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

January 8, 2016

Caste away!

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 8:31 pm

January 08, 2016

Cast: Sanjay Suri, Tannishtha Chatterjee, Dhritiman Chatterjee, Soham Maitra, Riddhi Sen, Ena Saha, Anshuman Jha, Arpita Chatterjee

Director: Bikas Mishra

Chauranga, directed by debutant Bikas Mishra, holds a mirror to the ugly reality of the caste system…the violence and exploitation of the poor and the marginalized in a feudal society. Evocative of the many ‘art’ films from the 70s and 80s that addressed the same malaise (particularly Shyam Benegal’s Nishant and Prakash Jha’s Damul), the film reveals how little has changed in all these years.

In an unnamed village in North India, a young Dalit boy Santu (Soham Maitra) bides his time watching trains pass by when he isn’t herding his family pig, or spying lovingly on Mona (Ena Saha), the daughter of the all-powerful landlord Dhaval (Sanjay Suri). Santu, as you can see, has a rebellious streak in him, unlike his submissive elder brother Bajrangi (Riddhi Sen) who dutifully pays obeisance to the landlord and puts up with routine beatings from upper caste bullies.

One of the more interesting characters in the film is the boys’ mother Dhaniya (Tannishtha Chatterjee), who works for the landlord and is having an illicit relationship with him. Although clearly a victim of exploitation, Dhaniya uses her sexuality to help negotiate a better life for her sons. Her character is in sharp contrast to the landlord’s own wife (Arpita Chatterjee), who is resigned to suffer silently and do his bidding. There’s also a lecherous blind village priest (Dhritiman Chatterjee), the very embodiment of evil in religious robes.

Against this landscape of entitlement, oppression and violence, Mishra offers the possibility of a love story. Bajrangi, when he learns of Santu’s crush on the landlord’s daughter, offers to write a love letter on his behalf. The result, as you may have guessed, is catastrophic.

Chauranga makes all the right noises about the dangers of a patriarchal society, sexual depravity among the religious class, and the need for education. But the film unfolds at such a languid pace, and its narrative is so disjointed (Censor cuts, were they?) you really have to fight yourself to stay invested in the story.

Life is cheap in these parts, and that point is illustrated effectively in a scene in which an outcaste boy falls into the temple well. The landlord, concerned only with purifying the water in the well, spares no thought for the fatally injured boy who may not make it.

But is it merely enough to hold a mirror? I was hoping Chauranga would express more outrage…that it might explore what happens when the oppressed challenge the status quo. That might be a film of our time. This, I’m afraid, we’ve seen before.

I’m going with two out of five.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

January 1, 2016

Breaking point!

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 8:33 pm

January 01, 2016

Cast: Luke Bracey, Édgar Ramírez, Teresa Palmer, Ray Winstone, Delroy Lindo

Director: Ericson Core

The original Point Break from 1991, directed by Kathryn Bigelow, was no masterpiece. But over the years it has amassed a cult following of sorts, particularly on home video. You could put it down to the simple but thrilling story about a band of bank-robbing surfers, the adrenalin-pumping action scenes, or to the sheer charisma of its leading men Keanu Reeves and Patrick Swayze.

As it turns out, compelling narrative and charming performances are both in short supply in the remake of Point Break, whose makers evidently want to raise the stakes on the action but can’t seem to weave these terrific sequences seamlessly into the rest of the film.

In Bigelow’s original, Reeves starred as FBI agent Johnny Utah who infiltrates a surfer crime ring run by Bodhi (Swayze). The new film casts expressionless Aussie ‘himbo’ Luke Bracey as Utah, and Edgar Ramirez steps up to play Bodhi, the leader of a gang of extreme-sports enthusiasts who rob the rich and perform death defying “ordeals” around the world to attain Nirvana and “to honor the earth”. Don’t even ask.

Given its pretentious premise, it’s hardly surprising that the bulk of the film’s dialogue resembles the kind of corny one-liners that you tend to find in fortune cookies. My favorite is a gem that Bodhi delivers, surprisingly with a straight face: “When a man pushes his limits, he eventually finds them.” WTF, dude!

It’s not as if the earlier film didn’t have its share of cheesy moments, but director Ericson Core’s remake is full cheesecake factory, complete with homoerotic undertones in the brawny bromance between the two protagonists.

Every 15 minutes or so, the ‘story’ pauses to make place for another one of the film’s exhilarating sports scenes, which are stressful but also fun to watch. The opening set piece – a mountaintop motorcycle race – made my heart pound. A rock-climbing sequence towards the end of the film had me literally hanging on to the edge of my seat. Less effective, however, is the accompanying CGI which looks crude and unsophisticated, particularly a scene in which a block of currency notes are released mid-air – you can spot the pixels, for heaven’s sake!

I spent most of the film rolling my eyes at the bumper-sticker dialogue and the bland performances of the actors. Frankly, Point Break seems to stand for the point at which you decide you can’t take any more of this nonsensical drivel. I’m going with a generous two out of five, strictly for the nail-biting sports scenes. Nothing else works here.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

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