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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Kapoor & Sons

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Kapoor & Sons is a refreshingly ‘un-Bollywood’ look at family and family relationships from director Shakun Batra. In conjunction with co-writer Ayesha Devitre Dhillon, Batra has produced a film that delves past the superficial public face of the Kapoor family to reveal the insecurities and arguments that lie beneath. It seems that there is something for everyone to relate to in this story – whether it’s the marriage between Harsh and Sunita that is falling apart, or the sibling rivalry between brothers Rahul and Arjun, most of the film relates to family episodes that are easily recognisable and understandable. While not everything in the story works, the relationships and characterisations do, making Kapoor and Sons a film that stays with you after the end credits have rolled.

I do love Rishi Kapoor and one of the drawcards of this film for me was watching him play the ageing patriarch of the Kapoor family. The prosthetics used to age him appropriately are fairly obvious and his character’s fixation on pornography quickly wears thin, but as the story progresses and Amarjeet Kapoor insists that all he wants as he approaches his ninetieth birthday is a happy family photograph, the character gains depth and intensity. The film starts with Amarjeet ‘practicing’ his death, obviously a common occurrence since his son Harsh (Rajat Kapoor) and daughter-in-law Sunita (Ratna Pathak Shah) pay no attention to his histrionics. The couple have their own problems and ignoring Amarjeet, or Daddu as the family call him, just seems to be part of their usual day. Harsh and Sunita have grown apart over the years of their marriage and there is a definite chill as they barely manage to speak civilly to each other. Sunita suspects that Harsh is having an affair with a previous work colleague Anu (Anuradha Chandan) and the two bicker and argue constantly. It’s a well written portrayal of a marriage gone sour where even the smallest comment can start a major argument and there no longer seems to be any common ground between husband and wife.

Their two grown up sons live overseas. Based in London, Rahul (Fawad Khan) has one successful book behind him but is falling behind his publisher’s deadline for the second. Arjun (Siddharth Malhotra) on the other hand is an aspiring writer, but is working as a bar-tender in New Jersey as he tries to find a publisher for his work. Both return to the family home in Coonoor when Amarjeet is hospitalised with a heart attack and the film follows the various relationships within the family as they are reunited under the one roof once more.

For me the most successful character is Sunita whose bitterness at her life flavours every word she says in the first few scenes. Her relationship with Harsh is perfectly portrayed and the hurt and resentment come through in each conversation. She has issues with her two sons too.  Arjun accuses her of always favouring her eldest son and although she denies it vociferously it’s obvious that she does have a definite preference for Rahul.  When she finally discovers the secret Rahul has been keeping from her she is devastated and Ratna Pathak Shah is superb in portraying her feelings of betrayal and loss mixed in with remorse and just a little guilt for some of the things she has said and done. She’s not just defined by the relationships with her husband and sons either, as her dreams of starting her own catering business allow her character to be more than just reactive. Rajat Kapoor too is excellent as the distant husband who wants to save his marriage but can’t seem to take the first step to making the necessary changes in his relationship. Although at times the bickering does seem to go on too long, to the point where I became uncomfortable watching Sunita and Harsh argue, it is true to life with every irrational and tit-for-tat response feeling genuine and realistic. There are moments of tenderness too and despite all the hostility there is a pervading hope that perhaps the two will manage to resolve their differences. The writing emphasizes the emotions of each character clearly and ensures the dialogue feels realistic and genuine.

The two sons have their problems with each other as well as with their parents. Arjun has always felt that he is the outcast in the family, particularly in comparison with Rahul, who always seems to be the perfect son. Returning home to find that his room has been taken over by his mother while Rahul’s has been left untouched immediately reinforces his feelings of alienation, further fuelled by his belief that Rahul stole the story of his first novel. Although Rahul can see the issues bedeviling the family and does his best to smooth things over, he has his own problems to work through.

During his visit home, Rahul wants to work on his latest book and also find a suitable place for an artists’ retreat. His search brings him into contact with Tia (Alia Bhatt) who is attracted to Rahul, but Arjun has already met Tia at a party and decided to make her the object of his attentions. This sets the two brothers up as potential rivals – an added friction that escalates the conflict between them. What makes it more believable though is that even with the issues between the two brothers, they still have typical sibling conversations. It’s not all arguments and fighting and the two share a good rapport that seems very natural. It’s typical family behaviour that adds to the authentic feel of the film and makes the characters more relatable. Both Fawad Khan and Siddharth Malhotra are at their best when dealing with each other, although otherwise Fawad Khan comes out the better of the two in terms of performance.

While Alia Bhatt is fine as Tia, her manic pixie-girl act is occasionally too OTT when added in to all the general angst of the Kapoor family. However, I like that Batra gives her character more depth using her friendship with Bunkoo (Aakriti Dobhal) and her dealings with cook/general handyman Kishore (Pradeep Pradhan) to bring out different aspects of her character. The romance between Arjun and Tia is also fairly standard stuff but does provide some welcome relief from all the squabbling between family members. Sukant Goel as Wasim and Fahim Shaikh as his brother Boobly also ensure there is some lightness amid all the doom and gloom as the rest of the ‘comedy’ is rather more hit and miss. Tia’s ‘jokes’ are not funny at all (although that I presume is the whole point!) while Daddu’s antics at the hospital appear too forced and falling just on the wrong side of offensive to raise anything more than the occasional smile.

Another plus for the film is the soundtrack which maybe works so well due to the number of different composers and lyricists involved. The background score by Sameer Uddin is lovely and the various songs include music from Amaal Mallik, Badshah, Arko and Tanishk Bagchi that give a good mix of different styles that each suit the flavour of the film. My favourite is Kar Gaya Chul above, but each is well placed in the narrative and complements the action. The scenery and beautiful house also give an authentic home-like atmosphere that adds to the overall realism of the film.

Although the film pacing is occasionally uneven and at times the arguments threaten to veer a little too close to farce, for the most part this is a realistic look at middle class family life. The arguments, petty disagreements and relationship flaws within the family are all explored, firstly among the family and then further secrets revealed when private disagreements are suddenly open to public view. The writing is excellent, the characters beautifully  developed and the story flows well from one excruciating argument to the next, with all the angst and self-recrimination that goes along with family fights. I thoroughly enjoyed Kapoor and Sons and recommend it for the wonderful performances, realistic dialogue, plausible situations and overall thoughtfulness that make this one of the better films from last year. 4 ½ stars.