Ziya Us Salam

PERSEPOLIS

(At Select City Walk, Saket, and other theatres in Delhi and elsewhere)

The window comes with blinkers. Directors Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud take us to Iran in the tumultuous 1970s when the country was in a social and political ferment. A corrupt, pliant monarchy gave way to an Islamic Revolution which, using compulsion in religion, did not turn out to be an unmixed blessing either. Based on a true story, “Persepolis” reveals the mind-set of a girl coming of age and of a society that asked more questions than it answered.

Already nominated for the Best Animated Feature Film at the Oscars besides winning some 15 awards and 21 nominations at various other international festivals, it is politically expedient cinema that is quite beguiling in its content but a shade provocative at times. The Shah’s regime, with its attendant follies – his westernised ways in a traditional Persian society – is dismissed in a conveniently cursory manner. Similarly there are constant digs at the repressive nature of the Revolution but not adequate portrayal of the Revolution making Islam a political force. There are half stabs at a society in transition, a nation on the precipice of a major change. And the girl’s yearning for a home, for a people her own, only comes through in fits and starts.

However, the film deserves credit too. For the first time someone is bold enough to use the animation medium to drive home a serious subject and take the technology beyond kids. Through a smart use of black-and-white imagery, the message of deprivation and discrimination gets more trenchant. The detailing is excellent and the narration smooth. Particularly when the girl finds the world is abrasive all over. Not just in Iran but even in Europe.

Go for “Persepolis”. It might just turn out to be the path-breaker for animation films. The film might evoke extremes, but it is worth the time and effort.

THE INCREDIBLE HULK

(At Wave, Noida, and other theatres)

Halfway into director Louis Leterrier’s film, the superhero is faced with a peculiar problem. In a rare moment of intimate bliss, he is discovering his comfort level with his partner. However, fate does not allow him the simple joys of life and he has to call it quits. Reason? The gamma radiation in his body that poisoned his cells might just be about to erupt, unleashing the green monster in him. And it might just be too much for his partner to handle. After all, a little earlier he had brushed bullets aside as if they were thorns in a garden, lifted mega trucks like he were playing beach volleyball. And had successfully evaded an army of men and machines!

It is a rare piece of situational humour that raises Letterier’s film to a level where you begin to appreciate it for its nuances, for the director’s ability to weave in a semblance of a human story in what is essentially a special effects saga. He relates the story of Dr. Bruce Banner seeking a cure to his gamma radiation which turns him into a giant green monster when faced with any stress. Throw in a military trailing him and you have the ingredients for a thriller. Now add another monster, The Abomination!, And you have all the fuel for box office conflagration.

Yes, the big monster just got better. He easily dwarfs the earlier avatar in a film that is alternately spell-binding and awe-inspiring. The director does not waste too many minutes in getting to the crux: Hulk has his foe in The Abomination. Even as he yearns for the life of an ordinary man, he has to contend with the evil Abomination whose villainous streak is so powerful that you find him repulsive.

At the beginning, though, there is a flashback for those who missed the first instalment some half a decade ago when the hero’s experiment goes horribly wrong. Now he finds himself working in a soda bottle company in Brazil practising anger management, but nothing is working. So much so that he finds himself all but bare-bodied in Guatemala, barefoot in Mexico and with barely a hope in the US. All along he is wanted so that the data bank within him can be surgically removed and turned into a weapon of destruction. Ah!

A bit far-fetched? But Leterrier is only halfway with monsters. Soon we get to see a guerrilla who performs radiation experiments on himself with the aid of a medico. And instead of a monster wreaking havoc, we have two in combat. One tries to stay alive as a human, the other just wants to destroy. It is a neat twist keeping in mind the box office demands. But it all works.

All along, the camera forays into the underbelly of Brazil, the forests of Guatemala, the markets and plazas of Mexico. All a treat for viewers. Much like the film.

GET SMART

(At Adlabs, Noida, and other theatres)

Anne Hathaway is one of those under-rated actresses who make heads turn, push a film at the box office, yet steer clear of headlines. There is more proof here in this Peter Segal film where she plays an ideal foil to Steve Carrel’s ambitious super agent who must devise a way to outsmart Kaos and save the world from doom. Of course, since Hollywood film-makers are known for their extremely limited world view, here it translates into a danger for the country, and consequently the world. The hero and the heroine get to Moscow to bust all devious plans, and there is a trail of mishaps along the way.

There are nice goof-ups, too, with Anne proving she can raise subtle humour. Segal compensates with some serious brain-storming too in this spy drama. All combine to give the film an appeal that makes the immediate paramount, the distance redundant. You will enjoy it as long as it lasts. And it won’t stay in your memory for long either.

DUVIDHA

(At PVR Select City Walk and other theatres)

In the age of Dolby digital and stereophonic sound catering to a savvy urban audience, we thought this kind of cinema was confined to history books. Director Sharat Kumar proves otherwise. “Duvidha” takes you back to the afternoon slots on Doordarshan and those early days when serious films for all their noble intent were a pill for insomnia. Or at best a cure for long, dull summer afternoons.

Based on his own novel “Lal Kothi Alvidha”, Sharat’s film relates the story of a young man who inherits a bungalow from his mother, a Congress worker during the freedom struggle, who helps in the uplift of women of the oldest profession. Years later the son is faced with a dilemma as he attends a rich men’s gathering where a nautch girl performs.

It could have worked for the more sensitive of multiplex viewers had the treatment been better. However, the story needed a more professional handling, maybe a bigger canvas, above all a far superior level of technical know-how. For all the honest intent of Sharat, it comes across as a docu-drama of the early days of colour cinema. And the only “duvidha” – dilemma -- the viewer is faced with is: when will it all end!

MEMSAHAB

(At Fun Republic and other theatres)

Bollywood attempts to get serious with this take on the anti-Sikh Delhi riots of 1984. However, only the subject is topical, the treatment is so poor as to defeat the entire exercise.

Starring former beauty queen Yuktaa Mookhey in the central role of a girl in prostitution, the film has as much to recommend itself as a desert cooler in winter. Director Arshad Siddiqui’s work is steeped in mediocrity as he uses every available stereotype to take the story forward.

The heroine here is a witness to criminal assault in the riots, and the murder of her father by a cop. But in true Bollywood fashion, facts give way to fiction as the girl ends up in the time-tested ways of the flesh trade. Enter her lover. And we think we are watching “Pakeezah”. Exit her lover and enter a new man. And we think we are watching one of those Mahesh Bhatt camp sagas. Exit the second guy too. Now we are confused. Comes the bullet-ridden climax and we know for sure: we are – or were – watching an Arshad Siddiqui film so full of stereotypes, so full of holes. It is an exercise in futility.

One’s heart goes out to Yuktaa who tries gamely in a lost cause. As indeed does Govind Namdeo as the wily politician.

Sorry folks, this is neither for “mems” nor for “sahibs”.

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