to the task) come to reside in a new house and soon discover that their daughter (Alyana Sharma is suitably cute) has befriended a girl whom they can’t see.

As always, the domestic help suggests the presence of a ghost and the educated lot dismisses it as superstition till it’s too late. It’s a timeless template but Varma has managed to imbue it with some scary moments.

Madhu Shalini, who plays JD’s sister, does the “legwork” but what really works is the fact that when an innocent child becomes a threat, it does give goose bumps even when you know where it is headed. And the best part is Varma sums up the proceedings before the ghost loses its bite and the sound effects their surprise value.

Watch it if you have still not given up on RGV. Rest assured it is better than his last couple of outings.

MAKKHI

The dubbed version of S. S. Rajamouli’s Telugu blockbuster Eega is here. On the surface it is a usual revenge story where the villain tramples the hero and the hero gets reincarnated as a housefly but the way Rajamouli turns the usual underdog taking on top dog premise into a stimulating experience for the senses makes it one of the rare Indian films where special effects, animation and content go hand in hand.

A master storyteller who is in total control of his vision, Rajamouli has a Manmohan Desai streak in him.

His Makkhi is no less than a superhero and Rajamouli manages to give it muscle and substance without the 3D trappings.

A metaphor for the middle-class hero taking on the vicious villain, this intrepid fly takes on a wicked businessman (Sudeep finds nuances in a larger than life character), who swats everyone who comes in between him and the girls he lusts for.

When he focuses on Bindu (Samantha delivering the innocence and the verve that the role requires), he realises that she has already given her heart to the street smart Jaani (Nani). The romance between Bindu and Nani is infectious and that’s the reason when Jaani is eliminated and returns as Makkhi, you like to root for him.

But how can a fly trouble a man beyond becoming an irritant? This is where Rajamouli’s skills as a storyteller come into play and Makkhi manages to steal hearts.

There is an intrinsic logic in the film and it works for the most part.

For instance, Bindu is shown as a specialist in micro art and it helps when you have to take giant leaps of faith.

From capturing the anatomy of the fly to turning it into a masked warrior, it is a jolly good flight of retribution.

He even serenades his love all over again and even goes on a date!

This is one Makkhi you won’t like to get rid of.