Tag Archives: Nandana Sen

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?

Links

2011 Chicago South Asian Film Festival

As if the eight Indian films showing in Chicago area theaters this weekend weren’t enough to keep you busy, the second annual Chicago South Asian Film Festival opens tonight with a screening of 2008’s Rang Rasiya, followed by a Q & A session with the movie’s stars, Nandana Sen and Randeep Hooda. Actor Gulshan Grover, whose film I Am Kalam screens on Saturday, is also expected to be in attendance at the opening night gala.

The festival, which takes place at Columbia College from Friday, September 30 through Sunday, October 2, will screen twenty-seven films, from features to documentaries to shorts. Ticket prices for individual films range from $5 to $10, but there are a number of free films showing at the Chicago Cultural Center throughout the weekend.

In honor of the festival, Kama Indian Bistro in La Grange is offering 20% off meals to patrons who present their CSAFF ticket stubs through the end of October.

Retro Review: Black (2005)

3.5 Stars (out of 4)

Buy the movie at Amazon

Most Americans are familiar with the story of Helen Keller, a blind and deaf girl who learned to communicate through the guidance of her teacher, Anne Sullivan. The play written about Keller & Sullivan, The Miracle Worker, is required reading in many middle schools. The play inspired filmmaker Sanjay Leela Bhansali to create the movie Black.

Black‘s heroine is Michelle McNally (played as a child by Ayesha Kapoor, and as an adult by Rani Mukerji), a girl robbed of her sight and hearing by an illness at a young age. The first half of the movie tacks closely to Keller’s life story. By age eight, Michelle has developed into a wild, almost feral child due to her inability to communicate. Her parents, equally frustrated by being unable to reach their daughter, are on the verge of sending Michelle to an asylum to prevent her from accidentally harming her baby sister, Sarah.

As a last resort, the McNally’s hire eccentric teacher Debraj Sahai (Amitabh Bachchan) to tutor Michelle. Early in the movie, Bachchan’s performance is almost too eccentric to be believable, as Debraj uses unconventional methods to reach out to Michelle.

Debraj is eventually able to teach Michelle the connection between words and objects, and she’s able to finally communicate with her family through sign language. She’s accepted into a university, and Debraj helps her to continue her studies and live on her own. This is where the story diverts from Keller’s biography and develops its own identity.

Michelle must deal with typical adult challenges in addition to her handicaps. She has a strained relationship with Sarah (Nandana Sen), who’s tired of living in her older sister’s shadow. When Sarah is finally able to command her parents’ undivided attention at her engagement dinner, she gives an uncomfortably honest toast, confessing to cruel acts she committed against Michelle.

Sarah’s engagement provokes confusing feelings in Michelle. She’s curious about romance, but the only man she knows is Debraj, who’s as much a father figure to her as he is a friend.

Of course, Michelle’s special needs make university a challenge. She’s too slow when typing answers to exam questions on a Braille typewriter, and she needs Debraj to translate lectures into sign language. Even though a cane increases her mobility and independence, she’s still unable to navigate the campus by herself. This puts her in grave danger as Debraj begins to manifest the signs of Alzheimer’s disease.

As inspirational as the first half of Black is, it’s most compelling to watch Michelle develop into a fully formed person. Keller herself went had an extraordinary life as an activist, in addition to introducing the Akita breed of dog to the United States. Mukerji’s performance is so captivating that it’s easy to forget that she doesn’t deliver any lines of dialog.

Bachchan is similarly spellbinding as Debraj confronts the emotional and ethical issues of tutoring a young woman, as opposed to a little girl. He struggles with a sudden decline in mental function that changes his relationship with Michelle. As he once reached out to her, she is forced to find a way to connect with him.

Besides the two leads, Black features a terrific supporting cast. Sen walks a fine line, showing the despair behind Sarah’s bratty behavior. And Shernaz Patel is wonderful as Michelle’s troubled mother, Catherine. She’s in an impossible situation, trying to protect Michelle even though it exacerbates the girl’s problems while trying not to overlook her other daughter. Catherine is heroic in her own right for not sending Michelle away and, in effect, covering her own eyes and ears to her child’s plight.

Links