Tag Archives: La Femme Film Festival

Movie Review: Sandcastle (2012)

Sandcastle0.5 Stars (out of 4)

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Sandcastle is a movie that so wants to be meaningful that it feels desperate and inauthentic. Debutant director Shomshuklla’s decision to take the auteur approach — writing the screenplay, casting the film, and even handling the costuming herself — ultimately dooms the project, since every element feels compromised by the director’s divided attention.

The story centers on the unhappy life of Sheila (Shahana Chatterjee), a married writer who won’t stop talking about her feelings. She talks to her friends and her book agent. She talks aloud to herself while sitting in a cafe. She even invents a happy-go-lucky fictional alter ego named Maya (Malvika Jethwani) to ensure than she never has to shut up.

While this fictitious alter ego is interesting in concept, the rules governing Maya are unclear. Is she a hallucination only Sheila can see? Is she a split personality that speaks via Sheila’s body? Is she intermittently corporeal, brought to life by Sheila’s will then dismissed? Does she exist without Sheila?

At a couple of points, Sheila’s family members seem to see Maya and be able to interact with her. (They also throw a birthday party for a little girl who appears to be entirely a figment of Sheila’s imagination. Does no one in her family suspect schizophrenia?) When Sheila asks her family what they think of Maya, they respond with oddball statements like, “She’s a riddle,” or, “Is she a mystery?”

As if the goofy observations weren’t annoying enough, virtually every line in the movie is delivered with an extended pause in the middle, in order to make the characters seem deep and introspective. If the content is good, the audience will be able to tell without it having to call such obvious attention to itself.

So much emphasis is placed on Maya’s Manic Pixie Dream Girl role in Sheila’s life that all of the other flesh-and-blood characters get short shrift. Sheila’s husband, Vikram (Rajat Sharma), is supposed to be the source of all Sheila’s problems, but he only shows up in a handful of scenes. When he is around, he seems nice enough. If he’s an awful guy, we need to see it.

There’s so much damned talking in Sandcastle that Shomshuklla herself appears to get bored. As Sheila and a friend dissect the role of the contemporary housewife, the camera wanders to shots of birds, potted plants, and a bowl of cashews. If there isn’t enough happening on screen to hold the director’s attention, why should the audience bother watching?

The story structure is so loose that it hardly exists. Scenes are divided into chapters in a nod to Sheila’s profession, but there’s no order or significance to the chapter organization. It’s hard to tell which scenes are flashbacks and which are present day.

Much of the dialogue seems cobbled together from a diary full of observations on modern womanhood, but the ideas don’t pull together to form a cohesive story. Since most of the ideas are conveyed via conversations between two or three characters, the film lacks visual interest. Perhaps Sandcastle would’ve made a better book than a movie.

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Notes from the CSAFF Press Brunch

Last month’s Chicago South Asian Film Festival featured a press brunch for the attending filmmakers and members of the media. It offered a great opportunity to speak with filmmakers and hear them describe their projects in their own words. Here are some of the highlights:

Producer-actor Trupti Bhoir explained how her own experiences led her to create the Marathi film Touring Talkies, a movie about a female operator of a mobile movie truck (the kind depicted in the great Hindi film Road, Movie). At the start of her career as an independent filmmaker, Bhoir herself toured villages with a mobile movie theater to showcase her projects. In order to boost slow ticket sales, Bhoir would don her tightest sari and put on some bright red lipstick. She broke down in tears as she described standing in front of a tent full of men to present her film, only to realize that the audience wasn’t there for the movie: “There were there to see me.”

Touring Talkies — which reviewer Keyur Seta recommends — can be seen at the La Femme Film Festival in L.A. on October 17.

Director Sanjay Tripathy spoke of the fun had on-set by the veteran cast of Club 60, a movie inspired by the colorful members of the tennis club Tripathy belongs to in Mumbai. One crew member had the dubious honor of providing the cues for the movie’s many fart jokes.

Director Meera Menon mentioned a similar experience during the making of her film, the road-trip flick Farah Goes Bang: “We had some fart gags in the film, but none of them were faked.” The very funny Menon explained some of the challenges of making a female-centric sex comedy: “We initially thought we could make American Pie with women, but you can’t. What can you do with a nipple pie?”

When asked if the quality of the films at this year’s CSAFF indicated a trend toward better storytelling in Indian cinema, Abhinav Shiv Tiwari, director of Oass, answered, “Absolutely.” The film’s producer, Jimeesh Gandhi, followed up: “If your research is good, the script is good, the end product will be good.” Oass shows on October 12 at the Seattle South Asian Film Festival.