Rajeev Masand – movies that matter : from bollywood, hollywood and everywhere else

October 2, 2015

The Justice League

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 8:41 pm

October 02, 2015

Cast: Irrfan Khan, Konkona Sensharma, Neeraj Kabi, Sohum Shah, Atul Kumar, Gajraj Rao, Tabu

Director: Meghna Gulzar

That truth can often be stranger than fiction is the point director Meghna Gulzar wants to drive home in Talvar, her gripping, then baffling, and ultimately disturbing account of the Aarushi Talwar murder case of 2008.

So what really happened that night at the home of a middle-class dentist couple in a quiet Noida colony? Meghna’s film – fashioned as a police procedural – digs deep to address the questions behind the gruesome double murders of the Talwars’ 14-year-old daughter Aarushi and their domestic help Hemraj (the victims’ identities thinly disguised here as Shruti Tandon and Khempal). This is standard CSI stuff, except that Vishal Bhardwaj’s sharp screenplay unravels Rashomon style, with different people offering different versions of that night’s events.

Yet the film tilts clearly to the side of the parents, Ramesh and Nutan Tandon (Neeraj Kabi and Konkona Sensharma). Like Avirook Sen’s recent book Arushi, the film too suggests a miscarriage of justice – that the real-life Talwars have been tried by the media, and sent to jail following a botched-up investigation that first implicated servants, then backtracked to blame the parents despite no concrete evidence against them.

Details are key in a film of this nature, and Bhardwaj’s script is the real hero here, based on rock-solid research. You’re drawn into this compelling narrative, watching from the start how the UP cops bungled up the crime scene, destroyed vital evidence, came up with unproven theories of sexual relations between the victims, and portrayed the parents as partner-swapping swingers who committed the crime in the heat of the moment.

Into this scenario steps Ashwin Kumar (played by Irrfan Khan channeling CBI officer Arun Kumar), who takes the case reluctantly, but methodically sets out searching for evidence and other possible culprits. Just when you think he’s nailed it, having secured a witness on top of incriminating narco-analysis tests, his investigation is upended by dirty office politics and corruption, and he’s promptly replaced on the case. The best scene in Talvar, arriving late in the third act, involves two sides of investigators arguing their versions and contemptuously discarding the other’s theories. It’s a firecracker of a scene that comes alive on the strength of some powerful dialogue and terrific performances.

To be fair, the acting is consistently top-notch across the board. Ashwin Kumar’s trusted deputy Vedant is played with minimal showboating by Ship of Theseus star Sohum Shah. Meanwhile, Atul Kumar nails it as the eloquent and frankly buffoonish rival investigating officer Paul. Cast in a tiny role as Ashwin’s estranged but empathetic wife, Tabu is expectedly subtle, but this track feels misplaced in an otherwise riveting whodunit. And Konkona Sensharma expertly brings pathos and ambiguity depending on what’s required in the moment.

It’s Irrfan Khan, of course, who is the glue that holds this film together. The actor builds his character brick by brick, delivering an intricate, nuanced performance that’s hard to fault. From watching sardonically as the junior cops play the blame game, to barely looking up from his phone, occupied in a game as Ramesh Tandon weeps inconsolably during his testimony, this is acting of the highest order.

Alternately wry, witty, persuasive and shocking, Talvar evokes feelings of fear, anger and shame as you consider the likelihood that a pair of innocent parents are serving life terms for a crime they may have had no hand in. Deliberately unsentimental and melodrama-free, the film goes about its business in docudrama fashion, exposing a flawed legal system, a judgmental society, and an impatient media.

I’m going with three-and-a-half out of five. This is essential viewing, if only to understand the world we live in.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Mars attacks!

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 8:40 pm

October 02, 2015

Cast: Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Sean Bean, Kristen Wiig, Kate Mara, Michael Pena, Sebastian Stan, Donald Glover

Director: Ridley Scott

For a “lost-in-space” story, The Martian, directed by Ridley Scott, is an unusually feel-good film. Comparisons with recent space-set dramas like Interstellar and Gravity may be inevitable, but its concepts are neither as mind-bending as Nolan’s, nor is it as emotionally wrenching as Cuaron’s masterpiece. Instead it’s a refreshingly old-fashioned rescue-and-survival movie with a protagonist so compelling, it’s impossible not to root for him every step of the way.

After a fierce storm forces the crew of a NASA Mars mission to make an emergency evacuation and head back to Earth, Mark Watney (Matt Damon), an astronaut presumed dead by his team, wakes up alone on the Red Planet. He’s stranded 140 million miles from home, with only enough food supplies to last a few months. The NASA big-shots back in Houston are putting their heads together to find a solution, but it’s going to take four years for a rescue party to reach him.

It’s a grim scenario, but our hero is no whiner. Even in the face of insurmountable odds and near-certain death, Watney takes on each obstacle with a determination that’s inspiring, and what’s more he manages to hang on to his sense of humor through the ordeal. Before long, he’s found a practical way to grow potatoes on the Martian sand. To fend off isolation he records video logs, and keeps himself entertained by listening to 80s disco hits from another astronaut’s playlist.

The Martian, not surprisingly, rests on Damon’s shoulders, and he delivers an incredible performance that effectively conveys Watney’s mix of ingenuity and loneliness. Scott, who has made more than a few space films but never one as cheery, mines Drew Goddard’s script (based on the best-selling novel by Andy Weir) for many laughs, all the while keeping the tone upbeat…even when danger and uncertainty looms large.

But the film is as much about teamwork and the sense of brotherhood that binds scientists together everywhere. Scenes in which some of the smartest minds in the world collaborate to tackle problems related to Watney’s situation feel genuine and unexpectedly emotional. One particular scene, in which Watney’s original team is confronted with a major decision, caused a lump in my throat.

Yet, at times you’ll wish the film didn’t spend long stretches on earth, away from Damon. And it does feel a tad stretched at nearly 2 hours and 15 minutes. Jessica Chastain stands out as the crew leader racked with guilt over inadvertently stranding Watney, but Jeff Daniels and Chiwetel Ejiofor barely make an impression in the underwritten roles of the NASA chief and the Director of Mars Missions.

Bubbling with cheeky dialogue and propelled by its ‘can-do’ spirit, The Martian is an optimistic survival tale with a leading man who owns the screen. I’m going with three-and-a-half out of five. Scott puts a nice spin on the modern sci-fi, and a gives us a film that warms the heart.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

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