Aurangzeb

Aurangzeb stands for the megalomania that unchecked ambitions can lead to. Set in Gurgaon, possibly the most shining gaon of the country, the film talks of people who are game to sacrifice kinship to have a shot at kingship. The film marks the return of the Yash Raj banner to Trishul , Deewar mould.

The difference is that here no brother is on the side of law. Nobody can claim the moral high ground here. And the ones that even think of it are silenced quickly. Yes, Dara Shikohs are cornered here. After a long time the banner shuns the conflict in romance and makes family fracas a leitmotif. Maa and baap are back in business and so are matters of illegitimacy which used to be the staple in the 1970s.

The difference is that the drama is not allowed to go over board and director Atul Sabharwal doesn’t provide props to his performers to accentuate the situation. It is the writing and acting that does most of the talking and not the stylish cuts and costumes. The dialogues are not thrown at us with the expectation of whistles. They define what the film stands for and perhaps that’s why nothing sounds exaggerated even when the basic plot of twins with one of them replacing the other sounds dated. Atul has turned an old-fashioned yarn into something that is relevant even today.

The intricacies of land grabbing and the manipulations that go with it are deftly handled. Atul is talking about an India where only two types of people hold sway: the politicians with power or the corporations with money, and everybody wants to pick a side. But the way conscience spirals in the second half, you start feeling even for the villains of the piece. In the 1970s and ’80s, melodrama was not such a bad word because it emanated from reasons that demanded unbridled commotion. Here you feel such turmoil all over again. Even before you begin to find a loophole, Atul addresses it and comes up with logic. It may not be convincing all the time but you go home with a feeling of watching an honest effort. Known for his television series “Powder”, which was too stylish and complex for the dumb medium that general entertainment channels have become, Atul has not given style a miss here. Watch out for the dance of a man when he is shot from close range. It is a disturbing marriage of style and reality!

The film could have easily been called Arjun. Not just because Arjun faced similar dilemmas that Aurangzeb did centuries later but also because it is a film that marks the arrival of Arjun Kapoor as the boy who can handle both testosterone and dopamine with flair. He has delineated both the roles rather well. In Ishaqzaade, he showed that he has a knack for ‘irritating’ in a good way. Here again, he starts in the same vein but along the way we discover that he is not a one note actor. He stands up to the veterans with flourish. Malayalam superstar Prithviraj excels as a stoic police officer, struggling to come to terms with his identity and morals. If Arjun is all about expression, Prithvi lets his silence do the talking. At times, he sounds a little too careful, but you can’t tell he doesn’t belong to the region.

Rishi Kapoor once again enthrals with a gutsy performance as a police officer who is drunk with power. Jackie Shroff is always a treat when he internalises more than he expresses and Atul seems to know the strength of his actors. The girls have very little to do in this show of masculinity. Saasheh Aga is expected to escort us to ecstasy but her talent is as skimpy as her outfits. Swara Bhaskar shines in a minuscule role. But it is the seasoned ladies: Tanvi Azmi, Deepti Naval and Amrita Singh who provide the bulwark for the men to fire. If you want your masala fare sans the unnecessary gimmicks, Aurangzeb is worth paying a visit!

The Reluctant Fundamentalist

When the names in the opening credits started rolling from right to left, one could make out that director Mira Nair is not reluctant about wearing her point of view on her sleeve. With Mohsin Hamid’s novel as the catalyst, she creates a potent potion that can cure America’s Islamic phobia that took the form of a disease after 9/11.

In terms of narration, there are portions where the treatment looks a bit flat but Nair proves that unlike her protagonist Changez (Riz Ahmed) she is no janissary and brings out the crevices in the Western propaganda on the war against terror. Her point is simple: listen to the full story and don’t go by appearances for they could be deceptive. The film’s crux comes out very well in a Sufi rendition which says, “He doesn’t want the kingdom, he just wants a grain of respect”. Changez indeed gets respect from his boss (Kiefer Sutherland), who made him sprint on Wall Street, but he soon realises that he has to pay a heavy price for his rush for material gains. As he is stripped naked at the airport, he realises his worth. When the scene shifts to Istanbul, a fit place to have a dialogue between the East and the West, Riz gets to know what the big game is all about as Mira opens a window to American hypocrisy.

It is not a one-sided tale for by the second half Changez starts looking at anybody who talks of working according to ‘fundamentals’ with suspicion. Having seen his American dream turning into a nightmare, he talks of a Pakistani dream, a dream of self-reliance.

It is a difficult novel to adapt because a lot of it happens in the mind and when you take out the ambiguity it begins to sound simplistic. It doesn’t have that much impact. The film suffers because of this, particularly for those who liked the way Hamid weaved the gossamer tapestry around the core issue. Like in the novel, Erica is cleverly disguised as a metaphor for America but here it becomes a tad plastic.

The conversation between Bobby and Changez gathers moss after a while and the chemistry between Kate Hudson and Ahmed never really creates a flutter. And towards the end, when the kidnapping drama unfolds, the thrills seem to be a bit forced.

But all through Riz keeps us engaged and Liev Shreiber provides solid company. Riz moulds himself well to the demands of the contours in the script and is convincing all through but Hudson seems a miscast. The support cast led by Om Puri and Shabana Azmi adds to the depth. Mira has an eye for colour and an ear for earthy music and she manages to show us a side of Lahore that a Zero Dark Thirty never can.

Watch it to appreciate the view from the other side!

The Great Gatsby

Where Mira fails, Baz Luhraman succeeds. He not only brings to life the lines of what is often called America’s greatest novel but also what’s there between them. If there is a party, there is nobody better than Luhrmann to film it and on the surface Jay Gatsby’s (Leonardo DiCaprio) life is all about superfluous gloss and glitter to bring alive his fantastical imagination of self. Call it an animated show of wealth or burlesque circus of high society, Luhrmann goes wild with technology to have a romp in 3D.

But even as we think we are watching the America of the 1920s from the prism of a Pixar film, Luhrmann shifts gears and how! Once the party chapter is over, Luhrmann gives us insight into the tragic romance between Gatsby and Daisy (Carey Mulligan). A film that was all about showing off a few minutes ago transforms into a fable of true love. As the stocks were rising and the morals were losing currency, Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire), the narrator enters Long Island to start his career in the stock market. His neighbour is the mysterious millionaire Gatsby who wants to befriend him.

Puzzled about Gatsby’s interest in him, Nick soon discovers that Gatsby wants to make contact with his cousin Daisy through him. Daisy and Gatsby have a past and Gatsby wants to rekindle it.

But Daisy is now married to Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton). Tom is a philandering husband but he has got the lineage which Gatsby doesn’t have. As Luhrmann peals the layers of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s rather short novel we get an insight into the flagrant inequalities that existed during the ‘Roaring ‘20s’ in American society. As Daisy finds it difficult to make up her mind we get many ‘lump in the throat’ moments. Credit also goes to DiCaprio for making us believe. Mulligan looks an odd choice for such a role but as she shows her acting chops, the doubts give way to applause. Maguire and Edgerton add to the impact. In a cameo as Gatsby’s dubious business partner, Amitabh Bachchan lets his hair down. For as long as he is there you can’t take your eyes off him.