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!

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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!

Manmarziyaan

Manmarziyaan

The performances from the three main actors are the reason to watch this romantic love triangle written by Kanika Dhillon and directed by Anurag Kashyap. Taapsee Pannu and Vicky Kaushal are the carefree couple indulging in their lovemaking whenever and wherever they can, while Abhishek Bachchan plays ‘the most patient man ever’ as Taapsee’s potential husband. The story doesn’t break new ground but the ever-present music and stunning locations make this a more watchable film than expected, even with its clichéd finale. And it’s good to have another female-centric film from Bollywood that doesn’t portray Rumi as a bad girl just because she indulges in pre-marital sex.

Taapsee Pannu’s Rumi initially appears manically impulsive which makes her rather more irritating than I suspect was intended. She’s also incredibly selfish, but then that applies to all the characters in this story, so her absorption with her own affairs sits easily beside the rest. But as the story unfolds, the complexities of her character become more apparent and Rumi’s ‘no apologies’ approach to life starts to make sense as her circumstances are revealed. She lives with her grandfather, aunt, uncle and cousin as her parents are dead, and she helps to run the family sports store. She used to play hockey at state level and still runs – for exercise, for enjoyment and also when she’s sad, upset or just plain angry.

Rumi is in love with Vicky (Vicky Kaushal), a free-wheeling DJ with spiky dyed hair and a collection of The Doors t-shirts. Vicky hops over balconies to have sex with Rumi behind her family’s back, although it’s pretty much an open secret in the neighbourhood since the lovers take a haphazard approach to concealing their activity. This is an entirely new side to Vicky Kaushal and he nails the man-child aspect of his irresponsible character with complete enthusiasm. He’s totally into Rumi and the two have an intensely passionate affair that all comes crashing down when Rumi’s aunt finds them together in the bedroom. Naturally the only solution is marriage, and rather surprisingly Rumi agrees. Perhaps she too has had enough of the sneaking around and she wants Vicky to finally ‘put a ring on it’. What moves the film forward here is Rumi’s family’s acceptance of Vicky as a husband if that’s what she wants. They may not totally approve, but there are refreshingly no demands to only marry the man of their choice. Rumi also takes a pragmatic view of the entire idea although her immaturity is on show when she declares that she will marry anyone the family chooses if Vicky fails to appear.

Although Rumi has absolute faith that her lover will agree to getting married, for Vicky that’s a step too far. He’s not ready for marriage, but he does at least admit his reluctance to an astonished and devastated Rumi. At this point the family contacts Kakaji (Saurabh Sachdeva), a marriage broker who has also been contracted to find a bride for Robbie (Abhishek Bachchan ), an NRI living in London who is back in India to search for a wife. Robbie might tie his turban on arrival in the airport to appease his rather traditional family, but is determined follow his own path as he searches for his life-partner. He falls in love almost immediately with Rumi’s picture despite the best efforts of Kakaji to provide a range of options. With Vicky’s refusal to commit, Rumi agrees to marry her family’s choice, but despite the wedding preparations, Vicky still isn’t able to let Rumi go and continually makes promises he just cannot seem to keep.

One of the areas that works well in the film is the depiction of Vicky’s commitment issues. There’s never any doubt that he is head over heels in love with Rumi, but his irresponsible nature doesn’t allow him any thought for the future. There’s an excellent scene where the two lovers run away together, only for Rumi to stop the car and ask Vicky where are they going and how will they survive. When he can’t answer, she knows that for all his passion in the bedroom, Vicky really isn’t husband material. Vicky’s father also has some harsh words for his son that ring true, telling him that he sees Rumi as a possession that he cannot bear to lose leading Vicky to make countless promises and break them over and over again. When we were discussing the film, a friend asked me why Rumi believed Vicky when it was so obvious that he wasn’t going to follow through? And that is the other part of the film that works for me. Rumi obviously loves Vicky and doesn’t want to lose him. So, she is prepared to do anything, say anything and believe him yet again when he says he will come and marry her. It’s a common scenario for women who believe they can change the men they fall in love with, and it takes maturity and experience to know that it’s simply not true. I could very much relate to Rumi’s attempts to hold on to the love she desperately wants to keep, despite being let down time after time after time.

Taapsee Pannu really is excellent here and after the initial overdone manic enthusiasm she settles down into a wonderful performance of a woman who is torn between her heart and her head. Her best scene for me was when she runs down to the river on her honeymoon and simply sobs, heartbroken and mourning the love she has lost. It’s a very powerful moment that’s followed up beautifully by her indifference to Robbie and her need to get drunk to sleep with him. Even when the story lags and the dialogue becomes repetitive, Taapsee is always engaging and convincing in her role.

What doesn’t work is Robbie’s insistence on marrying Rumi when he knows all about her relationship with Vicky. For all his talk about finding a life partner, his actions don’t appear to follow his words and his willingness to put up with Rumi’s bitchiness and indifference seems unlikely. Abhishek plays the sensible, sober and responsible Robbie well, but his character is simply too patient and understanding until towards the end of the film where he finally loses his calm façade.

The first half of the film has plenty of energy and sparkle that’s driven by Taapsee Pannu and Vicky Kaushal. Much also comes from Amit Trivedi’s fantastic soundtrack which is embedded in the very heart of the film and is used to good effect. Anurag Kashyap has added in twins who dance behind Rumi in a few of the songs and they are absolutely brilliant, adding yet more colour and vibrancy to the first half. Amritsar too is becomes part of the story as the city is beautifully filmed, and technically the film is excellent. Look out too for the gorgeous tea cups used by Rumi throughout the film and the thought that has gone into dressing Rumi and Vicky’s respective rooms.

Unfortunately, Manmarziyan loses steam in the second half and becomes rather repetitive although scenes between Vicky and Rumi still have an impact. The ending too is rather disappointing and tame after all the fireworks and energy at the beginning, and also much too predictable. This is a film to watch for the characterisations and the clever staging of a number of scenes rather than for the screenplay, which does tend to drag at times. But with such outstanding performances from the three leads Manmarziyan is still a step up from an average love story and definitely worth a watch.