ANUJ KUMAR

FIRAAQ

(Regal and other theatres in Delhi and elsewhere)

It is an honest quest to discover humanity in darkness. We seem more concerned about Muslims killing Hindus and Hindus giving it back to Muslims when the point of concern really should be man killing man. Nandita Das says it clearly and imaginatively here as she makes an assured directorial debut. Set in the aftermath of the much talked about Gujarat violence, her film weaves the stories of some ordinary people whose lives are ravaged forever in the mayhem.

A lot has been said about the carnage, but what sets Nandita’s work apart is her well-etched characters offering an insight into the tragedy of victims whose voices are cut short in the cacophony of breaking news. These are feeble voices making pertinent points. People who are considering giving up their identity to find majority acceptance, people who still feel music can bind people, people who are haunted by their inability to save their fellow-beings, people who believed their neighbours. Their state of mind is not a straight path. It is dotted with crossroads and U-turns, and Nandita sieves this mental chaos with precision without resorting to rhetoric. Firaaq strikes a chord because the humanity of its protagonists stands out in these horrific times we live in.

Nandita has cast some powerhouse performers — Naseeruddin Shah, Raghubir Yadav, Deepti Naval and young Shahana Goswami — to make her task easier. Naseer is effortless as ever in his portrayal of an aging musician refusing to give up his idealism until he finds the very foundation of it razed. His crumbling body reflects the erosion of melody from our lives. Sanjay Suri lives the restlessness of an educated Muslim living in constant fear of being stripped off or for his identity. In the end, it is the purity of the eyes of Mohammed Samad’s — as the boy looking for his missing father — that stays with you long after the credits roll.

However, technically the film hardly shifts gears and the treatment of some of the situations is tedious. Every feature film requires the director to be ahead of the audience, but here Nandita fails to surprise. After a point you feel for the characters but know where they are headed.

Watch it to understand that all is not lost in the fight against hate!

BARAH AANA

(PVR Saket, Delhi, and other theatres)

The biggest casualty, as the chasm between the haves and the have-nots deepens, is human dignity. This is what Raja Menon encapsulates in this realistic take on the making of a criminal.

Raja tracks the life of three men, a driver (Naseer again), a waiter (Arjun Mathur) and a watchman (Vijay Raaz), who are robbed of their self-esteem by their masters and circumstances. His basic story is not much different from the masala movies of the 1970s when the hero used to avenge the ill-treatment meted out by the zamindar.

Here Raja has shorn all the masala off the premise and put the authentic soul in the credible setting of Mumbai’s underbelly. It doesn’t mean the audience loses out on the entertainment quotient, for Raja is an intriguing story teller. Like literary writing, he stops short of revealing everything to the audience, and the moment you begin to feel left out he returns to hold your hand. Unfortunately, he consumes too much time in establishing the vulnerability of the protagonists. The film grips in the second half and culminates into a stinging climax. After quite a while Vijay Raaz has given a restrained performance as the friendly watchman who transforms into a conniving kidnapper because the society he guards refuses to help him in his hour of need. Then there is Naseer once more, efficient as ever.

Worth a watch!

STRAIGHT

(PVR Vikaspuri, Delhi, and other theatres)

Bollywood these days is busy reflecting on the sexual orientation of its protagonists. Here director Parvati Balagopalan comes with a sensitive take on the subject. Can a comedy be sensitive? Recent experiences make it hard to believe but Parvati has managed it.

Her protagonist is Pinu Patel, a restaurant owner in London who is not sure whether to lose his virginity to a man or a woman. It is hard to believe that a 30-plus man is confused about his sexual orientation for generally teenagers are said to suffer from such puzzles. But the script seems to be written for Vinay Pathak and hence the twists and turns suit his strengths. Vinay has established himself as the loser with a golden heart and here again he plays the part with characteristic warmth. He is repeating himself, but as he learns to loosen up in life you fall in love with him all over again.

Parvati starts well as she comments on double standards with Indian culture slipping on television soaps. But in the middle, she loses control as Pinu bounces between Gul Panag and Anuj Chaudhary. Some good music and some meat in Gul’s character could have made the atmosphere stimulating, but Parvati seems just too focused on Pinu.

ALOO CHAAT

(Delite, Delhi, and other theatres)

Kitsch continues to be the dominant flavour in comedies. Here Robby Grewal dresses up his take on appalling notions that some of us tend to nurture about Western culture and Muslims in some tacky situations. Aftab Shivdasani plays a U.S.-returned Punjabi boy who is in love with a Muslim girl (Amna Sharif). His sexologist uncle tells him his family will hate the idea.

Inspired by Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge, they decide to draw a bigger evil. They convince an American girl to act as Aftab’s love, hoping the family will hate the idea of an American bahu with an “open” lifestyle more than a Muslim bahu entering the kitchen. Obviously things get mixed up.

The film has its heart in the right place as Robby brings out the pigeonholed mind-sets but he has chosen to make his point of view loud and shrill.

If he feels that setting the film in Delhi’s Lajpat Nagar gives him the licence to get away with outrageous dialogue and portly frames, then he is as stereotyped as some of his characters who feel all Americans wear bikinis and are plagued by troubled marriages.

THE READER

(Spice, Noida, and other theatres)

History seldom looks at the other side of the coin for, it is written by victors. Director Stephen Daldry here reflects on the flip side of the Holocaust with the story of a mysterious woman, Hanna Schmitz (Kate Winslet), who guarded one of the concentration camps, 300 of whose inmates die. Was she the culprit or was she just a small cog doing her duty? Disturbing questions, dealt with compassion.

In a layered narration that goes back and forth in time, Daldry has imaginatively woven an unusual relationship where an aging Hanna seduces a 15-year-old boy (David Kross). Before they make love, she asks the boy to read her classics.

The two suddenly part only to meet years later in the courtroom where she is the accused and the boy a trainee lawyer. We get the elusive link and some touching revelations about the human spirit.

Kate is competent, but is not special enough to deserve an Oscar. The winner is the plot, which provides her enough dramatic moments.

UNDERWORLD – RISE OF THE LYCANS

(PVR, Select Citywalk, and other theatres)

This prequel to the two instalments of the Underworld series tells the origin of the animosity between the vampires and Lycans, their one-time slaves. A Lycan apparently is a human who can transform into a wolf.

Here a young Lycan (Michael Sheen) rallies the werewolves to rise up against the cruel vampire King who has enslaved them. He is joined by his lover (Rhona Mitra as the daughter of the King), in his battle against the vampire army for freedom. Nothing special about the plot but the special effects and a fast pace make the experience grand and engaging.

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