Tag Archives: Deepti Nawal

Movie Review: Lion (2016)

lion3.5 Stars (out of 4)

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Lion releases in theaters across North America on Christmas Day.

Lion‘s heart-wrenching international odyssey is carried on the tiny shoulders Sunny Pawar, the adorable star of this true story of a lost Indian boy’s attempt to find home.

5-year-old Saroo (Pawar) lives in a village in Madhya Pradesh with his preteen brother Guddu (Abhishek Bharate), baby sister Shekila (Khushi Solanki), and their mother (played by Priyanka Bose). Guddu and tiny Saroo do a variety of odd jobs — legal and otherwise — to supplement their mom’s wages as a laborer.

One night, Guddu takes Saroo with him on the train to look for work in a neighboring town, leaving Saroo asleep on a bench on the train platform. After Saroo wakes up alone, he searches for Guddu on an empty passenger train before dozing off in one of the seats. When Saroo wakes again, the train is moving, and it doesn’t stop for two days.

Saroo ultimately winds up in Calcutta, more than 1,000 kilometers from home. He doesn’t speak the local language, and he couldn’t explain where he was from even if he did because he’s just a little kid. As far as he knows, his mother’s full name is “Mom.”

His cleverness and adaptability help him survive on the street for months, staying fed and avoiding child traffickers. He’s so competent that it’s easy to forget that homelessness is just as new to him as the city and the language.

What makes this sequence so effective is that little Sunny Pawar is the picture of childhood vulnerability, with skinny limbs, chubby cheeks, and giant, brown eyes. His very being calls out to evolutionary parental instincts: “Protect me!” Yet, as Saroo, he’s overlooked by most adults as just another street kid. (A note at the film’s end states that 80,000 children go missing in India every year.)

Eventually, Saroo winds up in an orphanage that looks more like a prison. The staff do what they can to find the boy’s mom under the limitations of Saroo’s knowledge and communication technology circa 1986 (i.e. an ad in the local newspaper). When their efforts fail, kindly Mrs. Sood (Deepti Naval) shows Saroo a photo of John (David Wenham) and Sue (Nicole Kidman) Brierley: his new adoptive parents from Australia.

After a typical Tasmanian childhood, Saroo (played as adult by Dev Patel) moves to Melbourne for a course in hotel management, falling in with a group of international students that includes some Indians. Meeting them awakens buried memories of his birth family, inspiring a years-long quest to determine exactly where he’s from.

When Saroo starts his search in 2008, he has at his disposal the satellite images of Google Earth and tables of historic data on train speeds. Even if he’d wanted to look for his birth family at a younger age, the technology to do so wasn’t widely accessible.

Despite the cast’s star-power, most of the supporting roles feel peripheral to the story. That applies especially to Rooney Mara as Saroo’s American girlfriend, Lucy, who exists just to be pushed away by Saroo as he becomes obsessed with his research. Wenham is solid in his few scenes, and Kidman shines in a monologue about why she adopted Saroo.

An important character who could have used more screentime is Mantosh (Divian Ladwa), another orphan from India the Brierley’s adopted after Saroo. Young Mantosh (played by Keshav Jadhav) arrives in Australia with a load of emotional and behavioral problems, probably as a result of whatever accident left all the scars on his head. The boys share a fraught relationship that boils over when Saroo’s search reminds him of the kind older brother he had before Mantosh.

Bollywood fans will recognize a number of actors like Bose, Naval, and Pallavi Sharda. Stars Tannishtha Chatterjee and Nawazuddin Siddiqui have small but memorable parts as well.

Patel’s performance is compelling, as Saroo’s life crumbles under the weight of trying to appease two mothers: one who’s still searching for him and another who’s afraid of losing him herself. The cocky young man who starts the program in Melbourne is gradually replaced by a shaggy haired, wild-eyed loner who hallucinates his long-lost family.

But Lion ultimately belongs to Sunny Pawar, who is quite skilled for such a young actor. It’s impossible not to fall in love with him.

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Movie Review: Inkaar (2013)

Inkaarmovieposter0.5 Stars (out of 4)

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If director Sudhir Mishra’s goal with Inkaar (“Denial“) is to depict in painful detail the kind of gender discrimination women are confronted with every day, then mission accomplished. But Mishra doesn’t condemn such discrimination or suggest that change is possible. If anything, Inkaar is more about a sexual harasser’s redemption than justice for his victim.

One of Mishra’s many problems in telling the story that he co-wrote with Manoj Tyagi is that he thinks the black-and-white case of sexual harassment at the film’s center is a conflict with shades of grey. Hotshot advertising executive Rahul Verma (Arjun Rampal) propositions his former protegé and lover, Maya (Chitrangada Singh) for sex, and when she refuses, he threatens to destroy her career.

The framework for the plot is a series of interviews conducted by a social worker named Mrs. Kamdhar (Deepti Nawal), hired by the ad firm to determine who between Maya and Rahul is telling the truth. In a violation of any sort of professional protocol or victim’s rights, Maya and Rahul are deposed in front of their coworkers, some of whom are openly hostile to Maya. As the proceedings drag on, Mrs. Kamdhar brings Rahul into Maya’s session so they can “talk this out face to face,” as though this is a schoolyard tiff between children.

Mishra’s blindness to his own bias makes it impossible for him to tell a balanced story. He uses negative stereotypes of women to create Maya’s character without any narrative foundation. If there are to be any shades of grey in the case, then Maya must have some kind of agenda. She is routinely called “ambitious” — particularly by Rahul — a common slam against women deemed to be aiming above their station.

However, Maya doesn’t do anything aggressively ambitious other than perform her job well. At one point, she takes a dead-end job in Delhi just to get away from Rahul, but she’s so good that she gets reassigned to New York, where her stellar performance earns her a seat on the firm’s Board of Directors.

Rahul is the only one who claims that Maya is gunning for his job. She voices no such desire, and neither does anyone else in the firm believe that’s what she wants. Yet Mishra uses Rahul’s paranoia as sufficient evidence of Maya’s ambition.

Mishra further stacks the odds against Maya by routinely depicting her as a drunk. On the flip side, Rahul’s childhood is nostalgically shown in flashbacks, his father teaching him lessons about male pride. Cutaways in the present show Rahul tending to his ailing dad, affirming Rahul as a loyal family man.

Early in Maya’s career at the ad firm, she and Rahul — her mentor — become romantically involved. Much is made of the sexual relationship’s ramifications for Maya’s career, but no one questions whether it is appropriate for Rahul. He sleeps with an exec from another firm and a model working on an ad campaign, and no one raises concerns about how his behavior affects his company’s image. It’s taken for granted that a man can sleep with whomever he chooses, without consequence.

The real giveaway of Mishra’s bias is the different standard by which everyone in the film judges Maya’s and Rahul’s professional conduct. Her one professional transgression is that she pitches an idea that Rahul had originally conceived — and rejected — to a client without crediting Rahul. Everyone in the meeting flips out, as though this is the absolute worst thing one can do in a professional setting.

However, the characters barely react at all to Rahul’s much more detrimental conduct. First, he admits to deliberately withholding crucial client information from Maya in order to tarnish her image, resulting in the firm losing the client’s business. Rahul costs his company millions of dollars, and no one bats an eye.

Second, he admits in the hearing to propositioning Maya with sexual favors in exchange for a better working relationship. Adjourn the meeting, Mrs. Kamdhar! Prepare Rahul’s termination letter!

But that’s not what happens. Everyone in the meeting — including Mrs, Kamdhar — buys Rahul’s horrendous excuse: he only sexually harassed her to avoid doing what he really wanted to do, which was slap her.

Mishra could’ve let that comment hang, but instead, he tries to make violence against women sexy. He shows Rahul and Maya silhouetted against a blue background, Maya’s hair flying as her head snaps in response to Rahul’s slaps.

Inkaar depicts violence and harassment of women as titillating tabloid fodder in a world of unchallenged patriarchy. Rather than fire a male sexual predator who has cost his employer millions of dollars, the boss, KK (Kaizaad Kotwal) — who tells Maya that by filing the sexual harassment complaint, she proves that “women are too weak and emotional for senior management positions” — proposes not only terminating and counter-suing Maya, but making sure she can’t get a job at any other firm in India.

Maya’s only allies in the office aren’t in a position to help her. Even the supposedly neutral and experienced mediator Mrs. Kamdhar is susceptible to bribes and Rahul’s flirtatious flattery. She fails to render a verdict because Maya and Rahul “both seem to believe what they are saying.”

The resolution to the conflict is decided by Rahul, who gets the chance to redeem himself. Maya doesn’t determine her own fate, and nothing in the resolution suggests her co-workers feelings toward her have improved. Mishra’s message in Inkaar confirms entrenched patriarchy, warning women to be grateful that sexual harassment exists as an alternative to violence.

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