Tag Archives: Oscar

Movie Review: Period. End of Sentence. (2018)

3.5 Stars (out of 4)

Watch Period. End of Sentence. on Netflix

Netflix’s Oscar-winning short documentary Period. End of Sentence. (PEoS hereafter) is a feel-good story about a group of Indian women empowering themselves and their community through better access to menstrual hygiene products.

Feminine hygiene has been a popular film subject in India for several years, starting with Menstrual Man, the 2013 documentary about Arunchalam Muruganatham, inventor of a low-cost machine for making sanitary pads. Muruganatham then inspired two fictional Hindi films: 2017’s Phullu and 2018’s Pad Man, starring Akshay Kumar. (Kumar’s 2017 movie Toilet: Ek Prem Katha also addressed the related need for clean, safe bathroom facilities for women in rural India.)

American-produced PEoS is a succinct primer on the subject of feminine hygiene in India — an ideal entry point for those new to the topic, particularly in the West. Director Rayka Zehtabchi and editor Sam Davis had to be choosy about what elements to include, given the film’s 25-minute runtime, so the film focuses less on the dangers faced by rural women and more on the positive outcomes for one village when they receive one of Muruganatham’s pad-making machines.

Thankfully, the village where PEoS filmed is populated by a bunch of funny, smart, and eager women who make great documentary subjects. Kathikhera in Hapur district is only 60 kilometers from Delhi, but local women find their opportunities limited without ready access to feminine hygiene products. Rekha dropped out of school because there was nowhere to change the old cloths she uses during her cycle. Shabana is tired of the taboos surrounding menstruation. Sneha wants to be able to work during her period so she can become a police officer.

When they receive one of Muruganatham’s machines — and instructions from the man himself on how to use it — the women of Kathikhera get more than just a reliable supply of sanitary pads for themselves. The machine spawns a new business, with the women selling their products under the name “Fly” — the name chosen to inspire women to soar on their newfound freedom.

Money generated by the business is the most obvious benefit, but the soft skills it teaches the women may be of more importance in the long run. One elderly woman says that making pads is her first paying job. Sneha’s novice saleswoman duties will make her a better communicator as a police officer. Shabana is in her element leading the feminine hygiene version of a Tupperware party, demonstrating the quality of their products while humorously comparing sanitary pads to husbands.

The reason this works best as a starter film is that it simply isn’t long enough to cover the topic in depth, though it does allude to many of the challenges. Overcoming embarrassment about discussing the topic is the first step, which enables the correction of misinformation (some young men in Kathikhera think menstruation is an illness). Safe toilet facilities for women and reliable electricity infrastructure are critical elements, too.

Another reason for PEoS‘s positive tone is its affiliation with the charitable endeavor The Pad Project, which aims to provide more rural women with pad-making machines. Donors — such as the Los Angeles private school students who financed both the film and Kathikhera’s machine — are more incentivized to contribute to immediately successful endeavors, as the one in the movie is shown to be.

When faced with a large problem with multiple, entrenched causes, one must ultimately choose a starting point and go from there. In the case of access to feminine hygiene products in rural India, Period. End of Sentence. shows that women’s human capital is there to be utilized if given the means to do so, and pad-making machines are as good a place to start as any. Click here to support The Pad Project.

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Opening September 28: Kamaal Dhamaal Malamaal and OMG

Perhaps this speaks to the relative weakness of Hollywood fare currently on offer, but two new Hindi comedies open in Chicago area theaters on September 28, 2012. Kamaal Dhamaal Malamaal, directed by Priyadarshan, gets the wider release of the two new films.

Kamaal Dhamaal Malamaal opens on Friday at the Regal Gardens Stadium 1-6 in Skokie, Big Cinemas Golf Glen 5 in Niles, AMC South Barrington 30 in South Barrington, and Regal Cantera Stadium 17 in Warrenville. It has a runtime of 2 hrs. 20 min. Read my review here.

This weekend’s other new release, OMG: Oh My God, stars Paresh Rawal as a shopkeeper who takes god to court.

OMG opens on Friday at the Golf Glen 5, South Barrington 30, and Cantera 17. It also has a listed runtime of 2 hrs. 30 min.

After opening to an anemic $389,901 in U.S. theaters last weekend, Heroine carries over for a second week at all of the above theaters. By comparison, Barfi! netted $643,260 in the U.S. last weekend during its second week in theaters. Having just been named India’s official submission to the Oscars, I expect to see its earnings hold up well again this weekend. Barfi! carries over at all of the above theaters, plus the AMC River East 21 in Chicago.

Other Indian movies showing at the Golf Glen 5 this weekend include Rebel (Telugu), Thaandavam (Tamil), and Thappana (Malayalam).

Peepli Live Fails in Oscar Bid

On January 19, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced its shortlist of nine films vying to be the five nominees in the Best Foreign Language Film category at the 83rd Academy Awards. India’s submission, Peepli Live, didn’t make the list and is out of the running for the Oscar.

The recent comedy Tees Maar Khan jokingly referenced the perception that movies about poor Indians are guaranteed Oscar winners. Considering the subject matter of awards show success Slumdog Millionaire and India’s most recent Best Foreign Language Film nominee, 2001’s Lagaan, there’s a degree of truth to that belief. Unfortunately, that belief seemed to guide the decision to submit Peepli Live, even though it’s nowhere near Lagaan in terms of quality.

Peepli Live suffers from the same structural flaw as Taare Zameen Par, the Film Federation of India‘s unsuccessful submission to the 81st Academy Awards. Both movies — creations of Aamir Khan Productions — feature a main character in the first half of the movie who’s pushed out of the spotlight in the second half of the film.

The lead character in both films is an underdog: a poor farmer in Peepli Live and a dyslexic child in Taare Zameen Par. The first half of each movie establishes the dire circumstances that surround the very likable hero.

In the second half of each movie, both heroes largely disappear. The farmer wanders around in the background while TV news outlets fight over a story and an aspiring journalist tries to get a break. The dyslexic child cries in his room while his art teacher fights on his student’s behalf.

In both cases, the hero’s story arc is not resolved through his own actions, but through the actions of others. The hero only retakes an active role in his destiny at the very end of the film.

What’s disappointing about the Film Federation of India’s selection of an “issue” picture like Peepli Live is that it prioritizes subject matter over craft. There were a number of other Hindi movies more worthy of submission. The pool widens considerably when Indian movies of all languages are considered.

Movies eligible for selection needed to be released between October 1, 2009 and September 30, 2010 and complete a seven-day run in theaters. The primary language spoken in the film must not be English. The language rule likely eliminated The Japanese Wife from consideration. The same rule may doom Dhobi Ghat‘s chance for submission to the 84th Academy Awards.

Better candidates for nomination would’ve been Raavan, Ishqiya or the 2011 Star Screen Best Film award winner: Udaan. My personal choice would’ve been Road, Movie, which was the best movie I saw last year — Indian or American.

Retro Review: Harishchandrachi Factory (2009)

3 Stars (out of 4)

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I normally review only Hindi movies, but I made an exception for Harishchandrachi Factory. The Marathi movie was India’s official entry in the Best Foreign Language Film category of the 2010 Academy Awards. Ultimately, it wasn’t one of the five nominees, but it is worth watching.

The film is about the creation of the first full-length Indian motion picture in 1913: Raja Harishchandra, a depiction of the life of an ancient king renowned for always keeping his promises and telling the truth, no matter the consequences for him and his family.

(I didn’t think the moral of the story of Harishchandra was explained clearly via the movie’s subtitles. I had to look up the story later to appreciate some of the references.)

Dhundiraj Govind Phalke was the man responsible for Raja Harishchandra, in addition to dozens of other movies over the span of 19 years. He’s credited for founding the Indian film industry, back when cinema was dominated by the British.

Harishchandrachi Factory begins in 1911, when Phalke (Nandu Madhav) sees his first motion pictures: a documentary on bullfighting and a depiction of the life of Jesus Christ. He’s instantly seized with the notion of making an Indian film for an Indian audience.

Phalke, having recently sold his stake in a printing company, convinces his wife, Saraswati (Vibhawari Deshpande), and several investors that movie making is just another kind of printing, winning their support. He spends two months in England learning the trade and returns with the necessary camera equipment.

Phalke’s path is remarkably free of obstacles. Saraswati takes her husband’s career change in stride, never complaining as he sells most of their furniture to finance his London trip, which he schedules when she’s supposed to give birth to their third child. And Phalke has little trouble getting money from investors, who are impressed by his hard work ethic and the potential of the new storytelling medium.

The only hiccups occur when Phalke actually starts making his movie. Motion pictures are held in such low regard that even prostitutes refuse to join Phalke’s production, for fear of ruining their reputations. The men he hires to play the female roles are reluctant to shave their mustaches.

The lack of conflict, despite conventional wisdom, actually makes Harishchandrachi Factory more enjoyable. There is enough inherent risk in being a pioneer. Manufactured arguments between, say, Phalke and Saraswati would’ve been depressing, rather than dramatic. Happy onscreen relationships are rare enough as it is.

Harishchandrachi Factory is impressive, given that it was made for less than $500,000. But the meagreness of the budget is evident in some aspects of the movie. The costumes, particularly those of the British characters, look cheap and made from modern synthetic fabrics.

Despite the fact that they’ve little to do, the Anglo actors are distractingly bad. Most of the extras look like they were kidnapped from a British university field trip. Still, Harishchandrachi Factory is a fun and educational experience, if not a completely immersive one.

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Movie Review: Delhi-6 (2009)

delhi63 Stars (out of 4)

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Buy the soundtrack at Amazon

Fans of Slumdog Millionaire who’ve never seen a movie put out by the Indian film industry should check out Delhi-6. By including some of the same elements as the 2008 Best Picture Oscar winner — shots of crowded Indian streets and a pulsing soundtrack by A. R. Rahman — Delhi-6 is a great introduction to Bollywood.

Abhishek Bachchan plays American-born Roshan, who travels to India with his dying grandmother, so that she can spend her remaining days at her home in the Chandni Chowk neighborhood of Delhi. Roshan immerses himself in the unfamiliar culture of Chandni Chowk, where pregnant cows cause traffic jams and holy men are called in to catch criminals.

Just as Roshan starts to fall in love with Delhi (and a girl who lives there), he gets caught up in a series of misunderstandings that inflame previously dormant religious tensions between the neighborhood’s Hindus and Muslims.

Delhi-6 takes its time without ever feeling slow. Roshan’s position as an outsider makes him the perfect travel guide to his grandmother’s neighborhood, his ever-present camera phone proof that he’s an American. The movie doesn’t have any typical Bollywood dance numbers, but music permeates the film.

The Indian committee that selects the country’s official entry in the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar category would be wise to consider nominating Delhi-6 for next year’s Academy Awards.

India Out of Oscar Race

Taare Zameen Par, India’s official entry into the Oscars’ Best Foreign Language Film category, wasn’t chosen as one of the final five nominees. I’m not surprised. By selecting Aamir Khan’s domestically popular film about dyslexia, India’s selection board passed on two other films that would’ve had a better chance at being nominated by the overwhelmingly American Academy.

The problem with Taare Zameen Par is that it’s not as socially or emotionally relevant to audiences in the United States as it is to audiences in India. While the film may have drawn much needed attention to the disservice still being done to students with learning disabilities in the Indian educational system, public schools in the U.S. have been offering customized learning opportunities for special needs students for decades.

As a product of the U.S. public school system, I recognized little Ishaan’s reading disability within the first thirty minutes of the movie. I then had to wait another hour before any of the characters in the movie did. I imagine many of the Academy voters watching Taare Zameen Par were as frustrated by the slow pace as I was.

Considering the cultural background of the Academy Award voters who nominate movies in the Best Foreign Language Film category, here are my suggestions for two films that would’ve had a better chance of earning a nomination:

Jodhaa Akbar — A beautiful epic with gorgeous music, this seemed like the most obvious choice to represent India, especially since director Ashutosh Gowariker’s equally accessible Lagaan was nominated in 2002.

Black & White — This might’ve been the boldest movie to come out of India in 2008. Its sensitive handling of the issue of Islamic terrorism would’ve given Academy members an opportunity to show that Americans have a more nuanced understanding of terrorism than the “destroy the evildoers” mentality that our government has exhibited for most of this decade.

Here are links to my reviews of Taare Zameen Par, Jodhaa Akbar and Black & White.

Best Bollywood Movies of 2008

In 2008, the Indian film industry proved that it’s still the most reliable source for romantic comedies. International settings made Dostana and Kismat Konnection stand out from the crowd, while Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi closed the year on a high note.

Taking a slightly more serious tone, U Me Aur Hum effectively combined comedic and dramatic elements in a touching story about love and responsibility.

Beyond the romantic comedy genre, historical epic Jodhaa Akbar featured gorgeous cinematography. Rock On!! took the movie musical format in an exciting new direction. And Black & White thoughtfully addressed the subject of terrorism. I only wish it had been India’s official entry into the Oscar competition for Best Foreign Film, instead of Taare Zameen Par.

But the most accomplished, satisfying and entertaining Hindi-language movie of 2008 was another romantic comedy: Bachna Ae Haseeno. The high quality of the acting, cinematography and story-telling gave the film universal appeal. Actor Ranbir Kapoor redeemed himself after an awkward debut in Saawariya, and Deepika Padukone’s charming performance demonstrated that she might be Bollywood’s best young actress.