Tag Archives: Rahul Bose

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.

Links

Movie Review: Dil Dhadakne Do (2015)

DilDhadakneDo4 Stars (out of 4)

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

One can never completely know what to expect when one walks into a theater, but when you get what you subconsciously wanted, you know the feeling. Dil Dhadakne Do (“Let the Heart Beat“) inspired that feeling for me. Writer-director Zoya Akhtar deftly wrangles a mammoth cast and innumerable subplots into a thoroughly enjoyable comedy about a dysfunctional family.

Many things are going wrong for the wealthy Mehra family. Neelam (Shefali Shah) endures her husband Kamal’s (Anil Kapoor) serial cheating. Their son, Kabir (Ranveer Singh), doesn’t want to inherit the family business, which is going bankrupt. Their daughter, Ayesha (Priyanka Chopra), is being pressured to give up her own successful company to have a child with Manav (Rahul Bose), the husband she doesn’t love.

With all of their close friends and business associates accompanying them on a ten-day Mediterranean cruise in honor of Neelam & Kamal’s 30th wedding anniversary, the Mehras try to pretend that everything is okay. Confined on a ship with dozens of associates with their own grudges and motivations, it’s impossible to keep up the front for long.

Part of the Mehra’s pretending requires them to not talk about uncomfortable things, even with one another. That becomes untenable when Kabir falls in love with Farah (Anushka Sharma), a dancer who works on the ship. She doesn’t fit with his role as the dutiful heir apparent — a role that he doesn’t even want — but he doesn’t know how to live any other way. In just a few days, he can’t envision a future without her.

As serious as the consequences of their relationship are, Kabir’s romance with Farah builds in a sweet, flirtatious way. Kabir’s seduction of Farah in the song “Pehli Baar” is equal parts playful and sexy. It’s an incredibly effective use of a choreographed number to advance the narrative (so much more so than the typical Bollywood romantic fantasy number involving a woman in a ball gown atop a windy sand dune).

Singh is something to behold in Dil Dhadakne Do. He contains his normally boundless energy, unleashing it in the dance numbers but otherwise playing it cool. His chemistry with Sharma is super. Her character is smitten but wary, given her far-less-stable financial footing.

Even better is the relationship between Singh and Chopra, playing adult children who still make faces behind their parents’ backs. So many of their scenes feel authentic: like the way Kabir calls his sister “Dude,” and his claim that the ice cream he steals from her bowl tastes better because it’s flavored with her annoyance. Their immaturity together belies an unbreakable allegiance.

It surely helps that Akhtar’s own brother, Farhan — who has a great supporting role as Ayesha’s former flame — wrote the film’s dialogue. Credit also to Akhtar’s co-writer, Reema Kagti, for a script with so many moving parts but no loose ends. It’s always clear which of the dozen or so aunties are aligned with whom, and which fellow businessmen are looking to gain an advantage.

Akhtar let scenes breathe, taking advantage of the sprawling cruise ship to allow characters to cover lots of physical ground while lost in thought. She has a top-notch cast at her disposal, and she gets the best out of her performers. Some of the best moments consist of knowing glances and wordless exchanges. She even gives the film’s villain, Manav, some funny reaction shots as he fends off his wife’s high-speed, anger-fueled tennis volleys.

The theme of women’s equality (or the lack thereof) runs throughout the film, through Manav’s possessive attitude toward Ayesha to Neelam’s willingness to tolerate Kamal’s infidelity because of her financial dependence on him. The subject is explored in a thoughtful way without seeming preachy, often presented as the younger generation trying to explain their beliefs to an older generation more comfortable with traditional gender roles.

Akhtar sets the right tones throughout Dil Dhadakne Do, interspersing serious ideas and insightful commentary without ever veering too far from the film’s comedic core. It’s funny, thought-provoking, and tear-jerking in all the right places. There’s so much to like in Dil Dhadakne Do.

Links

Movie Review: Midnight’s Children (2013)

MidnightsKids2 Stars (out of 4)

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

Midnight’s Children takes the fascinating history of India since Partition and muddles it up with a bizarre personal story that’s impossible to connect with.

The events of the film — which are narrated by Salman Rushdie, who wrote the novel on which the film is based — begin well before Partition, starting with the meeting of the main character’s grandparents in Kashmir, 1917. They raise their children, including Mumtaz (Shahana Goswami), the main character’s mother. She has a brief, fruitless marriage to a man named Nadir before she marries the main character’s father, Ahmed Sinai (Ronit Roy) and changes her name to Amina. The first marriage becomes relevant later when the parentage of the main character, Salim, is called into question.

There’s good reason for this, since Salim is not the Sinais’ biological son. At the very moment the British left India and divided it into India and Pakistan — midnight, August 14, 1947 — two boys were born in the same hospital: the Sinais’ biological son, Shiva, and Salim, the son of a busker whose wife dies in childbirth. Inspired by her revolutionary boyfriend, a nurse named Mary (Seema Biswas) switches the boys, forcing the rich boy to grow up poor and making the poor boy rich.

After the boys go to their respective, incorrect homes, Mary feels guilty. Not guilty enough to confess, mind you, but Mary becomes Salim’s nanny so that she may watch over the boy. She also watches Shiva beg outside the Sinais’ mansion every day.

There are practical reasons for her to choose the path she does, but Mary’s act of penance seems cruelly inadequate. Rather than helping the boy she doomed to a life of poverty, she makes things even easier on the boy whose life was likely going to be a comparative piece of cake.

As the boys grow up, they discover that the hour of their birth gave them (and thousands of other kids born on the same night) magical powers. It’s unclear what Shiva’s powers are, but Salim can summon visions of the other “midnight’s children” by sniffing. It’s not as cool as the superpower of a girl named Parvati, who can make things disappear.

The superpowers aren’t really important to the story, until they are used as an excuse to round-up the now-adult “children” during Indira Gandhi’s rule-by-decree in the mid-1970s. Salim admits in his narration late in the film that things didn’t work out as well for “midnight’s children” as they had hoped. So, a thousand kids with freaking superpowers are no match for India’s internal conflicts and perpetual problems with Pakistan. What a depressing sentiment.

While the idea of paralleling India’s troubled progress with the lives of two of its citizens is compelling, the magical realism isn’t well-integrated into the story, and it keeps the audience at arm’s length. Also, Salim’s constant runny nose is gross. The story would’ve been more interesting without the magic.

The film boasts an impressive lineup of actors who typically perform in Indian films, but fans of traditional Bollywood fare should watch the film with caution. There’s a fair bit of sex and some nudity, plus coarse language. This is not a film for the whole family (not to mention that kids would be bored out of their mind by the movie’s plodding pace).

Another note of caution is that the performances are uneven. Seema Biswas and Shahana Goswami at terrific as always, as are Ronit Roy and Soha Ali Khan, who plays Salim’s little sister, Jamila, as an adult. But Anupam Kher and Rahul Bose are over-the-top as Salim’s great-grandfather and uncle, respectively. They’re the most obvious examples of a distracting strain of quirkiness that pervades the film.

Worst of all is British actor Satya Bhabha as adult Salim. His intense performance seems more suited to the stage than to film. With so much weirdness inherent in the story, a strong main character is needed to anchor the movie. I’m not sure if the fault lies more in Bhabha’s performance or the way Salim is written, but, either way, Salim isn’t a strong enough anchor.

Links

Movie Review: The Japanese Wife (2010)

4 Stars (out of 4)

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

On rare occasions, I break with my policy of reviewing only Hindi movies, and instead review a movie in another Indian language. I recently watched The Japanese Wife — which features dialog in English, Japanese and Bengali — because it will be featured on October 3rd at Chicago’s inaugural South Asian Film Festival. Also, it’s directed by Aparna Sen, mother of Bollywood actress Konkona Sen Sharma. Since the movie is already available on DVD at Netflix, I thought I’d give it a shot.

The DVD’s menu screen describes the movie as “A Love Poem by Aparna Sen,” and that seems appropriate. It’s a heartbreakingly romantic film about the lengths we go to on behalf of those we love and how the written word brings us closer together.

Rahul Bose stars as Snehamoy, a high school arithmetic teacher in a small, remote village in West Bengal. He lives with an aunt who raised him after his parents drowned when he was a boy. He’s unbearably shy and has only one close friend: Miyage (Chigusa Takaku), his Japanese pen pal. She’s just as shy and lives with her ailing mother. They write letters to each other in imperfect English every week.

Scenes from the present — a giant package from Japan making its way through Snehamoy’s village to his house — are intercut with voiceovers and scenes cataloging how the friendship between Snehamoy and Miyage develops through their letters.

After three years of correspondence, Snehamoy writes to Miyage about his aunt’s attempt to find a bride for him. The girl, Sandhya (Raima Sen), is so timid she won’t even let Snehamoy see her face. He turns down the marriage, and Sandhya weds another man.

Miyage proposes that she and Snehamoy get married, even though they’ve never met and have no prospect of doing so in the near future. She has to take care of her mother, and his monthly $100 salary isn’t enough to afford an expensive plane ticket to Japan. But they agree to get married anyway. She sends him a silver ring, and he sends her some coral bangles and vermillion powder to wear in the part of her hair, signifying their status.

Several years later, widowed Sandhya and her son, Poltu (Sagnik Chowdhury), move in with Snehamoy and his aunt. Sandhya becomes Snehamoy’s unofficial wife, in practice: she cooks and cleans, and he escorts her shopping and helps her raise Poltu. She’s at least physically present, while Miyage remains in Japan.

The movie raises questions about the definition of marriage. Can Snehamoy and Miyage really be married without having ever met? And what of Snehamoy’s relationship with Sandhya? They actively build a life together with some degree of mutual affection. Which “marriage” is more real?

The movie unfolds beautifully as the love between Snehamoy and Miyage is revealed through their words. Because English isn’t either of their native languages, they write honestly and without euphemisms. The musical score alternates between traditional Indian and Japanese harmonies.

Probably the most striking aspect of the movie is the contrast between their places of residence. Snehamoy lives in a small village with no electricity that’s only accessible by boat. I wasn’t sure in which decade the movie was set until he journeyed to a big city and mentioned that he had Miyage’s email address.

Yet it makes complete sense that Miyage, living in a big city in Japan, could fall for Snehamoy. One can be lonely and isolated even in a crowded place.

Links