Tag Archives: Chandan Roy Sanyal

Movie Review: Island City (2015)

IslandCity2.5 Stars (out of 4)

Island City was a part of the 2016 Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles.

Writer-director Ruchika Oberoi’s debut film Island City explores the pressures of life in modern Mumbai through three connected narratives, with varying degrees of success.

The movie opens with “Fun Committee,” a story about a middle-aged salaryman, Mr. Chaturvedi (Vinay Pathak). He files into his cubicle at Systematic Statistics along with the other drones, an interchangeable cog in a giant machine.

To remedy persistent employee dissatisfaction, the company installs a “Fun Committee” to randomly award workers with a day away from the office. For a guy like Chaturvedi, whose job is his life, such a reward feels like a punishment.

According to an anonymous committee member heard only over the phone (voiced by Rajat Kapoor), the day away is scientifically planned to maximize “mandatory” fun. Chaturvedi is dropped off at a shopping mall, under orders to utilize a stack of coupons for free stuff like balloons and lollipops.

The film’s limited budget becomes a problem as the narrative shifts into a surreal examination of consumer culture. Retail employees sing when Chaturvedi redeems his coupons as shoppers mill about nearby. Are the shoppers also a part of the alternative universe inhabited by Chaturvedi and the store workers? Are they even aware of it? A bigger budget would’ve allowed Oberoi to build a more immersive world, avoiding the questions of who’s involved and who’s just a regular person who happened to be shopping on the day of a movie shoot.

Sympathy for Chaturvedi’s plight is undermined when he extends his frustration with his soul-sucking job beyond the callous management to his fellow employees. They’re just as much victims of the system as he is. “Fun Committee” ends on a grim note.

The second story — “The Ghost in the Machine” — is the best of the three. Housewife Sarita (Amruta Subhash) learns that her husband, Mr. Joshi, is in a coma. Sarita, her two young sons, and her mother endure neighbors dropping by to offer condolences in exchange for tea and cookies, but the family knows the truth: Joshi was an overbearing jerk, and their life is more enjoyable without him.

All four family members get hooked on a TV serial about an ideal man. The TV hero (Samir Kochhar) is handsome, affectionate, kind, generous, and polite: all the things Joshi is not. The serial allows the family to envision a better life, while comatose Joshi hovers over their dreams like a not-quite-dead ghost. The story is delightfully clever, especially in the way the TV serial’s narrative evolves to depict the family’s desires.

“Contact” is the last of Island City‘s short stories. Unlike the middle-class protagonists of the other narratives, “Contact” features a poor heroine. Aarti (Tannishtha Chatterjee) endures a hopeless existence, commuting for hours to a manual labor job at a newspaper print shop. Her father has arranged her marriage to a foul-mouthed boor, Jignesh (Chandan Roy Sanyal), who insists that dour Aarti smile without giving her a reason to.

An anonymous love letter professes to see the passionate fire hidden within Aarti’s sad eyes. The mystery awakens not just Aarti’s sense of curiosity but a belief that perhaps she deserves a more fulfilling life than the one she has. Chatterjee’s touching performance lives up her consistently high standards.

Island City is pessimistic about life for the average Mumbaikar. Hope is either a lie, or it comes at an astronomical cost. “The Ghost in the Machine” is the only one of the three tales that is fun to watch.

It’s hard to reconcile how the salaryman’s story fits with the other two. The image of the zombie-like office worker is well established, but Chaturvedi is there by choice. There’s no sense that he quashed some vibrant part of himself to take this job. He has no family to support. He’s there because there’s nothing more to him.

Contrast that with both Sarita and Aarti, whose opportunities are dictated by the men in their lives. Joshi forced Sarita to stop working in a career she loved. Aarti works in a dead-end job, and she’s forced to marry someone she finds repulsive. Not only are Chaturvedi’s self-imposed troubles deemed equivalent with those of the two women, they’re given prominence by being placed first in the story order.

It feels like there’s a piece missing from Island City that might have better connected the three stories. Maybe it was just a matter of weaving the narratives together rather than presenting them separately. As constructed, Island City only hits its stride after a third of the movie is already over.

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Movie Review: Jazbaa (2015)

Jazbaa1 Star (out of 4)

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Jazbaa (“Passion“) is a mess from start to finish. It’s such a trainwreck that it manages to make top stars like Aishwarya Rai Bachchan and Irrfan Khan look silly.

From the very beginning, it’s obvious that something is off with Jazbaa. It just looks wrong. Director Sanjay Gupta is obsessed with putting filters on the camera, so every shot is a sickly green or yellow, with the occasional merciful blue. The grotesque palette makes Irrfan appear in urgent need of hospitalization.

That’s when you can actually see him clearly. Gupta also likes to play with lighting, to stupid effect. A group of cops sit around a dark conference table, light illuminating only their cheeks or chins. Their eyes and mouths — the parts of the face that actually convey meaning — are in shadow.

Although the plot has promise, Gupta mucks it up as well. Aishwarya plays Anu Verma, a successful defense lawyer who is happy to make evidence disappear if it will help her win. She’s also a single mom with an elementary-school-aged daughter, Sanaya (Sara Arjun). Anu’s best friend, Yohaan (Irrfan), is a corrupt but highly decorated cop who’s facing suspension.

At Sports Day at Sanaya’s school, Anu crosses the finish line first in the mother-daughter relay. But when she turns to celebrate with Sanaya, the girl has vanished.

Anu — who is standing in a crowd of people — calls for her daughter for all of five seconds before her eyes fill with tears and she starts shrieking her head off. Why does she immediately assume that something has gone horribly wrong? It’s almost like Anu knows she’s in a movie. The fact that Sanaya actually is missing doesn’t justify her overreaction.

A kidnapper calls, demanding that Anu free a rapist/murderer from death row in exchange for Sanaya’s safety. Anu enlists suspended Yohaan to help her, even though he’s the man who put the rapist behind bars in the first place.

All this happens in frantic fashion. Within the first fifteen minutes, Anu leads the cops on a high-speed car chase, even though we’ve hardly had time to get to know her, her daughter, or Yohaan. Gupta expects the audience to invest in the characters simply because they are there, not because they have earned our sympathy or affection.

Gupta’s obsession with using camera techniques for their own sake — rather than for the sake of the story — reaches its absurd apex in courtroom scenes. Every single shot is peppered with numerous micro-movements of the camera: up, down, in, out. It makes no sense. It’s as though Gupta is deliberately trying to distract us from the acting.

That may be a good thing, because the acting is bad. Aishwarya screams and sobs and pounds her fists on the ground. Irrfan throws a tantrum, kicking over barrels like a frustrated baseball player taking out a Gatorade cooler in the dugout. While sitting in a car with Anu, Yohaan emphasizes a point by breaking her passenger window with his elbow. It’s so stupid, it’s sublime.

The inspiration for Irrfan Khan’s character?

Chandan Roy Sanyal — who plays the rapist, Niyaz — is the hammiest of the hams, cackling as though he’s a villain from the 1960s Batman TV show. He’s nearly outdone by Sam, the rape victim’s old boyfriend who is now crazy from having taken too much “angel dust.” Don’t do drugs, kids.

The anti-drug message is secondary to the real moral behind Jazbaa. The screen fades to black as the movie ends, and sad piano music plays as Indian rape statistics appear on screen. The note ends not with a call for an end to rape or greater aid for victims, but for speedier executions of those convicted of rape (a death penalty offense in India).

The problem with the message is that the plot of the very movie that precedes it cautions against such haste. During the course of their investigation, Anu and Yohaan uncover enough evidence to suggest that the crime that got Niyaz thrown behind bars didn’t proceed the way the original prosecutor concluded it did.

Regardless of the fate of the fictional character Niyaz, Jazbaa presents a case in which a potentially innocent man is sentenced to death. The movie then ends with a note encouraging speedier executions, thus limiting the opportunities for a person wrongly convicted to overturn his or her own death sentence. Even if one agrees with the sentiment at the end of the film, it doesn’t follow logically from the actual events of the film.

Rather than trying to make a moral point, Gupta needs to focus on telling a good story. He fails to do that, getting hung up on distracting camera techniques and overacting that puts soap operas to shame. Jazbaa is a disaster.

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Movie Review: Kaanchi (2014)

Kaanchi_poster1 Star (out of 4)

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Kaanchi: The Unbreakable fancies itself an inspiring story of a simple country gal taking on the powers of corruption. In reality, Kaanchi is a tale of personal revenge, and a really boring one at that.

The story begins with an uninformative framing device that has no narrative payoff until over an hour into the film. A Mumbai police officer, Bagula (Chandan Roy Sanyal), sits handcuffed in an interrogation room, trying to explain his role in the tumultuous events sparked by a woman who’s gone missing. Bagula says that the woman is his childhood friend, Kaanchi (Mishti).

Kaanchi (Mishti) is the female version of the big-man-on-campus Bollywood hero whom everyone seems to love even though he’s an immature, annoying asshole. Kaanchi is every bit the asshole — temperamental, jealous, and vain — yet she’s the favorite daughter of her mountain village, Kochampa.

While Kaanchi trades verbal barbs with her boyfriend, Binda (Kartik Tiwari), members of the wealthy Kakda family arrive in town, intending to force out the villagers in order to build a luxury resort. This troubles Binda, but Kaanchi could give two shits. She’s too busy worrying about other girls flirting with Binda.

Kaanchi befriends Sushant — heir to the Kakda fortune — and he falls in love with her. This sets off a chain of events that results in Kaanchi fleeing the village in a rage, vowing revenge. Thus ends the first hour of a two-and-a-half-hour-long movie.

Kaanchi’s reunion with Bagula in a Mumbai dance bar is unintentionally hilarious. Scantily clad ladies sing, “You’re sexy. You’re like a taxi,” to which Bagula responds, “I’m a carefree big boy.”

Only Rishi Kapoor — who plays one of the villainous Kakda brothers — gets a better character introduction: strumming a guitar on a round bed while a pair of busty women in lingerie chomp on Ritter Sport chocolate bars.

There are nine or ten pointless musical numbers that serve only to waste at least forty minutes of runtime in an already overly-long film.

Among the dance numbers, the highlight is “Thumka,” but for the wrong reasons. It features the least flattering outfits I’ve ever seen on white backup dancers. Each dancer wears a monokini, black elbow gloves, gladiator sandals, a bobbed wig, and black, control-top pantyhose. A few of the dancers look like they’re wearing athletic cups inside their hose. Check out these sartorial abominations:

The acting throughout is pretty abysmal. Kapoor’s performance is hammy and out-of-place. Mithun Chakraborthy — who plays the other Kakda brother — has cotton balls stuffed in his cheeks for no apparent reason.

Misthi doesn’t do herself many favors in her debut performance. She moves as though she’s wearing a back brace, and her high-pitched shrieking sounds insane, rather than powerful.

Throughout the incredibly dull second half of the film, side characters refer to Kaanchi as a representative of young India, fed up with politics as usual and tired of a corrupt system. However, Kaanchi doesn’t see herself that way. She never mentions the threat the Kakda family poses to her village, nor does she mention the rigged system that benefits such wealthy families.

Had Kaanchi decided to fight for Kochampa or on behalf of the underclass, that would’ve constituted character development. But Kaanchi doesn’t develop at all throughout the film. She begins and remains a temperamental young woman who’s used to getting her way. After the interval, she just redirects her temper.

This isn’t a political or inspirational movie, no matter how badly writer-director-producer Subhash Ghai would like to frame it as such. Kaanchi is a messy, dull revenge flick, and that’s all.

Links

  • Kaanchi: The Unbreakable at Wikipedia
  • Kaanchi: The Unbreakable at IMDb