Pari (2018)

Arnab (Parambrata Chatterjee) and his parents are returning from meeting a prospective bride. Distracted and in heavy rain, nobody sees the old lady on the road until it is too late. They discover a girl chained up in the old lady’s house. Rukhsana (Anushka Sharma) is her granddaughter but there is no explanation for why she is chained up. She is certainly odd but seems able to live independently to some extent. A tattoo on the corpse freaks out one of the morgue attendants who was checking her for valuables. He calls Professor Qasim Ali (Rajat Kapoor), a man obsessed with eradicating all traces of a cult dedicated to spreading an ifrit’s bloodline. He has been looking for Rukhsana, the last of the ifrit’s children, for years. Meanwhile Arnab has taken pity on Rukhsana and has grudgingly allowed her to stay in his home. They fall into a cosy domesticity but there are signs that something bad is coming. Who is she? What is she?

Pari was suspenseful in that I wanted to see what happened, especially to Rukhsana. And there are some good jump scares. But Prosit Roy positions too many things as a fact within this film world rather than building the suspense of “is it real or ?”. Rukhsana shows some signs of mental illness, but Roy makes it clear something supernatural is at work. Having said that I liked a lot about the film, particularly Anushka’s performance.

Rukhsana isn’t a child but some childish things like cartoons take her fancy. Arnab brings home little gifts like clothes and art supplies and teaches her how fridges work, how to dunk a biscuit, and things like that. She’s not interested in learning to cook but she is obsessive about clipping her very fast growing toenails. Anushka does great expressions as Rukhsana starts to open up to the possibility of enjoying her life. Rukhsana realises she can eat fresh white rice and food that is abundant and just for her. She enjoys her new clothes and makes paper jewellery, delighting in how it feels to do something pretty and frivolous. She bonds emotionally with Arnab, and after seeing a cheesy romantic scene on TV one day her feelings for him suddenly go beyond friendship.

Anushka has to switch sharply between the mild, girlish, Rukku and her more damaged and aggressive side. Rukhsana has excruciating stomach cramps, and hides away from Arnab – he assumes it is her period and leaves her alone. But she climbs the wall outsider her room and walks down the street, still in pain. She sees a little dog she had befriended. And kills it suddenly and silently after kissing it affectionately. Face smeared with blood and tears, she is clearly distressed but the pain is gone. She is jealous of Piyali and loses control in front of Arnab. How long can she hold on?

Parambrata Chatterjee is a good fit for the emotionally repressed Arnab. He doesn’t say a lot but is still quite expressive. He doesn’t know what to do about Rukhsana but he feels responsible for the accident. Once they grow closer, he finds excuses not to send her away, and hides the truth from Piyali. He is ambivalent about that engagement but Arnab is the type to try and keep the peace. Rukhsana becomes possessive of Arnab and wants him to break off his engagement with Piyali. But he betrays both women and goes into hiding. Arnab is a bit of a weasel, at best he lacks conviction. But he is the least malignant man in the film so there is that.

Rajat Kapoor is unsettling as the fanatical professor. He genuinely believes he is doing the right thing, and he may be right about Rukhsana, but he is a sadist. He lingers over her demise and wants her to suffer. It’s not a complex character, but the performance is fairly restrained, and creepy.

Ritabhari Chakraborty does what she can with her character. Piyali is generally ignored or forgotten by Arnab but some of their conversations have an impact and she prompts him to think about things from a different perspective. She is open in discussing, and the emotional burden of past relationships. They are chalk and cheese. Piyali doesn’t exist just to make Arnab a better man, although she does seem to have that effect, and she would be perfectly fine without him.

The film is beautifully atmospheric, and lighting and sound are used well. I liked the small world of Arnab’s apartment and the contrast with noisy, bustling, Kolkata.

While not completely successful as a horror movie, Pari also works as a kind of parable. For me Rukhsana also spoke to how women generally have to pay the price for male pleasure. She is the result of a rape, and a man insists she must die because she is an abomination. She never chose to be born but she has a life. Without Arnab’s protection, despite her inherent power, she has no voice in society. He castigates her as if it was all her fault they had sex. The professor and his band of weirdoes don’t just want her to die a clean death, they want her to suffer to pay for existing. There’s also a glimpse of just how quickly people can start to see someone as different and justify inhumane behaviour to them. While the climax of the film is violent and messy, that’s more or less what I expect from this genre. I’d be more perplexed if the evil creatures or the doomsday cult decided they’d had enough and quietly moved on without telling anyone. In the end though, it is a very human gesture that dissipates the threat.

See this for Anushka’s performance in a competent and not so clichéd genre film. Not the scariest thing I’ve ever seen but probably not one for just before bedtime either. 3 ½ stars!

Advertisements

Andhadhun

 

What a smart, darkly funny, thriller this is. I’m going to try to avoid too many major spoilers but really if you haven’t seen this yet, stop now. Go see it. Then come back and let’s talk.

Akash (Ayushmann Khurrana) is a blind musician who teaches privately while practicing for a competition. Sophie (Radhika Apte) is a kind girl who accidentally runs him over and then finds him a job playing piano in her dad’s restaurant. As Sophie leaves Akash’s apartment it seems he can actually see. He meets Pramod Sinha a.k.a Pammi (Anil Dhawan), a star of yesteryear, at the restaurant when he plays one of the old man’s signature tunes. Pammi then hires Akash to play a private concert in his apartment as an anniversary surprise for his wife Simi (Tabu). Akash turns up and sees signs that something disturbing has happened. He keeps playing blind and makes his excuses to leave. Does Simi suspect he is a witness? What did he really see? Simi is paranoid, and decides to take further investigative action. And then things get really crazy.

This is a rare film where the entire cast and crew is completely in synch. The dialogues flow, beautifully delivered by a superb cast, and underscored by great visuals and sensitive use of music. The comedy and the drama both veer into dark territory but despite my finding some acts repugnant, I was so invested in finding out what on earth would happen next. Relationships are complex and can change. I liked that while most of the people were kind of despicable, it was often unclear who was playing it for real or faking it at any given time. There are double crosses and shady deals happening all over the place as Akash and Simi both try to hide their secrets and protect their dreams.

Simi takes to crime with elan. She is a hard edged almost star, with the drive and ego to do what she believes is necessary to protect her brand. She married the much older Pammi to boost her career but her breakthrough is elusive. Tabu is awesome as she has to do deliberately bad acting, just plain bad acting, and also delivering some exceptionally good comedic acting, sometimes all in the same scene. Her facial expressions are superb as calculating and narcissistic Simi tries to find the best way out of any adverse situation. Simi is a recognisable “type” but she isn’t played as a caricature when it would have been so easy to do that. It’s a fine balance, and Tabu nails it.

Ayushmann Khurrana’s blind acting, and the transitions between pretending to be blind and using his sight, are beautifully played. Whether the scene is funny or tense, he literally does it in the blink of an eye. As things go from great to bad to worse he keeps believing things will sort themselves out if he could just get a break. He’s manipulative and uses other people but when backed into a corner he can also be vicious. Akash tells a lot of his own backstory so it’s impossible to know how much is genuine and how much is self-serving, especially when he is trying to impress Sophie. Akash is a slippery character and I felt that Khurrana gave a fully developed characterisation of an unreliable and untrustworthy character. I never felt that there was anything missing but I also knew that Akash wasn’t what he seemed or that we had seen the real man. Like Tabu, he really gets his character so he can push the pathos and comedy without becoming a parody. And hurrah for an actor who bothers to learn how to look like they may actually be playing their instrument.

Sophie is a good person. She helps Akash because she feels she owes him after the bingle. Later when attraction sparks between them, she doesn’t agonise over her feelings or his blindness. She goes for it, accepts him for who he is, and tries to understand how life is for him. When she discovers that much of his identity is a lie, her reaction is equally frank and fully articulated. Radhika Apte is the straight man to Tabu and Ayushmann and her role is small, but she has impact. Someone in the film had to have a moral compass, and that was Sophie.

Tonally similar to films like Lock, Stock and Smoking Barrel or In Bruges, the movie sweeps between witty one liners to shocking confrontation to observation driven humour. Based on a French short film L’Accordeur I prefer this extended mix, I have to say. The high and lows, the tension and release, are all masterfully orchestrated by Sriram Raghavan. I loved the set design and locations. I got a real sense of Akash’s neighbourhood and the disorientation when he was outside of his literal comfort zone. Simi’s apartment screamed nouveau riche socialite. I don’t often like Amit Trivedi’s soundtracks as they can sound a bit samey and repetitive. But in this case, the music is intrinsic to the story and the mix of retro songs and original pieces is excellent.

I didn’t really know what to expect from Andhadhun and I was absolutely delighted. It’s a smart, pacey thriller with great, and very flawed, characters driving the crazy action along. Every time I would think “surely they won’t?” they did! One of the best of 2018!

Comrade Kim Goes Flying (2012)

Who says North Koreans can’t have dreams and be fun?

The film is a European-DPRK co-production, directed by Kim Gwang Hun, Nicholas Bonner and Anja Daelemans and written by Sin Myong Sik and Kim Chol. The film is shot in the DPRK, mostly Pyongyang, and stars a North Korean cast.

Kim Yong Mi, the titular Comrade Kim, works at a coal mine. She’s an enthusiastic worker but her true passion is acrobatics, specifically the trapeze. She admires Ri Su Hyon, a famous performer at the prestigious Pyongyang Circus. When Yong Mi gets the opportunity to work in Pyongyang for a year, she not only gets to see the circus, she decides to try out at an open audition. She meets many set backs – including her unexpected fear of heights and some snobbery among the other trapeze artists – and ultimately fails the test. But she also finds great support from her fellow workers, and honestly has the best boss ever. She works hard, puts on a show at the Workers Festival for her construction unit and just as it seems she might get another chance at her dream, her year is up and she returns home. Will Yong Mi’s father let her go back to the big smoke? Will judgemental Pak Jang Phil realise she is the perfect replacement for Ri Su Hyon? You betcha, and the training montages come thick and fast. But will she ever master the legendary quadruple somersault?

It’s interesting to see how the DPRK Juche philosophy plays out in a standard Western style rom com. And it’s a surprisingly fun blend of socialist work ethic and follow your dreams movie magic. The challenges and obstacles that Yong Mi confronts are usually resolved through her persistence and hard work, with an emphasis on teamwork and sacrificing individual glory for a greater goal. Her clashes with the leading man start to settle once he respects the potential of a working class person. At a point when she feels like she should give in, colleagues and friends turn up to cheer her on, all feeling that her achievement will be their victory. Sure, some scenes lay it on a bit thick but overall the tone is cheerfully naive and earnest.

I holidayed in the DPRK a couple of months ago and despite the extremely different way of life and society there, found many of the people I met to be warm, often funny, and very much my cup of tea. So I think the film strikes a chord because I could relate to some things and others reminded me of places or things I saw on my trip. The colour palette and the slightly retro look of the city suits the story too. And the use of animated sequences in some transition scenes draws on the North Korean propaganda artistic style.

Yong Mi gets a second chance because of all the people helping her. She is cheeky and smart but what they respond to is her effort and determination, not just her smile and jokes. She might have her head in the clouds but her work teams hit their targets and she contributes to their achievements. She uses her wit and charm to overcome obstacles and I liked how people would find a way so everybody could win. Ha Jong Sim is likeable and invests Yong Mi with energy and warmth, I could see why people liked her. She is a model worker and when her boss Commander Sok Gun says they should put on an acrobatics display with her teaching the workers, she throws herself into the practices too. I absolutely love that her way of putting Pak Jang Phil back in his box is by challenging him to a cement mixing contest.

 

Commander Sok Gun (Ri Yong Ho) tells his brigade that putting on a show for the workers festival is about the team not the individuals, and that everything can be achieved with self-belief and revolutionary spirit. He goes out of his way to help Yong Mi achieve her dream because he is a lovely person but also because he doesn’t like the snide elitism of some of the circus performers. He will support the working classes and show how much potential they have. He’s a great boss for Yong Mi and his salt of the earth calm is a good foil for her more emotional character.

Pak Jang Phil (Pak Chung Guk) is Ri Su Hyon’s trapeze partner, going through a crisis when she retires. He is obviously living a fairly cushy life and believes his skills make him special. He resists helping Yong Mi at first but of course her grit and talent opens his eyes to considering her as a possible performer. And there are the stirrings of a romantic relationship. But I kept telling her she could do better than him. He is very much a pampered city boy who has to learn some respect for the people whose toil allows him to live so well. I think he could afford to put in a bit more effort before she decides he has learned his lesson.

The support cast are all good and represent all the essentials in a social drama – family elders, best friends, work mates, and various authorities. Kim Son Nam had that thankless role of film dad who doesn’t support his kid until right at the end, but his reservations were because he was worried for her. So he was a wet blanket, but a well-meaning one. I particularly liked gruff Kim Chol as the foundry foreman, Sin Gwang Son as the nerdy youngest steel worker and his cute fanboying over Yong Mi, and Kim Song Ran as Yong Mi’s bestie.

This is not a film that will rock your world, but it’s a competent and highly enjoyable movie about following a dream. I watched it in a week when I needed some good news, and this put a smile on my face. 3 ½  stars!