INKAAR

One thing certain about seasoned film-maker Sudhir Mishra is that his films are not skin-deep. He takes us to the inner recesses of human conscience as his characters are not cardboards of convenience and the moral compass wavers according to the ground realities of the subject at hand and not popular taste. Here now he tackles the intricacies involved with the issue of sexual harassment at workplace, something Bollywood has ignored all these years despite the fact that it is a grim reality of the young corporate India that our cinema often tries to mirror.

Unravelling in the competitive and “broad-minded” world of advertising, it is the story of Maya (Chitrangda Singh) and Rahul (Arjun Rampal). Once his trusted protégé, Maya charges her mentor with sexual harassment once she comes up in the office hierarchy. An internal committee is set up and a social activist (Deepti Naval) is called from outside to head it. The narrative goes back and forth as Mishra uses flashbacks to bring out the undulating relationship between two ambitious souls.

The girl is not your usual Bollywood lollypop and the boy is not the typical hero ready to sacrifice his interests for the girl in his life. When they present their contrasting point of views to the committee comprising members owing allegiance to both ends of the divide, one becomes eager to know more. The arguments of both look believable at face value but the reality lies somewhere in between. Through the crevices in the sentences, Mishra spells out the contours of the issue. How innocuous flirtation takes the form of harassment? If you help shape someone’s career, do you own the person? Do female employees selectively use their feminine charm to go up the ladder? Why a female colleague is expected to be morally right all the time? Why a girl’s rise is associated with her proximity with the boss and not her talent? Is it a matter of perception or a reality? The questions are many as Mishra gets a hold of the problem by the scruff of the neck. He doesn’t spare the bosses who often use divide-and-rule as a tool to control office politics.

For once Arjun is at home playing an intricate character. He exudes the cool charisma that the role demands without being conscious of it. Chitrangda fires her mystery missile all over again but this time the process is not as effortless. Deepti Naval once again stands out with her natural demeanour as the social activist. Instead of bringing in the expected know-all approach to the character, she plays it like one trying to understand the nuances of the case without getting judgmental. Another remarkable choice is Vipin Sharma who brings in caustic humour as the harmless-looking colleague with set ideas about man-woman roles.

Mishra makes fun of his previous titles and composer Shantanu Moitra quietly makes his presence felt but all is not subtle with the treatment. Mishra has a knack for hitting where it hurts but here after a point he strikes more on the surface than the soul. He manages to bring out most of the points but once he digs into the motivations and impulses of his characters the drama is not consistently satisfying and the climax is a disappointment because in an attempt to leave with a ray of hope, Mishra tones down the denouement. After going almost all the way, he takes the “escapist” route.

At places Mukesh Tyagi’s writing reminds you of the Madhur Bhandarkar school of cinema. He does try to give a layering to his characters by talking about their small town moorings and lessons they have imbibed from their parents but it doesn’t really add up. Some of the members of the committee wear just a single layer of flesh over the cardboard. Also the setting demanded a little more creative ingenuity. The advertising imagery that is created to stir up the drama and the pitch that is used are just a poor imitation of what we have seen from the purveyors of persuasion.

It is certainly not the best of Sudhir Mishra but you can’t ignore Inkaar for its sheer topicality and looking a problem in the eye.

LES MISERABLES

Some stories should be well left between covers. Some musicals sound cogent only when they are bellowed from a theatrical stage. One got this feeling as one endured director Tom Hooper’s much-feted musical Les Miserables . An opera gone bombastic, it emerges from the stage musical, which was itself adapted from Victor Hugo’s colossal novel.

The problem is Hooper, who delivered a deeply satisfying The King’s Speech , fails here to pull enough emotional strings to keep you hooked to the screen for more than two hours. The fact that Hooper made actors sing live was seemingly meant to give us an insight into the souls of the characters but unfortunately the chorus doesn’t work except with Anne Hathaway (and to an extent with Hugh Jackman who makes his presence felt as an actor who knows more than one meaning of action) who manages to swim over the discordant notes with a performance that is a neat amalgamation of oomph and desperation. When she is on screen you feel in sync with the dream that Hooper tries to bring alive. Otherwise, the songs remain a gimmick, a hurdle in the narrative pace. And the way Hooper has shot them it seems he wants to highlight the fact that his stars are singing rather than focusing on the bigger picture. What is meant to be a showcase of talent ends up becoming a show-off!

He ends every song as if he is eyeing tears or is eager for claptrap. It might be a worthy aspiration for stage but in cinema, notwithstanding that it is a musical, it is an obstruction. The overdone sound effect evokes laughter at times and the disappointing lyrics don’t help his cause either. As a result, the thematic points like broken dreams, unrequited love, sacrifice and redemption are reduced to pompous phrases.

At the core there is indeed an oft-adapted intimate tale where Valjean (Hugh Jackman in form) serves 19 years for stealing a loaf of bread. It goes without saying that the story unravels in France in early 19{+t}{+h}Century! He breaks parole and emerges eight years later as a respectable factory owner and the mayor of the city. There he is recognised as a former convict by Javert (Russell Crowe), the local police inspector. He swears to nab him and the contest between two robust Australian actors look promising but their convictions get drowned in the baloney of lusty anthems with the usually restraint Crowe going over the top.

The focus shifts to Fantine (Hathaway), one of Valjean’s workers, who is forced to become a hooker after losing her job to take care of her daughter. When she eventually dies, Valjean raises her daughter as his own. Cut to 1832. Paris is getting ready to rebel. Valjean’s little girl Cosette (Amanda Seyfried) is now big enough to draw the attention of boys. One of them is Marius (Eddie Redmayne), young firebrand eager to revolt against the monarch. But he and a bunch of students don’t get the support of Parisians.

The action that ensues fails to inspire. The escape through sewers of Paris, one of the highlights of Hugo’s work, doesn’t carry the desired thump. Apart from Hathaway, Redmayne acquits himself with grace and it is nice to see Sacha Baron Cohen as the nasty innkeeper. At 158 minutes, the film requires plenty of patience. Fans of the stage production might find it epical but I didn’t have a song on my lips when I left the theatre.

GET THE GRINGO

At the end of this film when the nameless central character says, “I am going to enjoy what’s left of this summer”, it seems Mel Gibson is talking about himself.

Past his prime, it is Gibson’s (he has co-written and co-produced it) way to have another shot at the marquee with a film that is cheesy and crazy in turns. Every time you know you have been to this turn before, the narrative catches you by surprise. Every time you feel settled for a daring thriller, director Adrian Gruenberg opens a manual of stunts which have lost their ability to sting.

It takes off with a car chase in the desert along the US-Mexican border where Gibson turns up in a clown face, preparing us for what lies in store. Of course the car crashes and we get to know Gibson, the Driver has a huge stash of cash. The US Police want to arrest him but the Mexican Police get hold of him and send him to El Pueblito, a prison which is actually a city unto itself where humans are bundled like heaps of garbage and all sorts of criminal activities blossom in the rubbish ruled by an eccentric boss Javi (Daniel Gimenez Cacho). Now Javi is looking for a live transplant and has zeroed in on a precocious child (Kevin Hernandez a prize catch for the role). It is an interesting twist as somebody who delivers death at will can’t do much against Nature. The child hates Javi because he killed his father and forced his mother (Dolores Heredia) into prostitution. Perhaps that’s why he likes to smoke so that his organs don’t remain viable to be transplanted. He finds a friend in the driver who is called a Gringo now. How he gets out of the hell forms the rest of the story.