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A table turned, a train gone off the track and reality bytes….

Anuj Kumar
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TABLE NO. 21

Money can buy you everything but can it wipe off your past? Can it cleanse your conscience? Director Aditya Datt’s latest film here now asks some timeless questions in the garb of a glitzy thriller. For a long time it seems like a case of much ado about nothing, a filmy adaptation of a reality game show to depict the height of voyeurism, something Hollywood has tried many times over. Such films usually end up promoting what they are trying to expose and there are times when we do get a feeling that it is nothing more than an attempt to satiate the guilty pleasures of a section of multiplex audience. But when Aditya finally opens his cards we are in for a surprise. He takes a little too long to come to the point but the final twist is sharp and gives the young restless and remorseless a rap on the knuckles. A welcome reminder in these disturbing times.

Vivaan (Rajeev Khandelwal) and Sia (Tena Desae) win a trip to Fiji. Surprised, they absorb the scenery and share their intimacy with us. But there is more to come. They walk into a trap of a reality game show being watched by millions on the Internet. Their host, Khan (Paresh Rawal), offers them a Sach Ka Saamna kind of situation. The only difference is – here the rule is if you lie, you die. And of course Rajeev is not the host but is playing a wilful participant.

As expected, as the game progresses the questions become personal and the tasks dangerous. The way the content of reality shows like Big Boss is going, Aditya’s imagination doesn’t seem too far-fetched but the problem is lack of novelty. As expected, he is eager to explore the infidelity angle which has lost its bite. Also the narrative pattern becomes predictable after the fourth question.

It is the performances and the hope to hear some piquant lines that makes one return after Intermission. Rajiv Khandelwal is persuasive and Tena Desae comes across as a good copy of Priyanka Chopra. As is his wont, Paresh Rawal effortlessly chews up the scenery but the role demands a little more suave personality. The final thrust gives Khan a reason to play the game and the Table its feet but overall it is like a piece of furniture you can flaunt only for a couple of hours.

RAJDHANI EXPRESS

The first week of January usually has a film which should not have been made. This week Rajdhani Express makes it to this “exclusive” category. The story of a gun runner (played by tennis star Leander Paes) on a moving train, the narrative moves like a passenger train let loose on a circuitous route with no destination in mind.

From child abuse and class differences to corruption, director Ashok Kohli tries to bring in too many points reducing the screenplay to a muddle of sketchy ideas. He seems to have a list of illegitimate activities that go on in our trains but the treatment is so superficial it doesn’t merit a critical appreciation.

A poor choice by Leander Paes to shift stage, it is further marred by shoddy editing and listless performances. Like in tennis you require a strong serve to keep the game going, in acting expressions serve the actor. But Leander looks out of depth here and keeps committing double faults. There is nothing that seeps through the celluloid net.

If his silence fails to convey the pathos of a boy wronged all his life, his mad laughter towards the end sounds hollow. Perhaps he requires a seasoned hand for here even trusted players like Gulshan Grover and Jimmy Shergill are found wanting.

In the absence of a cogent plot, there is very little for the actors to hold on to. When Priyanshu Chatterjee manages to play a Bengali character as an irritating caricature, you know there is something wrong with the helmsman.

It is high time somebody showed the murky business that goes on in Indian trains but this is not the right vehicle.

THE IMPOSSIBLE

They say reality is stranger than fiction but can reality be more emotionally effective than fiction? J. A. Bayona’s drama treated with the skill of a documentary proves that it could be as long as you show restraint. After The Orphanage, the Spanish film-maker returns to the theme of family in jeopardy. Based on the true story of a Spanish family caught in the tsunami that hit Thailand in December 2004, Bayona follows the Belons, who are separated by monstrous waves that hit the Thai Coast after a Christmas party.

Through computer-generated imagery he recreates the havoc that the sea unleashed on a mass of humanity. The way he goes about it, you experience the humungous tragedy in close up. As the human pain oozes out of the images of physically and emotionally shattered faces, handkerchief becomes a constant companion. Amid all the chaos, little silences of solidarity create lump-in-the-throat moments.

The hand-held camera movements ensure that there is very little plasticity to the visual narrative and the sound design creates the enormity of the situation.

Told from a European point of view, at the centre is the journey of Maria (Naomi Watts) and her eldest son Lucas (Tom Holland). Maria is separated from her husband Henry (Ewan MacGregor) and the other two sons Thomas (Samuel Joslin) and Simon (Oaklee Pendergast) as the tsunami sends their vacation for a toss, literally. The teenaged Lucas shows courage beyond his age and a mangled Maria uses her diminishing strength and medical training to guide Lucas to safety and help another child separated from his parents.

Watts is top rate and will be a contender for the best actress honours at most award ceremonies. At the other end are McGregor and the two youngest boys. McGregor’s gravity elevates a stock brave-husband role into something tangible.

Bayona has imbued his characters with nobility. Hit by morbid thoughts about his family, Lucas helps others as much as he can. When they reach a hospital bursting at seams, Maria sends her son to assist others. It is this spirit of humankind that makes the impossible a possibility.

The only problem is an overwritten script and as Bayona goes for the emotional overkill one gets a feeling that at the core he has a manipulative agenda.

The Hindu presents the all-new Young World

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