Charlie – Movie Review

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Charlie (Dulquer Salmaan) is a free-spirited vagabond, the quintessential do-gooder who lives to see the sparkle in others’ eyes. Tessa (Parvathy) is a free-spirited vagabond too who effortlessly flits between cities and careers in search of new experiences.  The similarities go even further as they’re both graphic artists and are both incredibly passionate people! But there’s one primal difference between Charlie and Tessa that’s easy to miss – Charlie is selfless, Tessa is anything but.

But the movie doesn’t ask you to do all of those deductions. Charlie is a kind of movie that you go sit and trust the director to take you on a soul-quenching ride. And what an eyeful it is too. Starting from the incredibly gorgeous looking title card, down to the teeny tiny marvelous touches like how a pair of pliers turn into antlers for a deer sketch, this is one fabulously mounted film. And I’ve not seen many Malayalam films but Cochin has never looked better in my opinion. There is something to be said about what a movie can achieve when it’s got a tasteful cinematographer. There are probably way too many slow-mo shots but I never did complain and I couldn’t stop staring at the screen.

The movie unfolds in an unconventional way. Tessa’s relentless search for Charlie (the mysterious/intriguing previous occupant of her apartment) was handled nicely.  In bits and pieces, the backstory to Charlie is revealed which I thought was a great framing device in that we always have something to look forward to. It’s not perfect by any measure though, as there were a couple of places where I felt that the movie was getting too indulgent for its own good.

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As for the performances, everyone brings their A-game to the table. I’ve always been a big admirer of Parvathy and her incredibly expressive eyes, and she doesn’t disappoint. Her rustic appearance comes into play wonderfully for Tessa, the almost hippy. Dulquer is charming and completely owns the frames that he is in, though I think now is the time for him to do something different. Nedumudi Venu is always a delight and I loved how his sub-plot turns the tables around for Charlie. The actress who played Kani was also effective.

But the man of the movie for me is probably Gopi Sundar, the music director, who lends an almost ethereal background score and equally impressive songs  that gel so well with the mood of the film.

Charlie might not feature in the greatest Malayalam films of 2015, but it sure has got its heart in the right place and delivers on its promise to feed you a delectable meal for your senses.

 

Drishyam and Masaan – Movie Reviews

Today was one of those rare back-to-back movie days. But what was I to do, a lot of good movies have come out lately and I absolutely love the cinema experience. Watching in on the tiny screen of my computer just does not cut it.

I’m gonna keep it crisp and to the point, as it’s 2AM in the morning and I’m too exhausted for a comprehensive analysis.

First up:

DRISHYAM

Having already seen the original Malayalam and the Telugu adaptations, I ventured to see the Hindi version purely for the performances as I know that this is not a script that you can twist much. It’s pretty darn perfect and brilliant in the first place that all the adaptations follow it to the T, with only minor trivial changes if any. So here are my observations:

  • Watch it for Tabu!! This lady knows how to act, period. I concede that all the women who played the role of I.G in different versions were incredibly good but Tabu was just so much more better in my opinion. She brings out all of those minor as well as major emotions so splendidly on to the screen. And that climax scene, where she doesn’t utter a word and yet says so much through her eyes.
  • Ajay Devgan played the role with the right amount of restraint and solemnity. Mohanlal was still the best though. Shriya Saran was pretty and acted quite well, but I was seriously disturbed by all the lipstick she wore all the frickin’ time. I mean, even while going for a police interrogation?
  • The little girl. Not really impressed. The expressions looked very labored.
  • The movie’s set in Goa, so the locations were quite good and I also loved their house with that ochre paint!
  • As far as the adaptation goes, it’s quite faithful and does justice to the original. Watch it because this is one movie where the script is hero.

MASAAN:

  • First of all, how glad am I to see movies of this sort being made! Sometimes one does really need to step back, slow things down and look at life from a different perspective. Deserves every bit of the Cannes applause.
  • Dreamy, poignant, poetic, lyrical, stark, austere, grimy, gritty, symmetrical (and also cemetery-cal)  – are some of the adjectives I’d use.
  • Coming to the story, it’s about two people – a man and a woman – who separately commit two reprehensible mistakes. One has to pay its price. The other will remain scarred for life. How it all ends is what you have to see on screen.
  • Set in Varanasi, this is one well-researched film!
  • The performances are all top-notch. Richa Chadda felt too tepid at the beginning, but once you come to know that there are more layers to her it all makes sense. Vicky Kaushal is a revelation. Rooted and earnest, he is sure to steal hearts. The rest of the cast was perfect too.
  • I thought was background score reflected the tone of the film perfectly. Muted, and springing up only when necessary.
  • The setting, the cinematography were all apt and I couldn’t help but notice how beautifully framed each scene was. There is not a lot of beauty in the actual movie; but the craft, you bet!
  • I liked that there was proper kissing. And that they didn’t shy away from showing it. This is how you do it, Bollywood directors!
  • There’s one scene where Devi(Richa) enters a house but the camera stays outside. We hear dialogues but we don’t see it happening. That was one splendid touch.
  • Now that I am home and am retrospecting, I cannot say assuredly what this movie really is about. It talks of a lot of things, and I think each one interprets in their own way, but I see it was a story of people not finding the closure they seek.
  • The only issue I had was that I was waiting for a bang ending, and did not get it. But it at least ends on a hopeful note.

So there you go, two really good movies and I’m so happy I got to see them. Did you already watch these? If yes, lemme know in the comments what you thought. If no, then you should be at the cinemas already!

Baahubali: The Beginning – A Movie Review

Baahubali has been termed India’s Largest Motion Picture yet. And it sure feels like one. Made on a whopping budget of 40 million USD, the theatrical trailer floored everyone with its breathtaking visuals and CGI. But does the movie live up to the hype?

Ok, let us get the most important question out of the way. Should you watch Baahubali?  YES!! Without any hesitation. Simply put, it’s one of the greatest and most ambitious movies to have come out of Indian cinema ever! But how many more times you are gonna watch this film will depend on how much you can stomach typical filmi mass elements, item songs that pop out of nowhere and yes, hero apotheosis that is such a trade mark of S.S. Rajamouli that I couldn’t help myself from slightly cringing every moment someone put a display of “reverence” towards our hero on screen. Oh wait, I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start at the very beginning.

The Story In A Nutshell

Once upon a time in India, a time when deserts and snow capped mountains co-existed side by side, there had been a prosperous kingdom called Mahishmathi. The king dies, and the kingdom has two eligible princes to choose from to grace the throne next. Bhallaladeva (Rana), the older and evil-er with a blind desire to be King. And then you have Baahubali (Prabas), the man with a heart, strong arms notwithstanding. And I’ll stop right here. To tell anymore of the story would be giving away too much of the too little that it has. If you’re surprised, then you don’t really know Rajamouli. I will get to this in detail later. But where the director scores in in the screenplay! Even with the predictable plot, I found it hard to not concentrate on the screen 100% of the time. It’s that good!! The first takes take time to establish all the characters but once that is one, we’re off to one racy ride ending in that high-octane climax!

But are you ready for this other tid-bit? The director actually pulls off the longest intermission ever for any movie. No, I’m not talking about the intermission in this one, I’m talking about the one between The Beginning and The Conclusion. Why do I feel this way is because what you get in this movie is only half of the story. But that’s how all multi-part movies are, no? You ask. No. Each of the parts need to have a closure in some form of the other, I mean it should tell one whole of a smaller story. But what Baahubali is – it’s a big setup. All it does, albeit successfully, is to establish the characters to make way for the big conclusion. For which we have to wait one whole year. Same time, 2016. And that is cruel. For all my ambivalence towards the movie, at the end of the 2 hours and 40 minutes runtime, I was charged up enough to sit through another three hours to watch the entire plot unfold. I couldn’t just digest that the movie ended where it did. There was a nice enough twist that’s going to keep the audience’s mind occupied with fan theories for a while though.

CAST AND PERFORMANCES

For once, I liked that a lot of people other than the “hero” get ample screen time to showcase their talent. So this is my opinion on the major cast, in no particular order of preference –

PRABHAS: This guy had never been a great performer. And it continues in this film as well. He has at most four expressions on his face throughout: confused face, stupid smiley face, serious brood face, I’m-going-to-rip-you-apart face. I honestly can’t think of anymore.

Prabhas was cast simply and mainly for his physique. You need a guy who sells Baahubali, this towering hunk of a prince who defies all laws of physics. He lifts hundred feet statues, tears apart boulders like they are wood and does superman like leaps in the air. And Prabhas at least fits the bill in this regard. You never once doubt Baahubali’s capabilities.

RANA DAGGUBATI: A welcome change from the deadpan that is Prabhas, Rana gets a more meatier role in the antagonist Bhallala Deva and does an impressive job of it too. He also benefits from getting a multi-layered character and better lines than the hero.

If anything, this movie is going to give Rana that long awaited break. He arrives with aplomb and how!

RAMYA KRISHNA: No words; she is just spectacular as Sivagami, the queen regent. It’s all in those eyes.

SATHYARAJ: What a refined performance. Kattappa is an interestingly written character, something that is quite new. Sathyaraj shines throughout – a twinkle in the eye, a twist of the lip, he does it all with perfection. Somehow reminded me of Davos from Game of Thrones.

TAMANNAH – I always believed her to be a capable performer and she does an okay job here. In a nice surprise, she gets to play the role of a warrior on a mission. She was a bit too stiff, probably deliberately, for my tastes but she does make her impact felt.

ANUSHKA – We all know that the best is yet to come. Devasena in this movie is an old, wizened and in-rags woman who’s been kept captive by Bhallala Deva for 25 years. We know very less of her except for the fact that she had been the love interest of both Bhallala Deva and Baahubali once. Anushka has very little to do in terms of acting, but she does say a lot with her eyes. And I guess special mention has to go to the makeup and costume team too.

VISUAL EFFECTS:

Probably the one USP of this movie and something that’s got everyone’s interest piqued. I would say the graphics were very good indeed for a movie of this scale and grandiosity. I can totally see the amount of work that has gone into visualizing and creating these worlds that do not really exist. You totally buy the entire landscape, from the Mashismathi kingdom to the supertall waterfalls. Everything looks coherent and believable. And I think that’s a crowning achievement for a movie that’s made on a fraction of what a Hollywood film would spend.

Mahishmati

The final war sequence is every bit epic as I expected it to be. There’s a lot of Tolkien and Peter Jackson about it, down to the fabricated language. I loved how the battleground had been clearly laid out, those house sigils, the battle line formations, the hand signals – it felt like a proper war.

But even after all this, I think I can still nitpick so let me have a go.

  • Mashishmathi looked like a matte painting most of the times. You could always tell that is was computer generated. Probably also because it was so huge, when compared with Udayghad for instance. Also, you never see much of the kingdom from the inside except for one or two fake looking streets and that big courtyard. I guess all we needed was one continuous pan of the camera  from sky-level to street-level, but that never happens. There’s a cut in between and you know that’s where the CGI ends.
  • The reflection and gleam on the golden statue of Bhallala Deva is completely wrong.
  • In one twilight scene, there are snow-clad mountains in the distance that looked like a bad cut-and-paste job.

MUSIC AND SCORE:

Keeravani disappoints, big time. The songs were not required at all in the first place, especially that horrific item number in the second half. It’s mind boggling how Rajamouli snuck that one in. Sure, the good guy is chasing the bad guy. Bad guy walks into a bar. Good guy starts drinking. An exotic woman appears out of nowhere (three women in this case). The good guy starts to sing and dance to a sleazy lyric. Song ends, bad guy runs out of bar. Good guy chases after him. So inventive, Rajamouli!!! Uff.

I expected at least better stuff from the background score but alas, it is a disappointment too. It just lacks the grandiosity that a movie like this warrants. There is no single musical theme that stands out distinctively and Keeravani rehashes most of the tunes from the songs as background too. I understand that the guy is getting old, but this is just lazy. Especially when you compare it with the more comprehensive musical scores of Hollywood. Where is the Baahubali Theme, I ask.

And here’s everything else:

  • Why do most of the action movies have to be revenge dramas? Isn’t there any other kind of movie? I think it’s a cop out on the part of the story writers. A revenge storyline gives ample scope to build empathy for the leading guy. They want us to root for the hero. And that happens inevitably in revenge sagas. For once, I want to see someone attempt something different.
  • I’m sorry but what’s wrong with a warrior woman who maybe sidelined her feminine side to pursue a noble cause. Does she need to be reminded that she is still a “woman”? And that her beauty matters more than her heart? Cue the worst scene in movie history. Prabhas undressing Tamannah’s armour, letting her hair lose, putting some red on her lips with crushed berry juice, finally turning her into a sex object. Great job everyone. Take a bow!
  • Oh, and is that reason enough for a woman to fall in love with a man? And that he’s also scaled the heights of the waterfall just for her? And suddenly, she’s happy to let her man do her job? And she doesn’t even say, “I’ll come with you”? Poori from Athadu had a much better conscience.
  • The male-to-female ratio of Kunthala is messed up, yo.
  • Mahishmathi is not explained. We see that the general populace is not too happy with their king but why? Yes we all know that he is bad, but what exactly does he do? Apart from getting people chained, that is. This will probably be explained in the sequel.
  • I loved the symbology in that statue-erection moment though. The statue stands tall while his pride crumbles down.
  • When you want to hold someone from escaping your kingdom, you close the drawbridge. You don’t put burning haystacks in the path. Don’t you know that Indian film heroes defy fire like it’s nothing?
  • Prabhas unsheathing the sword mid-air. That one scene is enough to watch this movie!
  • Giving his protagonists dedicated weaponry is Rajamouli’s stamp. Here too, you see Baahubali with a sword while Bhallala Deva rocks his chained mace. And Kalakeya looks menacing with his lance and mallet.
Isn’t this Game of Thrones good?

To sum it up, Baahubali is a visual extravaganza that pushes the envelope of Indian cinema for sure. But it lacks emotional connect and feels a bit too hollow and gratuitous at times. But that in no way is a deal breaker though. Here is finally a director who is gutsy enough to imagine a magnificent canvas and worked hard to bring to it to fruition. I know that I have written a highly conflicting review, but the truth is that I really did enjoy this movie and you will too.

Oh, and don’t forget, Jai Mahishmathi!!

Premam – a lovely film

My non-Indian followers: keep scrolling, keep scrolling.

Premam is one of the most entertaining movie I’ve watched in a long time. The Malayalam industry has once again proved why it’s so far ahead it terms of pure film making. Forget large-scale, forget star power, forget item numbers – Premam is a simple journey into the very basic instinct of us all. Love. Love in all its colors and shapes.

I’ll say this. Tollywood can make a Baahubali but it can never make a Premam. Period

Now where do I even start, I’ll probably try doing a bullet point list like Bharadwaj Rangan:

  • Nivin Pauly is adorable as George Davidson. He shows subtle differences in his persona as he matures through the years and is so damned believable as well. I thought his character was a bit flat and could have had more layers, but you don’t think about it when you’re watching the movie. And he ends up running a bakery! Wasn’t expecting that at all.
  • All the three leading ladies were exceptionally well cast. But it is the character Malar, and I hear she has become quite a sensation now, who steals the show and overshadows almost everyone in the film. Sai Pallavi, the actress, infuses her with such a fresh charm that no wonder everyone’s going crazy for her. And get this – she’s Tamilian, she’s got pimples that the director does not hide, she dances like a diva, and her deep voice, man it’s still ringing in my ears! Gautam Menon’s Jessie seems very boring all of a sudden.
  • My other favourite was Vimal Sir, the one who has a crush on Malar as well. The way he says “Java is robust! Java is safe!” had me in splits.
  • Jojo. This guy was cute and probably had a subplot that wasn’t expanded upon. But I liked his cheerful presence. And that one scene with the telephone, LOL!! The audience went bonkers!
  • Butterflies as a recurring motif. And the fact that they even got the movie’s title in Malayalam shaped like a butterfly.
  • The spellbinding cinematography which is part of the reason for the film’s ‘mood’. Very muted “pastel” colors, with a lot of green and white. And then there’s the perfect Depth Of Field in every shot. Also, no one captures the Sun and its rays better than Keralites.
  • I was not enamored by the songs – except Malare that is. Everything good about Malayalam cinema in a single song. and it doesn’t get any better. This one, again, is currently a rage in Kerala. Partly due to the fact that the director cleverly chose to hold off the song until the movie release.
  • Here it is. Notice everything I mentioned before – the cast, the cinematography, the sunlight, the way the camera moves in and out. Other DOPs need to really take a leaf out of this.
  • It’s good how the supporting cast is mostly not turned into caricatures in Mollywood, at least in the movies that I have seen. How delightful were the the hero’s friend group? Never relegated to being just sidekicks, they are his voice of reason and support him in every step.
  • And finally, that twist at the end. Who would have thunk?