Tag Archives: Priyanka Bose

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: Gulaab Gang (2014)

Gulaab_Gang2 Stars (out of 4)

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When international media outlets report of new horrors inflicted upon Indian women on a seemingly daily basis, there’s a need for inspiring films to provide relief. Gulaab Gang‘s tale of female empowerment has its heart in the right place but isn’t introspective enough to leave a lasting mark.

Inspired by the real-life Gulaabi Gang of activists in Uttar Pradesh, Gulaab Gang follows the exploits of a fictional gang of female vigilantes, lead by Rajjo (Madhuri Dixit). A sequence at the start of the film — inexplicably voiced-over by a man instead of a woman — explains that Rajjo turned to activism when she was denied an education as a girl. This is as much insight into any of the characters as the movie provides.

In addition to admonishing abusive husbands, the dozens of members of the Gulaab Gang fix problems in the village when corrupt bureaucrats or out-numbered policemen won’t. Landlord cut off your electricity? Boss won’t pay your wages? The Gulaab Gang will fix it!

The gang is also responsible for educating the youth of the village. Rajjo repeatedly states that she wants to build a school for the village, but doesn’t her compound already serve that purpose? It’s never made clear why a new school building is important enough that it can be used to blackmail Rajjo.

The movie fails to identify some of the key characters. Rajjo has two young lieutenants, and one of them — a woman with a nose ring played by Priyanka Bose — is never named, as far as I could tell. The other, Mahi (Divya Jagdale), is only named in the last thirty minutes of the film.

The last thirty minutes are relentlessly depressing for Rajjo and her crew. Rajjo’s arch-nemesis — a politician named Sumitra Devi (Juhi Chawla, whose smugness evokes Manoj Bajpayee in similar roles) — goes beyond trying to discredit Rajjo to advocating for the murder of the whole gang.

Gulaab Gang builds such an air of hopelessness in its final act that the resolution feels abrupt and inadequate. A dance number before the climactic battle doesn’t help.

Where the movie excels is in building a case that women can carry action movies. The fight sequences are more realistic than most Bollywood rural action flicks — no one flies twenty feet into the air after taking a punch — but are just as satisfying.

The best moment in the Soumik Sen-directed film involves a chilling act of violence committed by the gang against a rapist who’s gone for a swim. As they carry the man into his father’s house and deposit him on a couch, Mahi says with an exhausted air, “We had a hard time getting him out of the water.” The camera cuts to a floor-level shot of empty pant-legs dangling as a gang member sets a pair of sandals beneath them, where feet should be.

The problem with the violence in Gulaab Gang is that its implications are never fully explored. A reporter asks Rajjo why her gang often resorts to violence — admittedly as a second option after peaceful means fail — and Rajjo responds in essence, “Because it works.” There’s no reason why women can’t be as violent as men, but an examination of how the gang sees their actions as different would have been interesting.

Another tendency that deserves more attention is the gang’s habit — Sumitra Devi is even worse about this — of humiliating men, even when they can meet their goals without doing so. When in a position of power, the women are just as apt to target their opponent’s gender-specific weaknesses as the men are in the same position.

Gulaab Gang‘s story needed more nuance to be truly considered a game changer. Still, it’s nice to see a Bollywood action film that doesn’t center around the heroics of a one-man army for a change.

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Chicago South Asian Film Festival 2013

The fourth annual Chicago South Asian Film Festival begins on Friday, September 20. The three-day festival kicks off with a gala U.S. premiere of Oass, a challenging drama about child trafficking. Click here to read my review of Oass.

Other films of particular interest to Hindi-film fans include the world premiere of Club 60, the U.S. premiere of Chor Chor Super Chor, and a screening of Shahid, which opens in theaters in India on October 18.

The festival closes on Sunday night with a screening of director Mira Nair’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist. Click here to read my review of The Reluctant Fundamentalist.

Some of the artists attending CSAFF 2013 include directors Hansal Mehta (Shahid), Abhinav Shiv Tiwari (Oass), and Sanjay Tripathy (Club 60), as well as actors Priyanka Bose (Oass) and Farooq Shaikh (Club 60).

This year, the CSAFF added a great new feature for those unable to attend the fest in person: the CSAFF Online Film Festival. A dedicated Vimeo channel allows fans to screen several of the short films featured at this year’s festival online. It’s a great way to expand the reach of a super film festival.