Tag Archives: Ankur Vikal

Movie Review: The Forest (2009)

2.5 Stars (out of 4)

My favorite sub-genre of film is the killer animal movie. While a movie like Jaws rises to levels of brilliance, most are the formulaic gross-out fodder typically found on the Syfy channel on a Saturday night: stuff like Dinoshark or Mega Piranha. I enjoy them all.

The Forest falls somewhere in between brilliant and formulaic in terms of quality. The story is entertaining, the plot well-organized, and the scenery is gorgeous. But uneven acting and a bizarre end sequence keep The Forest from reaching its full potential.

Writer-director Ashvin Kumar creates a story born from concern about the health of Indian forests. Humans seeking land encroach upon forested areas, creating avenues by which poachers can more easily murder vulnerable animals. A result of the clash of two worlds is that 150 people are killed by tigers and leopards in India annually, according to a note at the start of the film.

The human interlopers in The Forest are a married couple: Radha (Nandana Sen) and Pritam (Ankur Vikal). Their relationship is troubled because of both his infidelity and their inability to have children. Pritam takes his wife to a wildlife reserve in the hopes that they’ll be able to work things out in a more peaceful setting.

City dwellers Pritam and Radha are clearly out of their element in the forest, emphasized by the fact that they speak English and the locals do not (at least not to each other). Most of the film’s dialog is in English, because either Pritam or Radha is in almost every scene.

In the preserve, veteran game warden Bhola Ram (Tarun Shukla) explains to Pritam that the overnight lodge is closed because of a man-eating leopard in the area. Abhishek (Javed Jaffrey) — a local cop who happens to be Radha’s ex-boyfriend — agrees to escort the couple to the lodge, along with his preteen son, Arjun (Salim Ali Zaidi). So much for the privacy Pritam was hoping for.

As the truth of the couple’s problems and Abhishek’s desire to reunite with Radha are revealed, the man-eating leopard makes its presence known.

In a scenario made for tension, the acting feels subdued. Abhishek isn’t quite menacing enough to seem like a mortal threat to Pritam, his rival. And Sen and Vikal deliver their dialog flatly until a scene in which Radha and Pritam explode in anger. There needs to be more buildup to the dynamic scenes when characters are in danger.

As I mentioned earlier, the scenery is breathtaking. The ruins of an old temple show us that man has no place here. Camera shots of wildlife are beautiful, and even the man-eating leopard is well-handled, apart from a couple of awkward CGI shots.

The results of the leopard’s attacks are pretty gnarly, but in a good way. There’s the right amount of gore to indicate that the creature is a killer, even if it’s not the biggest animal in the forest.

In fact, it is a leopard-inflicted injury that sets up a bizarre series of events that taint the movie’s conclusion. One character is wounded and bleeding profusely, yet none of the other characters attempt even the most rudimentary first aid. He bleeds out over the course of a half hour, and everyone seems to forget about him entirely whenever they leave his room. Ultimately, a voiceover attempts to explain the wounded man’s fate.

With a runtime of less than ninety minutes, there is enough time for Kumar to have provided a more satisfying conclusion and answer a few other nagging questions (big and small) the movie raises. For one: if the lodge was closed, why was some man giving Pritam a massage after he and Radha arrived there?

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Movie Review: Striker (2010)

4 Stars (out of 4)

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

When I sat in front of my computer to watch Striker on YouTube, I had some concerns. I was glad that I didn’t have to drive over an hour to the only theater near me that was showing it, but I wondered if I’d be as immersed in the experience watching it at home as I would be in the theater. Within minutes, Striker‘s riveting characters put my fears to rest.

Striker flashes back and forth through three time periods in the life of Surya (Siddharth), a young man who lives in Malvani, a Mumbai ghetto. As a child in 1977, he watches his older brother playing carrom — a table game like billiards, where small wooden disks are flicked with the fingers into corner pockets. Surya excels at the game but loses interest as he gets older.

Flash forward to 1988. Surya works as a courier who specializes in transporting jewelry and large amounts of cash. Because it’s a risky job — he’s responsible for repaying the money if he’s robbed en route — Surya pays a broker to find him a lucrative manual labor job in Dubai.

When the broker disappears with Surya’s money, his childhood friend, Zaid (Ankur Vikal), comes up with a scheme to get it back: playing carrom for money. Zaid runs errands for the local don, Jaleel (Aditya Pancholi), and is able to get Surya into some high stakes games.

Jaleel is, of course, not to be trusted. He and his goons don’t brandish weapons openly, but there’s an unmistakable air of menace about them. Zaid isn’t much more reliable, given his drug use and frequent arrests. And the rules governing life in Malvani are in flux after the arrival of a tough police inspector, Farooque (Anupam Kher).

In 1992, a time when religious riots are engulfing Malvani, Surya turns to Inspector Farooque for help. The movie begins and ends in this timeframe.

Striker opens with a note from the filmmaker, Chandan Arora, stating that the movie is based on true stories from people who live in Malvani. The movie’s structure, which shows Surya at various points in his life rather than following one linear narrative, makes Surya seem more like a real person than a typical hero. He’s not the poor kid who grows up to transcend his meager upbringing by leading a righteous life. He’s a guy who doesn’t have many options and occasionally tries to make good choices, but often doesn’t.

Zaid is the most interesting character in the film. Vikal plays Zaid as just charming enough to get by without any real vocation or goals. But, from the moment he shows up in the 1988 timeframe, it’s clear that whatever fate awaits Zaid is not a happy one.

Striker is wonderfully atmospheric. Malvani isn’t a slum as decrepit as the one in Slumdog Millionaire. It’s a neighborhood with houses and shops and various places to get into trouble. The carrom-playing scenes are as evocative as any scenes set in the smoky pool halls of Hollywood films. Appropriately, there are no song-and-dance numbers. Striker will appeal to fans of mainstream American films, inviting them to explore Indian movies beyond the musical masala fare.

Runtime: 2 hrs. 7 min.

Notes on the YouTube viewing experience:
I was impressed with the quality of the YouTube rental experience. The movie downloaded in its entirety almost immediately, so I didn’t have to pause and wait for the video to load. The English subtitles appeared in white text on a black band below the main movie, making them easier to read against a consistently colored background (and, I presume, easier to ignore if you don’t need them). I’d happily rent more movies from YouTube in the future, especially if they’re made available the same day as the theatrical release.