Tag Archives: Aamir Bashir

Movie Review: Haider (2014)

Haider4 Stars (out of 4)

Buy or rent the movie at iTunes
Buy the DVD at Amazon
Buy the soundtrack at Amazon

Classic works of art earn the designation because of their ability to connect with audiences long after their creators are dead. Filmmaker Vishal Bhardwaj demonstrates why William Shakespeare’s Hamlet is a classic by updating the play as Haider, a film that presents Hamlet‘s essential truths in a way that is fresh and compelling.

Bhardwaj changes the story’s setting from the royal court of Denmark to Kashmir in 1995. The film supplies more than enough information for international audiences to understand the social and political conflict present in the region at the time.

The city of Srinagar is officially under Indian control, though militants wishing for the region to unite with Pakistan offer armed resistance. Hilal (Narendra Jha), a doctor, secretly performs surgery on a militant leader, citing his oath to preserve all life. His wife, Ghazala (Tabu), is afraid. As the army officer Pervez (Lalit Parimoo) puts it, “When the elephants fight, it is the grass that gets trampled.” Ghazala knows she and Hilal are the grass, not the elephants.

A masked informer tells the army that Hilal is harboring a terrorist. The doctor is carted off and his house destroyed.

The doctor’s son, Haider (Shahid Kapoor), returns to Srinagar to find his house a smouldering ruin and his mother giggling in the company of his fraternal uncle, Khurram (Kay Kay Menon). Ghazala and Khurram protest that the situation is not what it looks like, but Haider isn’t buying it.

Haider’s personal quest to discover what happened to his father takes place within an environment of increasing turmoil. There’s a lot of money and power to be had, thanks to Indian government initiatives to track down militants. Pervez, Khurram, and even the two guys named Salman who own the local video store are eager to cash in. Information is the most valuable currency, so no one can be trusted.

A lack of trust also lies at the heart of Haider’s troubled relationship with Ghazala. Flashbacks showing a happy household give way to memories of emotional manipulation and simmering resentment.

Kapoor and Tabu are brilliant together. That mistrust bubbles under the surface of every conversation, breaking through just when they seem on the verge of sharing a tender moment. Yet their bond is overpowering. He is her only son, she his only remaining parent.

Each of the principal characters is driven by complicated motives. Menon is duplicitous and opportunistic, but he genuinely loves Ghazala. Ghazala — though she doesn’t wish for her husband’s death — enjoys being doted on by Khurram. She fruitlessly tries to explain to Haider that parents are adults with their own needs and feelings that have nothing to do with their children.

Caught in the middle is Arshee (Shraddha Kapoor), Haider’s childhood sweetheart. With Haider back in town, she’s ready to get married. She doesn’t realize that Haider’s path of vengeance likely precludes a wedding.

What’s interesting about the female characters in Haider is the way they have both more and less autonomy than the male characters. The women can move freely about town, without the ID checks and pat downs the men endure at every turn. Arshee publishes articles critical of the Indian government in the local paper.

Yet their futures are still governed by men. Arshee’s brother, Lucky (Aamir Bashir), and her father, Officer Pervez, have the power to cancel her engagement to Haider. While Hilal is considered officially missing but not deceased, Ghazala is designated a “half-widow,” unable to mourn and remarry, forced to wait.

The genius of Bhardwaj’s creation is the way it so successfully tells both the story of Hamlet and the story of Kashmir. Bhardwaj turns Shakespeare’s story into the ideal tool to illuminate a complicated, controversial part of India’s past and present, all while maintaining the tone and spirit of the original.

Bhardwaj is also responsible for the film’s masterful background score and soundtrack. The sound design in the movie is spot on, with frequent quiet periods to enhance the effectiveness of the music.

There’s one dance number in the movie, and it seems designed to make all future Bollywood dance numbers look superfluous and bland by comparison. Haider stages a musical performance to try to intimidate his uncle, and it’s spectacular. Kapoor is a skilled individual dancer, but here his talents are used as an integral part of the story.

Every performance is tremendous. The cinematography uses Srinagar’s abundant snow as a backdrop for breathtaking shots. The music is spectacular. Haider is a movie that begs to be seen.

Links

Movie Review: A Wednesday (2008)

A_Wednesday_Poster2.5 Stars (out of 4)

Buy or rent the movie at iTunes
Buy the movie at Amazon

A Wednesday has been recommended to me many times since its release in 2008. After enjoying writer-director Neeraj Pandey’s sophomore effort, Special 26, this seemed like the right time to finally check out his debut film.

I can see why A Wednesday — a story about a common man trying to correct the inadequacies of India’s sprawling bureaucracy — still resonates with people. It has great populist appeal. I think I would’ve enjoyed it more had I seen it before Special 26, which is more polished than A Wednesday. Nevertheless, A Wednesday is enjoyable and full of the dramatic tension that Pandey is so good at creating.

The film begins with Police Commissioner Prakash Rathod (Anupam Kher) reflecting on the most challenging case of his career, on the day before his retirement. I’m not sure why Pandey has Rathod specify that this is his last day on the job. It’s not important to the plot, and it draws an unwelcome parallel to Robert Duvall’s character in the 1993 common-man’s-revenge film Falling Down.

The case Rathod is referring to involves the harrowing events of a Wednesday afternoon at some point in the not-to-distant past. An anonymous caller claims to have placed bombs throughout Mumbai that will explode in about four hours unless Rathod releases four terrorists from prison. Rathod assumes that the caller — an unnamed man played brilliantly by Naseeruddin Shah — is another terrorist, but the truth is more complicated than that.

While trying to find the man behind the calls, Rathod dispatches two officers to carry out the bomber’s orders: straight-laced Jai (Aamir Bashir) and loose cannon Arif (Jimmy Shergill). Shah’s character enlists an ambitious news reporter, Naina (Deepal Shaw), to serve as his eyes on the ground. Naina feels conflicted about aiding a possible terrorist, but breaking this story will get her off the dreary local news beat.

The story is tense, as Rathod tries to connect the dots while helplessly giving in to the caller’s demands. There’s great dynamism in Pandey’s shots. Though many of the scenes take place inside the police control room, there’s a lot of movement. Rathod stalks the hallways; officers spring to life when the latest call comes in; Arif chases down a suspect who might have the final clue to the caller’s identity.

As well-paced as the story is, there are a lot of rookie directorial mistakes that detract from the film’s overall effectiveness. Fight scenes seem shoehorned into the script, and the sound effects that accompany them are cheesy. Unable to trace the phone calls, one of the police officers makes the corny declaration: “We need a hacker!” When Shah’s character finally reveals his motives, he does so in a well-delivered but long speech that stops the film’s momentum. The ending was a bit of a cop-out.

Perhaps the most distracting mistakes Pandey makes are in the inclusion of a number of ineffective red herrings that remain loose threads at the end of the film. It’s implied that Jai and Arif have a preexisting beef, but this is never explored. Jai gets several phone calls from his wife, who’s traveling with their son on a train. Though she could be in danger, Jai never warns her to stay off the train, though he does worry that she’ll be concerned for his own safety if she sees him on the news coverage of the crisis.

During his confessional speech, Shah’s character reveals a personal motivation for his actions. It seemed as though this disclosure would explain why he chose Naina to cover the story, but there’s ultimately no connection. Her selection is completely arbitrary.

While I enjoyed A Wednesday overall, these mistakes stood out because of their absence in Special 26. That’s actually a compliment, as it means that Pandey has honed his storytelling to augment his flair for narrative tension. Seeing Pandey’s professional growth between his first and second films leaves me very excited to see his third film, whenever that day comes.

Links

Movie Review: The Great Indian Butterfly (2007)

1 Star (out of 4)

Buy or rent the movie at iTunes
Buy the DVD at Amazon

After debuting at a couple of festivals in 2007, The Great Indian Butterfly sat on the shelf for years before getting its theatrical release in 2010. I understand why.

The experience of watching The Great Indian Butterfly (TGIB) is uncomfortable. It’s like being a kid trapped in a car on a long road trip while your parents argue in the front seat… about their sex life. Ick.

The movie begins in the middle of an argument between married couple Meera (Sandhya Mridul) and Krish (Aamir Bashir). Krish — playing the role of the bumbling husband from every TV commercial or sitcom ever — has screwed up again by turning off the alarm clock, causing the couple to miss their flight. Meera complains about everything, even Krish’s solution to drive to their vacation destination.

Part of the point of the trip is so that amateur entomologist Krish can search for the legendary titular insect, which supposedly has the power to bestow happiness on he who finds it. The legend is revealed in abrupt cutaways to a random white guy in a Hawaiian shirt (Barry John) waxing poetic about his own search for the butterfly. The character plays the same role as Spike Lee’s “magical negro” archetype. Does that make him the Magical Anglo?

The unhappy couple hits the road, and the bickering continues. The dialog is almost entirely in English, allowing Meera and Krish to throw about the F-word with abandon. They argue in absolutes: you never, you always.

Eventually, the sources of their problems are revealed. Krish resents Meera for getting an abortion. Meera is jealous of Krish’s pretty ex-girlfriend, Liza (Koel Purie), whom Krish would’ve preferred to marry. When Meera overhears Krish talking on the phone with Liza, she goes ballistic and leaves.

The couple’s arguments don’t provide any insight into the human condition or comment on the complexities of marriage. Meera and Krish are simply two resentful people intent on making each other miserable.

The trouble with starting the movie in the middle of a fight between two mean people is that it doesn’t give the audience anyone to identify with. Meera and Krish are awful toward each other, casually throwing out insults so mean that most of us  wouldn’t think of speaking them to our spouses even in our worst moments.

Meera and Krish have no children, so there’s not even the “staying together for the kids” excuse holding them together. TGIB aims to rectify that problem by intimating that having a child will fix the couple’s relationship. That solution rarely works.

There’s not much to recommend this movie. The acting and writing are bad, and the cinematographer manages to make the resort paradise Goa look dull. The positives are that TGIB is short (only 90 minutes), and there are a number of time-wasting musical montages that can be fast-forwarded through if you’re watching on DVD.

Links