Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Memorable Scenes of 2019

Another year ends. Another one is about to begin. It is time to look back and take stock of the year that went by. For some years, I used to compile a list of memorable scenes from the movies that were released in the last year. It is those moments that make me remember those movies. It could be a long conversational sequence, a fleeting shot, or a quote-worthy dialogue. In Ae Dil Hai Mushkil, there is a particular line where Ayan says, "Dil ka pet bhar gaya ho." This year, in terms of Hindi movies, there have been few films that gave the satiated feeling to dil ka pet. So, trying to remember some moments that did give this feeling from the films of the last year.
1. My most favorite moment of the year is the car scene in Zoya Akhtar's Gully Boy. It is New Year's Eve. The outside world celebrates and starts the countdown to a new beginning of time, while Murad (Ranveer Singh) sits all by himself in his employer's car and awaits the new year of his time. The car is parked under a canopy of lights in a square area. The reflection of the lights falls all over the car while Murad sits in darkness inside, having moments of self-reflection, that lead to his soliloquy, "Apna time aayega. Ye shabdon ka jwaala, meri bediyaan pighlaayega." My time will come. The lava in my words will melt the shackles that hold me. He attains enlightenment at that moment under the lights and the stars. It is a terrific and arousing scene that motivates one to do better in their own life. 
2. There is a stunning scene in Abhishek Chaubey's Sonchiriya where Phuliya (Sampa Mandal) asks Indu (Bhumi Pednekar) to join her bandit gang but she refuses as she says that she does not belong to her caste. Phuliya laughs at her and tells her that she still does not get it. She adds that all these caste groups are for men. Women are a separate caste altogether where they lie at the bottom of this pyramid. It is a thought-provoking view that everyone knew it but never articulated it before with such lucidity. 
3. In Ivan Ayr's tale of sisterhood Soni, there is a sequence towards the end of the film where Kalpana (Saloni Batra) comes to visit Soni (Geetika Vidya Ohlyan) at her house and gives her Amirta Pritam's autobiography Raseedi Ticket. On being asked the reason behind the title of the book, Kalpana explains that someone told Amrita Pritam that her life story is too inconsequential that she could simply write it at the back of a revenue stamp. During the same scene, Kalpana advises to not resign from the police force, to which Soni replies, "Mere force mein rehne se kya pharak padega?" Kalpana does not respond but starts narrating the story of her niece who wanted to shoot all the boys in her school. Kalpana tried to comfort and change her viewpoint. In the same vein, she is here to comfort and convince Soni to not think any less of herself or her ambitions. Soni can write her own Raseedi Ticket. One of the memorable scenes of the previous year was Amrita Pritam's poem Main Tenu Phir Milangi in Anurag Kashyap's Manmarziyaan. There is yet another memorable moment related to Amrita Pritam in this year.
4. In Anubhav Sinha's Article 15, there is a scene where Ayan (Ayushmann Khurrana) walks through the fog and the mist and sees the bodies of the girls hanging on the tree.  Moments later, the policemen casually discuss the right way of pulling those bodies down. It is a chilling scene that becomes even more difficult to watch when one realizes that this brutality has happened in real life.
5. I was a tad disappointed by Shonali Bose's The Sky Is Pink which I really wanted to like but could not as much as I wanted. There is an artificial vibe to it which prevents me from fully embracing it. But there is a beautiful moment in the film when the couple's first daughter Tanya is suffering through a lot of pain in her last days. A dejected Aditi (Priyanka Chopra Jonas) takes her to the hospital church where an old lady (Mala Hashmi) consoles her by saying that Mother Mary understands her pain. Aditi replies that if she understands her pain, then why cannot she save her daughter. The lady responds that is because she understands the little one's pain as well, which is why she wants to ease her of her suffering. It is at that moment, Aditi realizes that it is best that her daughter goes away from this world in peace. After this, Aditi gets baptized and embraces Christianity. The film told us about her religion in the beginning but now it becomes clear as to what were her reasons for embracing a new religion.
6. I will always remember Sandeep Vanga's Kabir Singh by the moment where Kabir's Dadi (Kamini Kaushal) refuses to meet him after he leaves the house. She is the only person who really understands the turmoil faced by Kabir (Shahid Kapoor). She says, in life, it is not easy to forget the people who leave us and the pain of leaving cannot be shared. It has to be only borne by the person experiencing the loss. "Suffering is very personal. Let him suffer", she adds in her calm demeanor, giving a profound lesson on pain, loss, and grief. 
7. In Siddharth Anand's War, I really liked Naina (Vaani Kapoor) who plays a crucial role in awakening Kabir's conscience. Her scenes with Kabir (Hrithik Roshan) were some of my favorite scenes from the film. When she sees Kabir in a tense mood, she knew something was wrong and asks him, "Mera dil tootne vala hai?" Naina teaches Kabir some timely lessons related to the discourse of nationalism which a lot of people need to distill as well. Not everyone has vowed to save India by being a soldier. For ordinary people, trying to live a decent life is a battle in itself. She also talks to him about the importance of relationships and that she cannot trust a loner like him who has chosen the path of martyrdom. She gives a painting of her daughter Roohi's dream to remind him that she is not just a civilian asset. In the end, Kabir makes sure to fulfill that dream where he takes her for surfing in Australia. Also, I loved the scene where Khaled (Tiger Shroff) says, "Can I get in line?"
8. In Shelly Chopra Dhar's Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga, there is a sequence where Sweety (Sonam Kapoor Ahuja) narrates her traumatic life from childhood where she was bullied and discriminated by her school mates because she did not fit in with them. She found a friend in a boy who also did not fit in. One day, she saw her own brother bullying her friend. The scenes are heartbreaking and moving. Anyone who has faced such violent trauma during school days would be able to relate to them. One remarkable thing about the film is its understanding of same-sex relationships. The childhood bits in the film make the point homosexuality is not a choice. In films, such as Fire, Dedh Ishqiya, and even the recently released Dream Girl, women turn to same-sex relationships after they are ignored by the men in their life, reaffirming the stance that homosexuality is a choice. At best, the women in those films could be called queer or bisexual. It is, perhaps, not right to add labels but still, I would say that Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga truly did something different here. 
9. Ritesh Batra's Photograph ends with Miloni (Saanya Malhotra) and Rafi (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) chatting outside a cinema hall when they go for a movie. Rafi says that the stories of all the movies are usually the same; their life will soon turn into a movie as well, but we do not see that as the film only focused on building their unlikely relationship. It is a quiet scene that leaves us thinking about their future, just like we imagined the future of Ila (Nimrat Kaur) and Saajan (Irrfan Khan) in The Lunchbox. Whenever I think of this film, all the shots of feet in the film also come to my mind.
10. In Prakash Kovelamudi's Judgementall Hai Kya, Bobby (Kangana Ranuat) often talks about aawaazpet ki aawaaz. At one point, Sridhar (Jimmy Shergill) asks her that he has heard about dil ki aawaaz but he does not know about pet ki aawaaz. Bobby replies, "Jab koi haadsa hone vala hota hai, dil silent rehta hai, aur pet se aawaaz aati hai." When it is about survival, and everything else is silent, it is our own gut that comes to our rescue. I also really liked the futuristic Ramayana and the psychedelic cinematography of the sequences shot in the streets of London.
Honorable Mentions:
1. The coach cutting potatoes during the kabaddi scene in Nitesh Tiwari's Chhichhore.
2. In Ajay Bahl's Section 375, Anjali (Meera Chopra) is questioned if Rohan (Rahul Bhat) ejaculated when he assaulted her. She replies does any man stop before that.

Favorite Songs:
My musical choices are not good but these were my most played songs of the year: 
1. Apna Time Aayega from Gully Boy
2. Ghungroo from War
3. For Aisha from The Sky Is Pink
I have not watched (or finished watching) the following movies yet but I do plan to watch them at some point in the future which may add some scenes from these to the above.
Bala, Batla House, Good Newwz, MalaalMardaani 2, Misson Mangal, Laal KaptaanNotebookNoblemenPati, Patni Aur WohSaand Ki AankhSuper 30, and The Zoya Factor.

Wishing everyone who is still reading this blog a happy 2020!

Other Reading:
1. On Gully BoyLink
2. On SonchiriyaLink
3. On Article 15Link
4. On Kabir SinghLink
5. On WarLink
6. On PhotographLink
7. On Judgementall Hai KyaLink

Dialogue of the Day:
"Apna time aayega."
—Murad, Gully Boy

Sunday, December 29, 2019

The Invisibility of the Other In Marriage Story

Noah Baumbach's Marriage Story is the divorce story of the Barbers—Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) and Charlie (Adam Driver). Nicole is an actress who works in plays directed by Charlie. She decides to move from New York to Los Angeles after years of living an unfulfilled and subdued life in her marriage. The film depicts their story where the two of them fight a bitter divorce battle, something they had been wanting to avoid from the very beginning. With help from their aggressive lawyers, Charlie and Nicole scan their entire marital history looking for anything that could be used as dirt against each other to gain the custody of their child Henry (Azhy Robertson). Ultimately, they both realize that they could have sorted their battle by talking to each other circumventing the severe financial and emotional trauma that divorce put them through. Marriage Story is yet another film in the oeuvre of Noah Baumbach that deals with the disintegration of relationships.
Marriage Story narrates the story in which a couple consciously uncouples where they become invisible to each other. When Nicole narrates her story to her lawyer Nora (Laura Dern), she says she left Charlie because he "truly did not see" her. He never saw her separate from himself. In their marriage, she got smaller to the point she just became invisible. She realized that she didn’t really ever come alive for herself. Even when she gets a new television series, she has self-doubt as she starts assessing it, the way Charlie did. He always critiqued her work and her looks and in the process, Nicole just lost her own independent thinking. She became lost. Charlie forgot her even in the little moments. For instance, when he leaves the house after he gets his divorce papers from Nicole, he switches off the lights, leaving her standing in the darkness as if he does not see her again. Early in the film, Nicole remembers watching a documentary about The Beatles singer George Harrison and convinces herself that she will be like George Harrison's wife where she will try to be content with being a wife and a mother. But then she realized she couldn't even remember the name of Harrison's wife. She would be forgotten like her and decides that she will not be the invisible wife. In the end, Nicole finds success and recognition in her art as a director. And, when Halloween comes again, Nicole befittingly dresses up as one of the singers from The Beatles and not the wife because she has rediscovered her own forgotten voice.
After Nicole moves to Los Angeles, it is the turn of Charlie who becomes invisible to her. He is physically not present for his family. He has become the absent father. He is advised by his lawyers that courts don't take kindly to absent fathers like him. In her spiel about Mother Mary, Nora again brings this up when she remarks that God was the father and he did not even show up. In a particular scene, when he visits Henry and opens his arms wide for him to hug (like the scene from Lamhe), Henry ignores him as if he is invisible. During Halloween, Charlie literally becomes The Invisible Man, a character who is not seen. When Halloween comes again, Charlie dresses up as the ghost with a white sheet, where he is again not seen, just like he was The Invisible Man. Towards the very end, he is also removed from all the photographs at Nicole's place, just like she had suggested him to cut her off from their pictures from New York. They have become invisible to each other now.
A common reason that most marriages break is the infidelity of one of the partners. There is infidelity in Marriage Story as well, but it is almost a side note. It is not the primary reason that Charlie and Nicole broke up. Charlie had an affair with a co-worker but when Nicole narrates her story to Nora, she reveals this fact right at the end, as if it is an afterthought. During their long confrontation scene, this topic again comes but it does not seem to be that much of a deal-breaker for them. What struck me was during the fight scene, Charlie shrieks at Nicole, "You shouldn’t be upset that I fucked her, you should be upset that I had a laugh with her." This reminded me of a passage from Baradwaj Rangan's review of Karan Johar's Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna where he had written, "Rishi wants to know if Maya enjoyed sleeping with Dev, but Ria asks Dev if he’s in love with Maya; the man is more concerned with the sexual aspect of the betrayal while Ria, all woman, tries to come to grips with the emotional implications." Context is different here but it is worth mentioning that Charlie brings up the emotional aspect of his affair as well.
Sam Mendes' devastating Revolutionary Road depicted the harrowing story of the Wheelers, Frank (Leonardo DiCaprio) and April (Kate Winslet), suffering from the monotony of marital life in suburban America. They decide to move to Paris to find a new purpose in their life. "We're running from the hopeless emptiness of the life here," Frank says about their plans. Things do not work out as the Wheelers planned and they start facing difficulties in their relationship where April eventually dies. The film truly brought out the hopeless emptiness of life. Marriage Story is about emptiness but it is also about hope. There is an emptiness in the film depicted by the minimalist design of the apartments and the hotels where Charlie stays. There is almost nothing there. Additionally, throughout the film, the characters keep talking about the advantages of space in Los Angeles as compared to New York. It also shows the literal and metaphorical distance that has come up between Nicole and Charlie. But Marriage Story is also about hope. It is about starting again and living life again. Nora motivates Nicole by saying, "I want you to listen to me, what you’re doing is an act of hope." By the end, Nicole becomes an Emmy-nominated director where people see her and listen to what she says. She finds her voice in her work which her marriage buried all these years. She finds a new paramour. At some stage, she even sings You Can Drive A Person Crazy from Company with her family. Though Charlie seems to suffer, he, too, finds his voice. He gets to sing Being Alive also from Company. Both Nicole and Charlie in a way have found their voices. The film also uses E.B. White's Stuart Little to depict this hope. In a sublime moment, Charlie reads a passage from the story to Henry and Nicole. He says, "The way seemed long, but the sky was bright. And he somehow felt like he was headed in the right direction." They both have moved onto different paths but it was for the best for both of them.
Marriage Story's most critical scene felt to be the one where Nicole and Charlie talk to each other about the issues in the marriage. Their conversation segues into a violent confrontation where they hurt each other by the brutality of their words and go to the extent of wishing for the death of the other. It is a visceral experience where years of bottled up emotions finally come out. There are frequent close-up shots in the said sequence giving a closer look at the expressions where they reveal their deepest fears and emotions. The film gives adequate time to both of them; however, it was Charlie who gained sympathy for his predicament but at the same time, Nicole does not come out as unreasonable or unlikeable. They both are a little right or a little wrong. No one comes out as a villain. In Kunal Kohli's Hum Tum, Arjun Kapoor (Rishi Kapoor) talks about the separation from his wife and says to Rhea (Rani Mukerji) that she must be thinking that he is a bura aadmi—vile man—for what he did to his wife. To this, Rhea replies, "Log bure thori na hote hai, acche logon par bas bura waqt aa jata hai." I was thinking of the same words during the movie as Nicole and Charlie are not really bad people; they are just going through a bad time bringing out the worst parts of their marriage story. Or, as they said, "Criminal lawyers see the bad people at their best. Divorce lawyers see good people at their worst."
The film also adds some easily readable scenes to bring about the differences between Nicole and Charlie. For instance, there is a particular scene where they close the gate of Nicole's house together with her on the inside and him on the outside making the obvious commentary on the state of their marriage. The gate is closing on their marriage. At some other stage point, Henry is shown to be literally split between the two of them like they do in a tug of war. Even the game they play is Monopoly, which as Noah Bambauch said in an interview, was like each of them is trying to monopolize over the other during their legal battle.
Even when they are fighting, Nicole frequently addresses Charlie as 'Honey'. In the midst of divorce proceedings, Nicole chooses the lunch option for Charlie when others are waiting for him to decide. She asks him if he wants her to cut his hair. She ties his shoelaces to prevent him from falling. At one stage, Charlie reveals that he is directing a play called Kasimir and Karoline, written by Ödön von Horváth. The play is about a couple whose relationship slowly disintegrates for their inability to express emotions to each other. The play's motto is "And love never ends." In the same vein, love has not evaporated from the relationship between Nicole and Charlie. Love is still there even though they have fought and separated. And, love will always be there even though they have moved on. Like in the end, a tearful Charlie reads Nicole's note about him where she had written, "I fell in love with him two seconds after I saw him and I’ll never stop loving him even though it doesn't make sense anymore." After all, it is not really love if it starts making sense.
Books In Movies:
1. Nicole reads The stories (so far) of Deborah Eisenberg by Deborah Eisenberg.
2. Nicole reads Mrs. Coverlet's Magicians by Mary Nash.
3. Charlie reads Stuart Little by E.B. White
Other Reading:
1. The script of Marriage StoryLink
2. Space and separation in Marriage Story
Dialogue of the Day:
"The system rewards bad behavior."
Marriage Story

"You know what people say. Criminal lawyers see the bad people at their best. Divorce lawyers see good people at their worst."
—Ted, Marriage Story

P.S.— I was also thinking of Mansoor Khan's Akele Hum Akele Tum but realized that that movie lifted a lot of scenes directly from Kramer vs. Kramer.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Bullet Point Report on WAR

I thoroughly enjoyed watching Siddharth Anand's War, much more than I expected. I had assumed it would be a silly film but actually, it is quite an intelligently made one. The implausibility of its events does not diminish its creativity and thoughtfulness. I thought to put down a few random thoughts on the film. 
1. Early in the film, Kabir (Hrithik Roshan) aims to shoot someone while speaking to Naidu (Mohit Chauhan). Their conversation is about a terrorist who radicalizes others by promising them heaven. This is followed by a scene where lights on a signboard called Hotel Lotus become Hell. This trope has been seen in other films, such as Mom, Blackmail, and Gulaal. Later, when Kabir agrees to enlist Khalid in his team, Colonel Luthra (Ashutosh Rana) congratulates him by saying, "You're in hell now," again bringing up the topic of hell. 
Life Suc(k)s
Hell Here
2. War talks about chess pieces—Haathi (Rook), Ghoda (Knight), Wazir (Bishop), and Pyada (Pawn). (In reality, a wazir is not a bishop. It is the queen who is the wazir while the bishop is called the uth. War, as is commonly believed, also refers to wazir as the bishop.) Kabir eliminates the three but struggles to identify the pawn. However, Saurabh reveals that he was the pawn. In chess, when a pawn reaches the final square on the opposite side, it can become whatever they want. Saurabh (Yash Raaj Singh), Ilyasi's pawn, infiltrated the rival side and becomes Khalid (Tiger Shroff) in the Indian intelligence establishment. Plastic surgery is combined with the game of chess. We saw a similar strategy being used in Bejoy Nambiar's Wazir, too, where Omkar Nath (Amitabh Bachchan) became the all-powerful wazir (queen) from a pawn. He sacrificed himself to play an elaborate game in which he used the powers of the queen to checkmate his opponent. 
3. War is the second film this year after Nitesh Tiwari's Chhichhore that believes that it is not the final result that decides if one is a winner or a loser; it is one’s effort that decides if one is a loser or not. Kabir motivates Roohi (Dishita Sehgal) that if one gives their very best to a game, they are already a winner and the end result does not matter. I should have watched War before writing this piece
4. The plastic surgery twist took me by surprise. The first one was kind of expected but the final reveal was not something I saw coming. This was like the ending of Farhan Akhtar's Don where it was revealed that Don was alive and was pretending to be Vijay this whole time. Don had switched places with Vijay at the hospital and took him off life support, causing him to die. Saurabh does something similar with Khalid in War.
5. It was also fun to capture the little details. The tattoo on Khalid's arm was a combination of slanted Vs. When we see the Indian intelligence agency office, the tube lights are the exact same shape as Khalid's tattoo. Later, in Tikrit, the transmitter with Kabir is also of the same V shape. 
V Symbols
6. The plane fight sequence, inspired by Mission Impossible, is excellently done. There is a scene in that sequence where Kabir finds the position of his opponents by throwing the spectacles in air. It was great. At many places, War reminded me of are-you-like-checking-me-out Dhoom 2 where Hrithik played the role of a thief. The scenes where he drops from the parachute on the ship or the scene where he jumps into the river using a rope were reminiscent of Dhoom 2
7. The film's opening fight happens where Khalid fights some henchmen in a one-take shot without any cuts. There is no background music in the sequence. The initial parts of the last fight between Kabir and Khalid also happen with no background score. There are two major chase sequences. One in which Khalid chases Kabir and the second where Kabir chases Khalid. Both of them are made more enjoyable by the drone shots capturing the top view.
8. Although Vaani Kapoor's role is a short one, her character Naina plays a crucial role in awakening Kabir's conscience. Her scenes with Kabir were some of my favorite scenes from the film. When she sees Kabir in a tense mood, she knew something was wrong and asks him, "Mera dil tootne vala hai?" Naina teaches Kabir some timely lessons related to the discourse of nationalism. Not everyone has vowed to save India by being a soldier. For ordinary people, trying to live a decent life is a battle in itself. She also talks to him about the importance of relationships and that she cannot trust a loner like him who has chosen the path of martyrdom. She gives a painting of her daughter Roohi's dream to remind him that she is not just a civilian asset. In the end, Kabir makes sure to fulfill that dream where he takes her for surfing in Australia. Vaani's death happens like the death in the final scene of Shashank Khaitan's Dhadak
9. A lot has been written on the homoerotic vibes between Khalid and Kabir. It is hard not to ignore the not-so-subtle moments that make one wonder about the nature of the relationship between the two characters. Early in the film, Colonel remarks that Khalid won't be able to find Kabir because he loves him. When Kabir goes to Naina to reveal his identity, she wonders if he has another girlfriend or a boyfriend. Later, Aditi (Anupriya Goenka) jokes and asks Kabir that she will run away with Kabir if he agrees and on listening to this, Khalid says with a smile, "Can I get in line?" This reminds me that I have to finish writing something on the homosexual undertones not just between two lead characters but also Ghasite (Alok Nath) and Lalu (Virendra Saxena) in Sonu Ke Titu Ke Sweety. These two men had their own secret place at the balcony and were called Batman and Robin (who were rumored to be in a same-sex relationship). More on that some other day. 
10. It is only fitting that the final fight between the two happens in an old church with walls decorated with renaissance era paintings. There is a particular scene where the two arrange themselves in a way that looks like Michelangelo's The Creation of Adam
11. Khalid joins the intelligence agency because he wanted to remove the tag of gaddar from his family as his father was a proven traitor. Mera baap chor gaddar hai. Khalid's mother was the one who gave information about her husband's activities but the world still views their family with suspicion. She wants to live a life of izzat—dignity. The film ends with Khalid, a Muslim, receiving a bravery award from the president who looks like Narendra Modi. Again a scene where the film keeps us guessing about its intent.
12. There is a phrase in that Jai Jai Shivshankar that says, "Vilayati bhaang chada ke." What ingredients would be required to make vilayati bhaang?
13. For a film titled War, there are expectedly a lot of references about God and religion in the film. The dialogues have some great lines. "Kuch to baat hai iss chehere me, har koi wafadari ki umeed rakhta hai."
14. The cinematography by Benjamin Jasper is terrific. The following are some ice and fire images from the film.
15. Ghungroo is a lovely song with some great dancing. I researched many other ghungroo scenes and songs in films but abandoned the piece as I could not come up with a coherent theme. Nevertheless, putting some versions of Ghungroo Toot Gaye here.

Other Reading:
1. The post on the theme of losers on Film CompanionLink

Dialogue of the Day:
"Hum bhi chal rahe the, saaye bhi wahan the, ishaare the kitne, samajhdaar kahan the."
—Khalid, War