Saturday, December 7, 2013

Best films of '13

Cinema offers us a joy that is nearly impossible to replicate. Each time we sit down to watch a film; we do so with an expectation of being entertained through a remarkable celluloid tale. Storytelling can warm our hearts, moisten our eyes, hurt our jaws, and spark our minds. Cinema has that power.

Every film comes with some expectations. Some because of its trailers and makers, some due to the audience's perceptions. There is pleasure in having our desired expectations fulfilled while watching them, but there's even more so in having those expectations upended and subverted with to our pleasant, unexpected surprise. We know the genres; it is the deviation from a genre that is fascinating.
Here's a list of films, that for me really stood out. Some of them went beyond the classical, expected environs of Hindi cinema in search of the new. Cinematic excellence apart, all of these were flag-bearers of experimentation and fine screenwriting. So, here goes the best films from Bollywood in ’13, independent of any ranking, and in no particular order.

The Lunchbox
Directed by Ritesh Batra 
The story of the instance when six-sigma of the dabbawallahs goes wrong. Banking on stellar acting, emotive pauses and a subtle hark back to the late 80s-early 90s, it brought the poignant to the screen. Is it a love story? Yes. Do they meet? Maybe, not. A bittersweet movie with just the right ingredients, just the right proportions, and just the right tadka. A film that is universal in appeal and clearly in the growing list from India which can qualify as World Cinema.

Bombay Talkies
Directed by Karan Johar, Dibakar Banerjee, Zoya Akhtar, Anurag Kashyap
This anthology clearly indicates that an auteur always leaves his signature on any and every work of his or hers. While Dibakar Banerjee’s adaptation of Satyajit Ray’s short story Patol Babu Filmstar would have made Ray proud; Anurag Kashyap’s short Murabba found resonance through its depiction of the underdog and the pains of keeping up a promise. Banerjee skillfully turned the original into a father-daughter story, but Kashyap’s would have been much better without the cameo.

Ship of Theseus
Directed by Anand Gandhi
Hands down the most cerebral film of the year. It took the winding festival circuit route to the theatres. It released in India, long after it had already won critics and audiences the world over with its avant-garde bent and sure footed philosophical dialogues. A film for whose genius and appreciation will grow indefinitely with repeat viewings. It is life-changing for a few, faith affirming for many. Remember, when the DVD comes out, buy it. Support independent cinema.

Directed by Bejoy Nambiar
I wish David was trimmed down ruthlessly at the editing suite. However, each frame is lit and shot with passion, which makes this worth a watch. Just so for witnessing all the cool stylistic tropes and flourishes that Bejoy Nambiar seems to have an eager indulgence for. The connections between the 3 Davids are loose. And, importantly, it doesn’t faze away from giving a rollicking, guilty pleasure of a movie.

Directed by Hansal Mehta 

Another eponymous film. Gritty, wrenching and truthful. It is the story that documents the struggle of a young educated person and a study in identity shaping tendencies of events that polarize and strain the social fabric of India.Rajkumarr Rao has shouldered the film with such elan! The guy is a serious star, seriously. Must surely check out the next venture of the director-actor combine City Lights due next year.

Madras Café
Directed by Shoojit Sircar 
A background score that could rival the Bourne movies for the tension that it created while complementing a screenplay that had both restrain and research. My grouse against it is that the producers chickened out by calling Sri Lanka as the Island and Rajiv Gandhi as ex-PM. It could have elevated itself to a true classic, were it were for a more expressive lead, someone better than John, who himself did a great job backing and producing the film.

Go Goa Gone 
Directed by Raj Nidimoru–Krishna DK
Cheesy, corny, over the top, in a nice way. A zombie comedy. Zom-com. The director duo's follow up to the terrific Shor in the City, it Saif Ali Khan as Russian Mafia organising weed-a-thon/cocaine bonanza of sorts in Goa and three bumchums from Bombay searching for the party of their lives. Everybody gets their wish. The fun should ideally begin when the zombies come in, but it dips.Nonetheless it is harmless fluff and kudos for experimentation and Kunal Khemu for the dialogues.

Mere Dad Ki Maruti
Directed by Ashima Chibber 
It is surprising to have come fromY Films - this effervescent and fun film. Shot in locales of Chandigarh, the spunky dialogues in local twang, gave it a certain goofy freshness. A young film that is not gimmicky and uses product placement quite well. The story is simple, the performances sincere. Especially from Ram Kapoor as the portly, loud mouthed dad and Prabal Punjabi as the best friend of Saqib Saleem the lead. Who by the way is responsible for the entire shenanigans by managing to lose a brand new car at a valet parking while impressing the Shakira of his town. #kthnxbye

Shuddh Desi Romance
Directed by Maneesh Sharma 
Jaideep Sahni took the formula, dismantled its template and served a film that is now the benchmark for triangular youth tribulations. Mighty irony then that Yash Raj’s formula was taken apart in a film from the same production house. It is never boastful about how far it is pushing the envelope, it knows it is. Quietly, the sparkling writing does it work. For a young film, it has not got a single mention of facebook, twitter or whatsapp. Remarkably different, brilliantly worded.

# The list will be updated post Dec. 31, 2013 accounting for December releases. 

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Chandigarh Location Recce

Day 1

Jantar Mantar
We had a brief layover in New Delhi. Hence we walked through the wide boulevards, thorough the PTI building and Sansad Bhavan to reach Jantar Mantar. For foreign nationals the entry fee is 1 pound (hahha!)and for Indians 5 bucks. It is one of the ticketed sites that Archeological Survey of India (ASI) has done well to maintain well.

The Rajputs kings took great interest in astronomy and built these amazingly accurate observatories. I had to watch a couple of more YouTube videos to understand the workings of the structures. I was never good at trigonometry, but at least I know this that the hypotenuse of the giant triangle (Samrat Yantra) is parallel to the earth’s axis. We came along pretty impressed with the architecture and emphasis on science by the Rajputs, even when they were fending off the Mughals.

Soon we were joined by scores of class VII and VIII kids, each with a fancy mobile tucked in. The teachers had it easy as the kids are easy to control. They are more bothered about their screens and images that they will upload and share.

Chhole kulche @ Connaught Place
Nirula’s was supplying the day's stock to its metro kiosk and we saw the boys in red offloading food items from their van.
However, we opted for the roadside delicacy and staple diet of the area- Chhole Kulche for a mere 15 bucks a plate. And here’s what! The guy gave us a second serving and topped it up with thin ebullient onion chops, fried chillies and a dash of lime juice to perk it up. The dish has the chutzpah!

Delhi has THE metro 
The similarity between Dadar and Rajiv Chowk is that both are important junctions in their respective mass transit networks. The differences are many. To start with, the Delhi Metro station is underground and clean and has security checks for the commuters. While one stands for gradual decay, the other represents spurt in progress.
And the clinching argument in favour of the young Metro is that not one single person spat in its premises. Who says infrastructure doesn’t change people. It does!

Empty streets
We arrived in Mohali when the third ODI between India and Australia was into the 96th over. MS Dhoni had played a gem we had heard and were informed by the twitter chatter. It was fairly desolate on the streets as mostly everyone was inside the park. Then James Faulkner hoicked a few Ishant Sharma deliveries outside the park in a sequence of 4 6 6 2 6 6. An over later he tonked another six into the stands and sealed a memorable win for the aussies. Well, for the neutrals it was a great game, for the locals, not so much. But the nip in the air as we reached in Chandigarh and its outskirts was refreshing and welcoming.
Work starts early tomorrow. So should be hitting the sleeping bags now.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Chandigarh Location Recce Day 2

Day 2

A gulp of sugarcane
Just outside the Zakir Hussain Rose Garden, sugarcane juice was made the old way, by an ageing man with his long canes carted from across the union territory from Haryana. 
No added ingredients, just juice squeezed out with a little help from the machine that he muscled with his biceps. As the cane started to resemble bagasse, he slid a bunch of cilantro leaves for that mild deviation in flavour from the sweetness of sugar. A glass of juice at just 15 bucks that left an aftertaste in our mouths for close to half an hour.

Indian Coffee House
When you have mutton burgers @ 29.30 which would put McDonalds and KFC to shame, finger chips that were as English as they come, you know you have hit upon a great place to grab a bite. The Indian Coffee House still seems stuck 1982, when it celebrated its silver jubilee; and I say that as a compliment. It retains the old world charm, with its small 2x2 feet brown square tables, arranged in various permutations and combinations to suit the space and clientele.
There were 50-60 people in the lower stall where we sat. People’s conversations cut into the ones going on aside and beside added to the gentle orders being tallied and the trays being rallied by the middle aged people waiting the tables with enough efficiency to not rush the pace of the place.The bill on our table read thus  
Mutton burgers                   2         29.30                58.60    
Finger chips                       2         20.00                20.00
Chocolate milkshake           1         29.30                29.30
Spanish Omlette                 1         34.50                34.50
Masala Dosa                        1         43.40                43.40
Tot_tax                                                                25.73
CASH                                                                  231.53


Of course, we are visiting again. 

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Chandigarh Location Recce Day 3

Day 3

Early morning, the crew reached the Bollywood Facilitation Cell at UT guest house. We had waited in vain for a connecting bus from CTU Bus terminal. The frequency is notoriously spaced out and erratic. 
However, at the UT guest house, we were greeted by the nice people whom we were corresponding and co-ordinating for the last two months. In a largish mezzanine reception area, we were received and the due papers and clerical work signed off. The cell is as smoothly administered as the city. No red flags or red tapes. And I can say with certitude that every single bullet point on their posters and website is true. You can find out so on your own if you want.
We walked through the Sukhna Lake road towards the Sector-4, as it was too early for the water body shots and boat pedalling. We shall return for that when the light is just right.

Rock Garden
Next up was a place that we were quite excitedly looking forward to. In our schools we were taught that Nek Chand designed the Rock Garden. It doesn’t explain much else. They should. There’s such detailed artistry and a nonchalance towards the traditional concepts that it hits you in your head. Here the unconventional has a way to surprise and awe with its splendor, fluidity and regularity of occurrence.
The making of Chandigarh provided the site, opportunity and material for Nek Chand’s own creation and the city’s people and government supported his creative process all through. Without Chandigarh there would be no Rock Garden. Yet there is a clear contrast between the city’s grid patterns streets linking sector to sector and the Rock garden’s labyrinthine paths on which the journey is the purpose.  
Nek Chand had observed building methods of Le Corbusier and developed them through his own interpretations. His innovative techniques include using drum and sacks to mould concrete for walls, pillars etc. and curtains of wire gripped in frames and clad with pebbles and cement. He also has hydraulic engineering skills, designing an efficient water pumping system for the waterfalls that channel rainwater all year along. The blend of artistic vision and technical competence contribute to the scale and variety of the Rock Garden.
It is a whole lifetime’s work that calls out for more mavericks like him. Not for nothing is he conferred the Padma Shri.Tickets at the Rock Garden for adults are 20 bucks each and it is an absolute steal for such an absolute delight.

Sector 16 stadium
We were supposed to meet the Joint director of Sports Mr. Sidhu at the Sector 16 stadium. As it happened, he jauntily skipped that meeting for another one. As it is, were there to do a small recce.
Lots of localites team in and out of the stadium which always has budding cricketers polishing their skills on the manicured lawns and concrete pitches. It is a beautiful ground set amidst the ink blue of the sky and chlorophyll green of the fauna around it. Plus it is used regularly unlike a lot of other places where a built facility is never accessible to the public and hence never used to good effects. (My hint is towards the grounds that are rented for marriage receptions)
Even after a long day’s work, I was happy as a bird with a French fry. Because, that’s exactly what I had at the market place. I followed that up with a softie near Neelam theatre. I had had a vanilla-chocolate one after a long time. It felt quite rewarding too as we were walking and scouting a lot and clocking decent miles during the day. The packed schedule meant we were walking swiftly too.

Next up was a plate of chicken momos @ 30 bucks a plate. Fiery and soft. The stomach is happily mixing everything in. So a long day segues into a wintery night. Good night!