Chotushkone (2014)

chotushkone poster

I love this film! It’s such a perfect integration of story, characters, location and music that unfolds seamlessly, often unexpectedly, to deliver an excellent dramatic thriller. Srijit Mukherji’s screenplay weaves in and out of present and past with a story of four separate directors en route to meet a director with ideas for a new film. It’s clever and engaging, even more so on second or third watch when it’s easier to appreciate the detailed clues that were missed first time around. Chotushkone won several National Awards and is one of those ‘must-see’ films that really is much better onscreen than it sounds on paper.

My favourite thing about Chotushkone is cinematographer Sudeep Chatterjee’s use of light and colour to enhance every scene. The film starts in sepia, but there are portions in black and white, and when the directors each narrate their idea for a screenplay, the action takes place coloured red, blue and green. Each scene has so much detail that I keep pausing my DVD to fully appreciate the set dressing and how appropriate each element is for that stage of the drama. Literally every time I watch this film I spot something new!

It’s also gorgeously filmed throughout. Every shot has wonderful balance of light and shade and Sudeep uses interesting combinations of objects and shadows to frame his subjects. In fact, the first time I watched the film I almost lost track of the plot as I was so invested in the look of the film, but fortunately the actors are all fantastic and the story becomes completely gripping after the slow build-up that introduces the characters. It’s a wonderful visual feast, but the film also excels in the soundtrack with Anupam Roy providing beautiful music that fits the screenplay and enhances the action without ever becoming intrusive or distracting. This is my favourite, but all of the songs are lovely and I’ve been addicted to the soundtrack since watching the film.

The film opens with a suicide set in an opulently decorated house that appears to have fallen on hard times. The furnishings are exquisite but the wall paper is peeling and there is a general air of decay. The staging of these opening scenes is beautifully done, starting with the elegant writing of a letter using a fountain pen and ending with the discovery of the body, with sepia tint delivering a timelessness to the images. It’s not clear whether the opening events take place prior to the next scene, or after, or even if they are related at all, given that the story moves on to different characters in a bar and is shot in black and white. However gradually all the pieces come together and the different components of the story build into a comprehensive whole.

Joyobroto (Parambrata Chatterjee) is a young film maker who has negotiated with Mr Gupta (Koushik Ganguly) to produce a new film composed of four separate short stories by different directors. The only condition is that each film has to address the theme of death. Joy approaches three older and well-known directors to take part in the exercise, although in some cases it takes his considerable powers of persuasion to get agreement. Trina Sen (Aparna Sen) was once a famous actor but has moved on to directing films, Sakyo (Goutam Ghose) is an award-winning director of art-house films while Dipto (Chiranjeet Chakraborty) has made a couple of commercial potboilers after he too had a career as a cinematographer and then actor. As they start their road-trip together the previous relationships between Trina, Dipto and Sakyo become clear and the possibility for disaster looms large given the old arguments that still scent the air.

As the four travel they each relate their individual stories for the film. Each story is good as a tale that involves death, but there is plenty of symbolism in each as well (Dipto’s protagonist who is literally ‘dying’ for a cigarette, when all the while there is the censor’s ‘smoking kills’ message at the bottom of the screen) and Srijit appears to be telling a series of stories within the concept of making a movie which itself is composed of a series of stories. It’s a veritable labyrinth as the black and white portions of the film are also telling another story – that of Nilanjana (Payel Sarkar), Ritwik (Indrasish Roy) and Amitava (Rahul Banerjee) who are also all making a film together. The beauty of Chotushkone is that this all makes sense within the concept of the overall plot, while gradually the big picture emerges from the different strands. There are a couple of side stories that add more background to the characters – that of Trina and her husband (Barun Chandra), Sakyo and his daughter who is pushing him to make his latest deadline and Dipto’s son (Anindya Chatterjee) who is at loggerheads with his father about Dipto’s romance with Mimi (Koneenica Banerjee), a woman half his age.

The cast are all excellent and fit into their roles well. Aparna Sen has a world-weary attitude that suits her character while Chiranjeet Chakraborty and Goutam Ghose play well off each other as the two friends with quite different attitudes to film-making. Each has their own foibles that make them realistic characters and their easy relationship speaks of their long-time friendship. Parambrata Chatterjee is superb as the glue that holds everyone together despite the bickering and complaining, and perfectly suits the persona of a younger film director trying to keep his idea alive while dealing with three quite prickly personalities. Koushik Ganguly also stands out in his small but effective role as the film’s potential producer, particularly at the end of the film when all is revealed.

This really is a beautifully made film that tells a good story using a novel approach. There is plenty of sub-text to chew over on repeated viewings while good performances from the cast ensure the film is engaging at all levels from start to finish. It does start rather slowly, but the intricate framing of each scene helps keep the film interesting and once the main characters are introduced the film is completely mesmerising. I thoroughly enjoyed Chotushkone and the more I’ve read about the actors and the industry the more I appreciate just how much Srijit Mukherji has managed to fit in to his screenplay. Highly recommended for a detailed and engrossing thriller that ticks all the boxes. 5 stars.

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Qarib Qarib Singlle

Jaya (Parvathy) is a single woman, busy with her career and an array of friends who rely on her for help. She has been a widow for around ten years, and there is something both wistful and a little salacious in the way she notices signs of sex all around her. She wants to move on but is a bit conservative when it comes to dating publicly, and is wary of losing someone she loves again. But she sets up a profile on a dating site and one response stands out amongst all the sleazy ones. She sets up a coffee date with Yogi (Irrfan, still so fancy he needs no last name). He is a scruffy and unpretentious bloke who seems to say whatever is on his mind. Yogi is convinced his exes are all still pining for him while Jaya is pining for her dead husband. Through one of the few really clunky exchanges in the film, they agree to go on a roadtrip and visit his exes. They can get to know each other on their co-funded separate bedrooms holiday, and Yogi believes Jaya will come to see what a catch he is.

Parvathy is impressive as Jaya, initially quite stitched up but revealing more of her hopes and desires as she opens up under Yogi’s impulsive influence. Jaya is a career woman and Parvathy is authoritarian as a hardarse manager but in Jaya’s personal life she shows the fragility and caution that has stopped her from really moving on. She has wonderful chemistry with Irrfan and as she warms to Yogi I found I was seeing him differently too. In some scenes the sparkle of laughter in her eyes could be genuine amusement at his outrageous behaviour. When Jaya lets herself go she is physically braver than Yogi, while he seems socially and emotionally more robust. Jaya often interacts directly with the camera and Parvathy is amazingly skilled at acknowledging that we are watching and aware without breaking out of Jaya’s character. Jaya finds herself tagging along with a carefree and chaotic guide, and between the stress, fights, and hilarity she reconnects with life. That sounds grand but this is an intimate and very personal story.

Irrfan is charming and funny as Yogi – who could almost be a Manic Pixie Dream Manchild (MPDMc). He is entirely comfortable with himself, and has a deep and possibly delusional confidence in his charms. Yogi needs to let go of his past too although he doesn’t recognise his nostalgia as toxic. He is a catalyst if not a wrecking ball. Yogi can’t help himself from going off on tangents and has a very lax approach to time management and logistics. And I won’t start on his fashion sense. He would have driven me mad. But he is a kind and intelligent man, and Jaya responds to his curiosity about her. Some of the antics are clearly just for the sake of having something go wrong at that point to force Jaya off onto another tangent, and Yogi bears the burden of the poor decision making based comedy. But Irrfan plays his scenes with Jaya with wit and warmth and only a few lapses into acting school improv shenanigans. As an MPDMc Yogi did get on my nerves but I was relieved and happy when Jaya called him out on those behaviours, and also appreciated his response. If, like me, you liked Irrfan in Piku or Life in a Metro, then I think you’ll enjoy this performance too.

The extended trip and varied transport allows for other characters to enter and leave the story without taking up too much space. Also I greatly enjoyed the dashboard decoration of one taxi, fake grass and all. Yogi does spend some time with his exes but the glimpses of their lives look like they are all well and happy, not hung up on him at all. Neha Dhupia is all glamour and self-assurance as his legendary second love. I also enjoyed the direct life advice from the taxi driver played by…someone whose name I have neglected to note.

The story meanders across India from Mumbai to Rishikesh and Gangtok and elsewhere, using planes, trains, taxis and autos. Tanuja Chandra and Eeshit Narain manage to make every location look breathtakingly beautiful and instantly recognisable without resorting to tourist brochure clichés. The golden afternoon light and conversations under the stars create an atmosphere that keeps things anchored in the world and avoids feeling stagey in the dialogue heavy scenes. The music is largely used in the background but when made a focus it seemed that the lyrics were pertinent to the drama. There are no big production numbers and that is just perfect for this film.

The mechanism to get the roadtrip underway was highly contrived, the material is a bit thin in places, and the ending is a little too rushed. But the journey in the middle is charming, infuriating, and ultimately uplifting largely due to the excellent work by Parvathy and Irrfan. One to see if you like a sensible and respectful approach to your rom coms.

Ittefaq (2017)

Ittefaq poster

In this 2017 version of Ittefaq, Abhay Chopra takes elements from the 1969 original and spins them into a police procedural that ticks most of the boxes. There are two conflicting stories that police detective Dev (Akshaye Khanna) has to unravel to find the identity of the killer, but he only has three days to solve the puzzle before he has to let his main suspect walk free. There is a good amount of suspense in this stylish thriller and a better than average story, but it’s Akshaye Khanna as the determined detective that makes Ittefaq worth watching on the big screen.

The film starts with a car chase as famous UK writer Vikram Sethi (Sidharth Malhotra) attempts to escape the Colaba police force, who want to bring him in for questioning over the suspicious death of his wife. They finally catch him in an apartment belonging to a lawyer, Shekhar and his wife Maya (Sonakshi Sinha), but when the police arrive they find Shekhar has been murdered and Vikram is standing over the body. Dev (Akshaye Khanna) is called in to investigate the death of Vikram’s wife Katherine (Kimberley Louisa McBeath) and Shekhar’s murder, with Vikram the prime suspect.

Vikram and Maya both have quite different stories of what happened in the apartment and each version is shown in Rashomon style flashback as Dev asks the relevant questions. Maya tells a story of being held in her apartment by a violent and agitated Vikram before her husband arrived, saving her but ultimately being murdered by Vikram. Vikram on the other hand explains how he was injured after his car crashed and was looking for help, but Maya acted suspiciously from the start. It’s an interesting puzzle that relies on the credibility of each witness and how believable their respective stories appear.

The first half builds suspense as Vikram and Maya recount their version of events while the police search for the truth. For a change, the police aren’t the usual vicious thugs or bumbling incompetents, although there is some comedy relating to the police officers who are first on scene at the murder. However, the comedy here is well thought out and gives the subordinates personality that ultimately makes the film more interesting – making tea at a crime scene, snacking on soaked almonds and joking about a guard dog are all relatively normal activities that contrast with the strange events of the crime.  While Dev barks out questions and mulls over the evidence with the forensics technician, his police officers are changing the light bulb in Vikram’s cell and discussing their views on the murders – which all helps to cloud the truth. The various red herrings and clues scattered through the dialogue work well to further deepen the mystery and the addition of a suicide potentially linked to Vikram and his wife add more potential suspects that Dev has to investigate.

After a good first half, the second has a few more issues as a number of holes start to appear in the narrative. Dev’s piecemeal questioning of Vikram and Maya over the three days doesn’t stand-up to expected police procedure while a possible witness in Maya’s maid seems to go nowhere, but despite these shortcomings, the final outcome remains in doubt right up to the climax and big reveal. Part of this is due to the excellent poker faces from Siddharth and Sonakshi whenever they are interviewed by Dev. Both seem equally credible, and the switch between the two respective views in the flashbacks muddies the waters further. Sonakshi appears furtive and ill at ease during Vikram’s account, while in her own flashback sequences she is every bit the terrified woman held hostage in her apartment. Siddharth too is excellent as he switches between violent intruder and frantic victim while appearing completely sincere and totally devastated by his wife’s death during his interrogation. Of the two, Sonakshi’s character has less dialogue and isn’t as well developed, but both actors are good in their respective roles and manage to make their characters a believable witness and a plausible suspect depending on the viewpoint.

Akshaye Khanna is wonderful as Dev, playing the character fairly straight but with the intensity that’s expected from any fictional detective. Abhay Chopra gives him some background too by adding in a few crucial moments between Dev and his wife (Mandira Bedi) that allow a more human side to his character and lighten the mood when the drama threatens to get too repetitive. Akshaye also gets some of the best dialogue which works to ensure Dev appears as a detective who is smart enough to solve the crime despite the dual handicaps of his less than stellar associates and the restricted time he has to work on the case. It’s great to see Akshaye back in a role that plays to his strengths and he is charismatic and convincing as Dev, while ensuring that the focus is on the investigation, rather than simply the character.

Michal Luka helps create atmosphere by some excellent use of lighting, both in the flashback sequences and during the investigation, while the background music from Tanishk Bagchi adds to the mood without being intrusive. The running time is fairly short too at only 107 minutes, which means Abhay Chopra has to move the story along and establish the characters quickly, all of which helps to add tension although ultimately not quite as much as the story needs. The end too isn’t quite as satisfying as expected, although it is surprising with a clever break in the case that comes from a more unexpected direction. Overall Ittefaq does keep you guessing and although you may not be on the edge of your seat throughout, it’s still a respectable enough thriller with solid performances and good twists. Worth watching as a reminder of just how good Akshaye Khanna can be and then wonder why on Earth we don’t get to see him more often!