Lion (2016)

lion-movie-posterIn an “only in the movies” story, little Saroo is separated from his big brother at a railway station near Khandwa, Madhya Pradesh. He accidentally takes a train that lands him in Kolkata, hundreds of kilometres from home. Living on the streets he evades some very unpleasant people and situations before being taken in to an orphanage. He is adopted through an organisation called ISSA and placed with a middle class Anglo family in Hobart, Tasmania. When Saroo moves to Melbourne for uni he starts to admit to himself that he really wants to know who he is. He can’t forget his family, especially his mum and older brother Guddu, and knows they must have been looking for him all these years. His friends suggest using Google Earth to try and find landmarks he remembered. It’s a struggle as Saroo deals with his feelings of betraying his adoptive parents, his complex relationship with adopted brother Mantosh, his whiny girlfriend Lucy (Rooney Mara), and the sheer time and energy to do the work. But he never completely gives up, and he does find his way.

 

Lion is based on Saroo Brierley’s autobiography, The Long Road Home. I was fortunate enough to attend a preview introduced by Saroo and his mum Sue. They had input into the screenplay adaptation, and both said they were pleased with the results. Garth Davis uses landscape beautifully to reflect Saroo’s journey and to ground his memories. The scenery in Tasmania is pristine and lovingly shot, with a sense of order and calm. In contrast, Kolkata swirls with movement and energy as little Saroo (Sunny Pawar) darts through crowds and runs his heart out in search of home. The film is as manipulative as can be, but it’s the kind of emotional push and pull that made me want to buy into it. He’s a good kid, and you want him to be happy.

Sunny Pawar is that rarest of creatures – an Indian child actor I don’t want to slap. Apart from being ridiculously cute he conveys emotions with clarity and a sense of genuine feeling. Saroo couldn’t speak to anyone much about what had happened as he was a little kid, only spoke Hindi, was illiterate, and had no idea how to find his home. He was selected by Mrs Sood (Deepti Naval) as a good candidate for overseas adoption and before long, he had a new home.

Twenty years later, Dev Patel is Saroo. He has great hair, and a good Aussie accent. I’ve not been completely convinced by some of his past work but I felt he really inhabited Saroo and was just brimming with energy and life. He had a typically Australian slightly inarticulate, good natured, blokey feel about his character but could also show great depth of emotions. Patel’s scenes with Divian Ladwa who plays grown up Mantosh were full of love and disappointment and rivalry, being mean in ways you know will hit hardest, always internally comparing this brother to long lost Guddu. He had a strong connection with Nicole Kidman and David Wenham as his parents, and a relaxed playful rapport with the ensemble of his friends. The latter section of the film drags a bit as Saroo wallows in his angst, but it does make the payoff all the more sweet.

Sue’s dedication to having an adopted family made me slightly uncomfortable in the film, but not when I heard her speak in person. Possibly it was the tight close-ups of Nicole Kidman and her fierce emoting that made it seem too much. You know when you inadvertently see a display of intense emotion that was not meant for you, you just want to look away and give that person back their privacy. David Wenham has long been a favourite actor of mine. I would probably watch him watching paint dry, and find it fascinating. He plays John as a typical dad with a big heart and a few bad jokes, trying to keep his family of diverse and strong personalities together and happy through their ups and downs.

The casting really is excellent and I think it shows their commitment to getting things right. The Indian cast features some excellent character actors including Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Tannishtha Chatterjee, and Deepti Naval in small but impactful roles, with Priyanka Bose as Saroo’s birth mum Kamla. Melbourne girl Pallavi Sharda and local soapie actor Sachin Joab play a couple of Saroo’s uni mates. Abhishek Bharate delivers a good performance as Guddu, with a cocky swagger and a warm smile that made him so unforgettable for his little brother. Rooney Mara is stitched up with a fairly insipid role as Saroo’s girlfriend. Her character Lucy just doesn’t have the same complexity and depth as the others and she comes across as more of a plot device than a person.

I think Lion is going to be interpreted quite differently depending on your perspective. Many Australian viewers would have no idea who Deepti Naval or Nawazzudin Siddiqui is, so there’s that. I may have been the only person in the theatre to whoop when Prabhu Deva appeared on the telly in the background of a scene! And I doubt the 1980s approach to intercultural adoption, which was heavy on assimilation, will sit well with everyone. I was adopted as were several of my friends, and we all had diverse experiences and have made our choices about finding birth parents, so this resonates strongly with me. Sue is clear that she wants Saroo to tell her all about himself and what happened before the adoption, so it isn’t a case of ignoring his personal history. It’s more that there seemed to be no acknowledgement of his existing language or culture, only his misfortune of being a lost boy. Because the film jumps from the start to the end of Saroo’s personal journey, there is a whole other story in the middle that we don’t see. Saroo mentioned he might be working on a prequel so perhaps there will be a companion piece to come. Whatever your views, Saroo seems to have turned out to be a very generous and grounded young man who both his families are proud of.

See Lion for a beautiful story of identity and home and family, for the unashamed tugging at your heartstrings, for the excellent performances. Take some tissues because at least one of the Saroos will probably make you cry!

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Khaidi No 150

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I thought the original film (Kaththi) was mediocre so I had low expectations. And I was honestly happy at seeing Big Chiru on screen, my first ever Megastar FDFS, and the bonus of subtitles. The audience went nuts when Chiru’s foot first appeared. Apparently I am not the only one who takes a keen interest in Mega Footwear. And the screaming and paper throwing erupted at the start of every song and every fight. It felt so good to be among my people.

The story goes like this. Escaped convict Seenu (Chiranjeevi) witnesses an attempted hit on a stranger, Sankar (Chiranjeevi). He takes Sankar to hospital but swaps over their ID so he can remain free, assuming that the police will let the other man go once they realise the error. Seenu then impersonates Sankar, and acquires a nursing home full of old men from the village of Neeru. As he understand their story, and gets to watch a handy documentary on Sankar’s crusade against the evil corporates, Seenu takes up the fight as his own.

In many ways this is a perfect comeback vehicle for Chiranjeevi. The dual role and the breadth of the action means no matter what his fans want from him, they’re likely to get it. He delivers action, big speeches, garish outfits, and some of his trademark dance moves (the veena step!), all with minor modification to suit a gentleman of a certain age. And most of that is done in the initial prologue section. The dual role means he can play both mass and class aspects of the standard hero, and even asks Lakshmi (Kajal) which she prefers before telling her his name. Sankar wears brainy glasses (HOT. Just saying) where Seenu has a more flamboyant style. There are references both in the script and the background music to his previous films, some of them drawing roars of appreciation from a very vocal crowd. He has a sidekick (Ali), an enemy (Tarun Arora), a frenemy (Brahmanandam as Doberman), and many comedy uncles and familiar actors as supports, dependants, and thugs. He also has an irrelevant love interest. See? Everything!

I was wondering how they would deal with the age gap between Chiru and Kajal and the answer is that Seenu thinks Lakshmi is a childhood sweetheart, but then realises they just look alike. So I decided that young at heart Seenu always thinks of himself as that twenty-something dude about town rather than thinking we’d believe they were actually the same age. I really should be on the payroll to find far-fetched solutions to ill-conceived plot devices…And the fight scenes are grand and full of energy, even though Chiru has long since left his limber acrobatic years behind. The songs also work to cover over the years because they are more a platform for people to worship the Megastar not a display of romance. The lyrics are mostly about how great he is, the choreo is very peacock-esque as he and the backing dudes strut their stuff, and the ladies just wiggle when in shot.

“Ammadu lets do Kummudu” is probably the worst song I will hear this year but as soon as it was over I would have hit replay if I could have. It has all the visuals I could ask for – prancing, colourful outfits, bedazzled Mega-shoes, and a guest appearance by Charan. Father and son look so chuffed to be dancing together. The backing dancer costumes are a wonder throughout. From drapey chiffon to see through plastic jackets, you name it, they had to wear it.

Kajal’s character is irrelevant, and she can hardly dance, so I really paid little attention to her. However. In every song picturisation she wears extremely sensible walking shoes regardless of her dress. So I was mildly diverted and wondered if it was due to her height compared to Chiru, perhaps she had an injury and couldn’t wear the usual ugly strappy sandals, was it some kind of statement. I don’t know. I doubt that this is what she wants to be remembered for but it really is the most interesting thing about Lakshmi.

Farmer suicide is a real issue given pretty superficial treatment by V.V Vinayak, although I appreciate he tried to show the effects of the ever shortening media cycle on long running issues. But the main components of the story felt off kilter. Farming life was overly romanticised, described as a necessary fate, and condemned as too harsh, often in the same grand speech. The speech that got a really big response was one about people being forced out of their villages and having to take crappy jobs in the big cities to earn some money. But the film seemed adamant that people should stay on the land, which I think is a bit simplistic as country kids may want or need to pursue other careers and they should have those opportunities. Sankar was supposed to be a man of principle but didn’t hesitate for a nanosecond when offered a deal to let some thugs kill Seenu if they got him out of jail. It was OK to throw in a tasteless joke that Doberman (Brahmi) had raped 100 women. And Ali in drag is never necessary to any movie ever. And the Megastar presence really dominates so that the reliable and accomplished guys like Nasser had little opportunity to make much of their roles. Or maybe I just wasn’t paying attention to anyone but Chiru!

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There are also some genuinely funny moments. I think my favourite was  when Posani Krishna Murali’s men all pretended to pick up phone calls as he was blustering and wandered off looking busy rather than face Seenu. Or maybe when Brahmi lost his religion during a huge fight scene. I also liked the thinking behind one fight scene that progressed through corporate thugs, oiled up baldy muscle men who looked like an angry pack of Maltesers, and finally the bad hair gang.

Lest you think I am completely superficial and only looked at the shoes, there was an interesting moment regarding justice in this film world. The judge (played by Naga Babu) says that if a single person kills that is murder, but if society kills it’s a revolution. It’s a problematic statement once you get thinking about the mob and riots but it did mean someone notionally good avoided jail time, and the person they killed was bad news anyway. No biggie.

Will Khaidi No 150 make a fan of anyone who isn’t? Probably not. Does any of that matter if you are a fan? No way!

Pssst  – Make sure you stay for the end credits for some glimpses of the famous visitors on set, and Lawrence closely monitoring a dance and giving someone the stinkeye.

Khoon Pasina (1977)

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Sometimes when the world has gone mad, you just need the reassuring presence of The Big B dishing out dishoom and justice.

Shiva and Aslam grow up besties in one of those happily diverse communities. Their dads are also friends, teasing each other about being rubbish at being a Muslim or a Hindu because they can’t even remember their own religious celebrations. Both dads make a powerful enemy when they stop a flamboyantly bewigged and fringed Kader Khan killing a bloke. He decides to foment communal strife in order to kill them without the police suspecting him, and somehow this is linked via a montage to Partition. The family is torn apart by a house fire that kills Ram and Rahim, leaves Aslam lost, and places young Shiva with Aslam’s ma (Nirupa Roy) as his only family.

The kids are indifferent actors, probably chosen for their evolutionary potential to end up looking like neighbourhood thug Shiva, aka Tiger (Amitabh Bachchan), and principled dacoit Shera (Vinod Khanna). Tiger hasn’t forgotten his past despite being raised by Nirupa Roy while Shera is trying to find death, but even death is worried by his body count.

Amitabh gets the best and worst of the film. Shiva/Tiger is an impulsive thug who is motivated by the right reasons but doesn’t stop to think about collateral damage or even just stop to think, a dictator in his own manner. He also gets stuck with a wardrobe that I wish I could say was part of the comedy track. It annoys me so much that he is called Tiger yet wears leopard print. Really! But Amitabh has such charm that the glib one-liners work a treat and he can switch effortlessly to show Shiva’s darker side. And some of the comedy track is funny despite itself. I particularly enjoyed the wedding party being entertained and fed by the crooks who had come to steal the bride. I suppose in a different film, Tiger could always have picked up work as an event planner.

Tiger sees the curvaceous and feisty Chanda (Rekha) at the market and is smitten. She challenges him to back up his bragging by wrestling a tiger for her. So he does. But Chanda has been engaged to gangster Raghu (Ranjeet) since childhood, and he is not inclined to give up his claim. Raghu tries to get Shera to kill Tiger but Shera says it would be better if Raghu died. Raghu has other ideas and starts messing with Zaleem Singh who is still alive and scheming.

Shera still mourns his lost family, and believes himself alone in the world. Like Shiva, he has a strong commitment to justice as he sees it, and like Shiva he doesn’t pay attention to the law. Vinod Khanna was saddled with some dodgy hair and a lot of pleather, but Shera is certainly the cooler of the grown up boys. Probably because he doesn’t have his mummy choosing his outfits. But he is also afflicted with the faux leopard trim. Vinod delivers his cheesy lines with a detached and weary cynicism threaded with sentimentality about families and honour. It’s the kind of role that I usually expect to see Danny Denzongpa in and I think he might have added a little more spark to the pathos. The long lost friends spend almost all the film apart and their few scenes together are good. I wish they had interacted a bit more to ramp up the tension a bit.

Chanda faces Raghu down with the full support of her father who says she cannot be married off against her will. Hurrah for that dad! Naturally Raghu decides to eliminate Tiger, but being a weasel he takes many indirect routes rather than simple confrontation. Rekha’s body language is quite masculine and often aggressive in Chanda’s pre-marriage scenes. She owns her space and doesn’t let unwanted contact go past without payback. She falls for Tiger but then he plays hard to get. They have a push and pull in their dynamic that is amusing but not emotionally healthy. And when it comes to Tiger choosing between his wife or his ma, you’d better believe he is a mummy’s boy who will slap his wife into the middle of next week if she disagrees with Ma. Rekha and Amitabh have that chemistry of course, but I enjoyed Chanda’s scenes where she was going about her daily routine alone and her interactions with other people in the village. Rekha can be funny as well as dramatic, and despite a few airhead moments Chanda is quick-witted and interesting.

Shanno or Shantidevi (Aruna Irani) is another defiant woman. She loves her husband Mohan (a very restrained Asrani) who is a gentle, law abiding man and they talk about their conflicting beliefs and all seems really respectful and solid. Except when Mohan is threatening Shanno to prevent her from telling her brothers or when Shanno is telling Mohan to pop on some bangles and let her be the man of the family. Shanno also happens to be Zaleem Singh’s daughter and bears her Monobrow of Fury with elan. Her immediate reaction to any insult is to grab a gun and try and kill the offender, saying her brothers will clean up the legal issues. When Raghu burns down their farm and pretends he is Tiger, it sets up yet another conflict. After a tense family visit, and a huge random edit, Mohan decides to go kill Tiger so Shanti also runs off after him with a gun.

Shiva relocates to the jungle and ends up working on a plantation owned by Zaleem Singh. He gets a nice Kalyanji-Anandji number that looks like a rehearsal for Mr Natwarlal, and Helen makes an appearance to dance for the landlords. He builds new relationships and becomes the voice of workers’ rights and social justice. There’s even an “I’m Spartacus” scene. Chanda is gradually sidelined but she remains a strong force in the film and in Shiva’s life. Nirupa continues to give him pointless and conflicting instructions. The lack of emotional blackmail opportunities drives her to almost commit a crime so she can stop herself and “Nahiiiiin!” about it.

There are so many bad guys! Ranjeet gets his shirt off for no reason, Kader Khan is slimy and arrogant as Zaleem Singh, Mac Mohan is natty in pleather as Singh’s flunkey, Vinod Khanna is a cut above this material, and there are so many beefy shirtless dudes running around beating people up that I suspect that was the main industry for the village. There are also abundant good guys, many of whom speak with sense, logic, and empathy. It’s quite pleasing to have some good life advice doled out to the hero.

And all the while Shera is on Tiger’s trail, paid to hand Tiger over to Zaleem Singh but not really believing that he is a miscreant.

What happens next? Please, you already know. And yet there is always that bit extra that makes you go “Huh?” The action scenes are woeful as I don’t think Rakesh Kumar had the faintest idea of how to shoot or stage a fight so there is minimal choreography of the stunts and lots of bizarre angles and edits to skip over the lack of detail. There is a very long and quite unnecessary horse chase, although it did prove Moti knew what was what. It’s the kind of film where wallowing in quicksand is not enough, you have to simultaneously wrestle a snake. It’s the kind of film where if you want to kill someone you have to first build an enormous wooden edifice and tie them to a stake at the top. It’s the kind of film where Moti the horse should have been making key decisions.

Despite being quite slapdash, the story contains some interesting little bits and pieces. See it for Amitabh and Vinod emoting fiercely with Rekha and Aruna Irani being fierce. 3 ½ stars!

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