Tag Archives: Parambrata Chatterjee

Movie Review: Bulbbul (2020)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Watch Bulbbul on Netflix

With her first go as a feature film director, screenwriter and lyricist Anvita Dutt proves herself a master of atmosphere in the gorgeous gothic horror movie Bulbbul.

The story begins in 1881 somewhere in the Bengal Presidency at the wedding of Bulbbul (Ruchi Mahajan), a precocious 5-year-old who doesn’t really understand what’s happening. She is reassured in the carriage ride to her new home by Satya (Varun Buddhadev), a boy a few years older than her that she assumes is the person she’s been married to. Only upon arriving at the lavish estate of Lord Indranil (Rahul Bose) does she learn that her husband is not Satya but Indranil himself, Satya’s much older brother.

While Indranil waits for his child-bride to grow up, Bulbbul and Satya become inseparable companions. He regales her with legends of the “demon woman,” a witch who prowls the trees at night on feet turned backwards, hoping to find the little princess and gobble her up. They share the palace with Indranil’s identical twin brother Mahendra (also Bose) — who has an intellectual disability and an unsettling fascination with Bulbbul — and Mahendra’s beautiful but jealous wife, Binodini (Paoli Dam).

Two decades later, Satya (now Avinash Tiwary) returns home after several years abroad to find his home radically changed. Mahendra was murdered, Binodini lives in a colony with other widows, Indranil left the palace, and Bulbbul (now Tripti Dimri) rules in his place. The bookish, demure girl Satya remembers has become confident and aloof. She lounges, fanning herself with an ostentatious fan made of peacock feathers. Satya asks Bulbbul, “Where did the sweet little lady I knew disappear? What did you do with her?” “I gobbled her up,” she teases.

Something is clearly wrong in the jurisdiction, but what is a matter of opinion. Satya wants to solve a series unexplained murders, including Mahendra’s. There’s also the matter of the blood-red night sky and sense of foreboding that pervades the woods around the palace. But Bulbbul and her close confidant, Dr. Sudip (Parambrata Chattopadhyay), are more concerned about domestic issues, like the suspicious injuries sustained by Master Dinkar’s wife.

Violence against women is a theme throughout the film, and a couple of scenes are quite brutal. Not the scenes of violence themselves, but shots of the grisly aftermath. Dutt is careful not to make the violent acts in any way titillating. The scenes are simply sad, accompanied by a heartbreaking musical theme from composer Amit Trivedi.

Rather than focusing on the violent acts themselves, the story highlights a key mechanism that allows such violence against women to go unchecked: the otherwise good men who refuse to see it, as personified by Satya. He’s not violent, but he won’t believe that the men around him are. When Bulbbul and Sudip bring up Master Dinkar (Subhasis Chakraborty), Satya’s first reaction is to call him “a fine man.” Satya is so ensconced within the ruling patriarchy that he assumes that the way other men treat him is the way they treat everyone, and he’s willing to accept their version of events without question. Satya is more suspicious of those who challenge his perception of reality — especially an outsider, like Sudip.

Tiwary is successful at portraying Satya as a nice enough guy who just doesn’t get it, but whose ignorance has devastating consequences. Dimri’s ability to convey how much Bulbbul adores Satya amplifies the significance of those consequences.

Dimri has to play essentially two characters: Bulbbul before Satya leaves, and Bulbbul after he returns. She’s so good at both, but she’s particularly fun to watch as Bulbbul the ruler. The film’s best scenes are between Bulbbul and Sudip, Satya’s foil. Chattopadhyay is terrific when he plays the sidekick to a powerful woman, as he did in Kahaani.

Bulbbul‘s most memorable element is its color palette. Dutt uses filters liberally to set the mood of scenes, deploying super saturated tones for specific effect. The red night sky is discomforting, but it’s surprisingly bright. By contrast, the interior of the palace after dark is a heavy blue that allows shadows to proliferate. It doesn’t have the same unnatural quality of the sky outside, but it feels more dangerous. Dutt’s bold and effective use of color in Bulbbul sets a high bar for her next project — one that she seems more than capable of reaching.

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Movie Review: Pari (2018)

2.5 Stars (out of 4)

Watch on Amazon Prime

Despite its sometimes disorganized story structure, the horror film Pari: Not a Fairytale (“Fairy: Not a Fairytale“) views maternity and childbirth through a compelling sinister lens.

Debutant director Prosit Roy’s movie opens with a boring scene of two single people — Arnab (Parambrata Chatterjee) and Piyali (Ritabari Chakraborty) — chitchatting on a rooftop after being set up by their parents. They aren’t very interesting, and any information about them that may eventually prove relevant could have been introduced later.

The movie should have started with the next sequence. Arnab’s parents drive him home from the meeting on a rainy back road. Their discussion of a possible marriage proposal intensifies, and a distracted Dad accidentally hits an old woman, killing her.

As the police investigate the deceased’s identity, they find a frightened young woman named Rukhsana (Anushka Sharma) chained inside a ramshackle barn. Rukhsana has had no contact with the outside world, hidden by her mother — the dead woman — from a nameless man who wants to kill her.

Early on, Pari is largely a collection of horror movie must-haves, like sudden loud noises and people appearing abruptly in frame. There’s no finesse in how the jump scares are applied. There’s also a surprising amount of gore, which seems to exist only to prepare the audience for more blood to come — although that later gruesomeness reinforces the movie’s themes, while the early stuff doesn’t.

The story hits its stride when Arnab becomes Rukhsana’s reluctant caretaker. She’s been so sheltered that she eats out of the garbage bin, not knowing that there is food in the refrigerator, because she doesn’t know what a refrigerator is. Arnab isn’t sure if Rukhsana’s mystery man is real, but he accepts that her fear of him is.

Of course the man is real, and he’s hunting Rukhsana. Professor Quasim Ali (Rajat Kapoor) is obsessed with stopping a doomsday cult from disseminating the bloodline of the djinn Ifrit. The professor takes more than a little pleasure in destroying those he suspects are connected to the djinn.

In Pari, Ifrit’s influence is tied to the female reproductive cycle, the sanguine nature of which drives director Roy’s visual style. Roy and his co-writer Abhishek Banerjee use Ifrit’s influence as a mechanism to explore the unique physical connection between mothers and their offspring. The gore associated with this aspect of the story — in the form of injuries visited upon the female characters — makes sense, evoking the bloody nature of childbirth.

Another theme related to that mother-child connection is its corollary: the lack of a physical connection between father and child, and how that frees men to abandon their unborn progeny at will. Professor Ali personifies society’s desire to punish women for out-of-wedlock pregnancy (consensual or not).

Kapoor’s performance as the professor is the spookiest element of Pari. He coolly partakes in murder and torture as an ordinary part of doing business. The dull opening scene featuring Chatterjee and Chakraborty is a blip, with both of them getting better and better as the story progresses. Sharma commands the screen, as always, though it would’ve been fun to spend more time with her character as Rukhsana discovers the modern world.

For all of its flaws, Pari is a film with a lot of interesting ideas. Just don’t expect too many scares.

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Best Bollywood Movies of 2012

2012 was a good year for Hindi movies. Of the fifty 2012 releases that I reviewed this year, thirty-one earned positive reviews of 2.5-stars or higher. The ten films below were the best of the best. (Click on the title of each movie to read my original review.)

My favorite movies of the year were almost exclusively dramas, whether the subject matter was political (e.g., Shanghai and Chakravyuh), social (e.g., Ishaqzaade and Talaash), or personal (e.g., Cocktail and Patang).

English Vinglish — a personal drama about a mother’s quest to regain her self-worth — proved to be one of the years most delightful surprises, thanks to a triumphant return to the big screen by Sridevi.

I awarded a perfect four-stars to three movies this year — movies that could not be more different from one another. Supermen of Malegaon is one of the most fun and fascinating documentaries I’ve ever seen. While it never released theatrically in the U.S., the whole movie is available for free with English subtitles on YouTube.

Evaluated in a vacuum, Barfi! is a wonderful and heart-wrenching movie. But given director Anurag Basu’s apparent lifting of whole scenes from other films, I have trouble recommending it with a clear conscience. Therefore, I instead recommend the (unfortunately-titled) Jism 2, a movie so bad, it’s good. There’s no movie I had more fun watching in 2012.

The best film of the year was a meticulously crafted thriller with character development to spare and a magnificent, evocative setting. My best Bollywood movie of 2012 is Kahaani.

This is a movie I could watch over and over again. Vidya Balan reaffirms that she’s the most talented actress working in Hindi films at the moment. Her co-star, Parambrata Chatterjee, holds his own alongside her, playing a police officer with a crush that’s doomed to go nowhere.

One aspect of Kahaani I particularly appreciate is its positive take on marriage. Balan plays Vidya, a pregnant woman from London searching for her husband, Arnab, who’s gone missing in Kolkata. Everyone tries to tell her that he has probably just run out on her, but she refuses to believe them. She knows in her heart that not only would he never leave their unborn baby, but he wouldn’t leave her, either.

So often, we’re confronted with cultural tropes that portray marriage negatively. Husbands are depicted as either incorrigible philanderers or hapless morons barely tolerated by wives who only need them for baby-making and yardwork.
Isn’t it more satisfying to see an onscreen marriage in which both partners really know and value each other? That’s what makes Vidya’s search so frustrating and engrossing: there’s real love at stake.

Best Bollywood Movies of 2012

  1. Kahaani — Buy/rent at Amazon or iTunes
  2. Barfi! — Buy/rent at Amazon or iTunes
  3. Supermen of Malegaon — Buy at Amazon
  4. Talaash — Buy at Amazon
  5. English Vinglish — Buy/rent at Amazon or iTunes
  6. Patang — Buy/rent at iTunes
  7. Ishaqzaade — Buy/rent at Amazon or iTunes
  8. Chakravyuh — Buy at Amazon
  9. Shanghai — Buy/rent at Amazon or iTunes
  10. Cocktail — Buy at Amazon

Honorable MentionJism 2 — Buy at Amazon

Previous Best Movies Lists

 

Movie Review: Kahaani (2012)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Buy or rent the movie at iTunes
Buy the DVD at Amazon
Buy the soundtrack at Amazon

Note: I recently watched Kahaani for a second time. I have no idea why I initially rated it 3.5 stars. This is about as good a movie can be.

With each film she makes, Vidya Balan reaffirms her status as India’s best actress (one of the best in the world, in fact). She does it again in Kahaani, a gripping thriller about identity.

Balan plays Vidya Bagchi, a heavily pregnant woman from London who arrives in Kolkata searching for her missing husband. Her husband, Arnab, had been in constant contact with Vidya for the first half of his month-long assignment, but she’s heard nothing from him in two weeks.

When Vidya files a missing persons report at the local police station, the head inspector repeatedly pronounces her name “Bidya,” insisting that “b” and “v” are interchangeable in Kolkata. Adding further confusion, a junior inspector, Rana (Parambrata Chatterjee), explains that everyone in Kolkata has two names: a “pet name” and an official name. Rana is the pet name that everyone uses; his official name is Satyoki.

The guest house and office where Arnab was supposed to have stayed and worked while in Kolkata have no record of his having been there. Vidya gets a lead when the head of human resources at the office says that Arnab’s photo bears an uncanny resemblance to a former employee named Milan Damji, a suspected terrorist who’s been on the run for two years. Is Arnab’s disappearance a case of mistaken identity, or could he and Milan Damji be the same man?

Kahaani is wonderfully atmospheric in the way it emphasizes the impossible task before Vidya. The city is crowded and unfamiliar to Vidya, who staggers in the heat under the weight of her pregnant belly. Kolkata is at its most chaotic during a climactic scene set during Durga Puja, a festival celebrating the Hindu goddess Durga, a renowned demon-slayer who also embodies maternal compassion and patience.

Vidya is aided throughout by Rana, and their rapport is central to the movie’s success. Rana develops a crush on Vidya, feelings which are doomed to amount to nothing. If he succeeds in helping her find Arnab, she’ll leave, reunited with the father of her unborn child. If he fails her, she’ll be heartbroken.

Vidya is perhaps more playful with Rana than she should be. But, as pointed out by Intelligence Bureau Officer Khan (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), a pregnant woman is no threat to anyone.

Balan and Chatterjee are both spectacular. Balan makes Vidya tenacious within the physical limitations of her pregnancy. Chatterjee tinges the lighter moments Rana shares with Vidya with a longing for a love that can never be.

One of the villains deserves a special mention: Bob (Saswata Chatterjeeas). He’s a paunchy, balding, middle-aged guy in glasses that you’d take no notice of if you saw him on the street, but it’s a bad omen whenever he shows up on screen in Kahaani. His very ordinariness makes him a chilling presence.

The plot is well-paced, allowing enough time for character development and tense action scenes. The cinematography gives scenes a grainy, yellowish tinge, as though a smoggy cloud obscures Vidya’s search through the bustling city. Kahaani is an accomplished thriller that doesn’t disappoint.

*Some theaters list Kahaani‘s runtime as 2 hrs. 30 min. It’s closer to 2 hours long.

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