Haider

Haider

Watching Vishal Bhardwaj’s latest film Haider is a visceral and haunting experience, as the gorgeous detail of the film allows every emotion and each drop of blood to be shown in crystal clarity. The story of treachery in Denmark is transplanted to Kashmir at the height of increased militancy in the area in 1995, but still remains tragedy on a grand scale. Bhardwaj and his co-writer Basharat Peer have successfully adapted the bard’s play into more modern-day India, although the pacing is a little inconsistent in places and at times the Kashmiri issue threatens to overshadow the personal drama. The heart of the film is in the performances, and although Shahid Kapoor is excellent in probably one of the best performances of his career, the real stand-out is Tabu who is completely mesmerising in her role as a conflicted mother to Haider and disloyal wife to Dr Hilal Meer. It is compelling cinema and definitely well worth watching in the theatre to fully appreciate the stunning cinematography and spectacular beauty of Kashmir.

Haider (Shahid Kapoor) is a student, safely studying poetry in Anantnag when he learns that his father has disappeared after providing medical aid to a militant leader. Dr Hilal Meer (Narendra Jha) is taken by the army in a truly frightening scene that manages to grasp the sense of hopelessness and terror of a military raid in just a few moments. The grim method of selecting who may go and who is arrested by a balaclava-wearing man in a Jeep is chilling, as is the resignation that makes everyone line up for inspection without any word of complaint. The detail in each frame is incredible, and the performances are very natural, making the film seem almost like a news report direct from the action, rather than a fictional story.

Dr Meer’s family home is also bombed, along with the militant leader still inside, and in a few seconds his wife Ghazala (Tabu) has become a ‘half-widow’ without anywhere to live. As a result, when Haider returns he finds his mother living with his uncle Khurram (Kay Kay Menon), and he is instantly suspicious about their relationship. While rejecting his mother, Haider relies heavily on his girlfriend journalist Arshia (Ahraddha Kapoor) and two friends Salman (Sumit Kaul) and Salman (Rajat Bhagat) as he searches for his father. Since up until this point the film is unrelentingly bleak, it’s a real relief when the comedy appears, and Salman and Salman are an excellent counterpoint to the violence and despair elsewhere.

Haider’s search for his father is heart wrenchingly sad, as he is just another one of many who are searching for their own disappeared relatives. However, interspersed with his search are confrontations with his mother and uncle which fuel Haider’s anger and mistrust. The relationship between Haider and Ghazala is wonderfully nuanced and both actors capture the essence of Shakespeare’s characters and their conflicted emotions well. There is a frisson of sexual tension, heightened since Tabu looks way too young to be Shahid’s mother, but mainly the film focuses on Haider’s sense of betrayal when his mother takes up with his father’s killer. Kay Kay Menon is also effortlessly perfect, juggling Khurram’s political ambitions with his desire for Ghazala and bringing more depth to the Shakespearean character of Claudius than I seem to remember from studying the original play at school.

The romance between Haider and Arshia is also nicely developed, and Arshia has a believable character as a journalist and relatively realistic relationships with her brother Liyaqat (Aamir Bashir) and father (Lalit Parimoo). Shraddha Kapoor is good in her role, particularly in her scenes with Shahid and she’s also credible in her despair when she loses the plot after her father dies. Most of the other characters from Shakespeare’s play appear, although the role of the ghost is changed into a fellow prisoner of Dr Meer who is expertly played by Irrfan Khan.  Most impressive is the ‘play within a play’ which in is depicted as a song. The puppets are wonderful, but even just a glimpse of Tabu and Kay Kay Menon in this clip illustrates just how good they both are in conveying their characters.

Haider’s eventual descent into madness is dealt with better than the earlier scenes where Shahid sometimes appears a little too distant. But as the film progresses his emotional shifts and internal struggles are mostly well represented and he does genuinely appear to be a conflicted personality by the end. Many of the famous lines from the original Hamlet appear in Haider’s soliloquies, although they are also inserted into various conversations (and the subtitles don’t really do them justice), and there is even a brief appearance of the skull before the final, and very bloody showdown. This is passion, vengeance, despair and madness writ large and the scope of the film truly feels epic.

Haider impresses with fine attention to detail and excellent performances from the entire cast. However the shift to Kashmir means the military conflict looms large in the story and as a result the original tale of betrayal and treachery occasionally gets a little lost. The pacing is uneven, particularly in the first half, but this allows time for the complexity of the characters to fully develop so isn’t necessarily a flaw with the film. It is a bleak story and be warned that some scenes are definitely not for the squeamish as the body count piles up and cinematographer Pankaj Kumar illustrates just how well snow contrasts with blood. Overall Haider is a well crafted and novel interpretation of Shakespeare’s Hamlet and one I definitely recommend watching for excellent performances and a rather different view of Kashmir.

Advertisements

Iruvar (1997)

Iruvar

Mani Ratnam’s Iruvar is essentially a story about friendship but it manages to encompass cinema, politics and plenty of associated drama along the way.  From their first meeting in the film industry, through their membership in the same political party until Anandan and Tamilchelvam end up as rivals for the position of chief minister, the friendship between the two endures the many challenges they face.   Despite the disclaimer at the start that the film is a work of fiction, even a cursory glance at the biography of Tamil film legend M. G. Ramachandran shows many parallels between his life and that of the character Anandan (Mohanlal).  It’s also apparent that MGR’s real life political rival, M. Karunanidhi is the character Tamilchelvam, portrayed by Prakash Raj, while other counterparts from the same era are also featured in the film. Although I don’t know enough about the lives of M.G. Ramachandran and M. Karunanidhi to comment on how accurately the two characters do resemble their real life counterparts, not knowing the true events isn’t a hindrance to enjoying the film.  It’s an exceptionally well told story and features not only brilliant performances from the two leads Mohanlal and Prakash Raj but also features an excellent début from Aishwarya Rai.

IruvarIruvar

The film opens with the young Anandan (Mohanlal) looking for acting work and finally achieving his dream of becoming a film hero assisted by his friend Tamilchelvam (Prakash Raj).  The initial meeting of the two men typifies their characters.  Anandan doesn’t always seem to understand or agree with everything the poet Tamilchelvam says but he is impressed by the man’s obvious sincerity and self-belief, and asks Tamilchelvam to write his dialogues for him.  Anandan is a simplistic man who just wants a good paying job so that he can look after his mother, while Tamilchelvam is more idealistic and wants to use his words to change the world.

IruvarIruvarIruvarIruvar

As Anandan’s star is rising in the film industry, Tamilchelvam continues to work as a screenwriter although he also becomes active in a Dravidian social party led by Velu Annachi (Nasser).  At the same time the two friends get married although Anandan is tricked by his mother into tying the knot with a local girl Pushpa (Aishwarya Rai) while Tamilchelvam marries Maragatham (Revathy), a girl approved for him by his political leader.  Despite their inauspicious beginnings, Anandan rapidly falls in love with Pushpa’s lively innocence and charm, although he leaves her with his mother when he goes back to work.  Tamilchelvam on the other hand spouts speeches about equality in marriage on his wedding night while Maragatham is more traditional and superstitious which doesn’t bode well for their future together.

IruvarIruvar

This song intersperses a romantic film song featuring Madhoo in a guest appearance with scenes from Anandan’s marriage presumably suggesting that the real-life relationship was as idyllic as the fairy-tale filmi romance.

As their careers progress, Anandan becomes a star, able to draw crowds although he doesn’t appreciate his popularity until it is forcibly shown to him by Tamilchelvam.  This is demonstrated in an excellent scene where Tamilchelvam takes Anandan up onto the roof to show him the hundreds of people waiting for a chance to catch a glimpse of the film star.  Anandan’s slow recognition of his fame is perfectly played by Mohanlal, but once he has recognised the fact, he knows how to work his popularity and make the most of it.  Anandan also joins Tamilchelvam’s political party, although he is looked on with suspicion by the other party members who feel that Anandan is using the party to further his film career, while Anandan feels that his film fame is being exploited by the party to pull in more voters.

IruvarIruvarIruvarIruvar

The contrasts between the two men are expertly illustrated in their interactions with each other and with the other characters.  The more idealistic and driven Tamilchelvam prints pamphlets and makes long inspiring speeches at political rallies while Anandan just declares that he wants everyone to be happy.  After Anandan’s first wife dies he marries his co-star Ramani (Gautami) almost by chance.  Ramani turns up on Anandan’s doorstep in distress, fleeing from her abusive uncle manager (Ravi) and since Anandan doesn’t seem to have much else happening that week he decides to marry Ramani to keep her out of her uncle’s clutches.  In contrast, Tamilchelvam sees Senthamarai (Tabu) at a political demonstration and arranges for her to come to Chennai to be his mistress.  Tamilchelvam is proactive and driven, and plans his life to realise his ambitions while Anandan is more reactive and laid-back, seeming to fall into his success by chance, although helped by his natural charm and talent.

IruvarIruvar

Aishwarya Rai has a double role and appears again as Kalpana, a new actress who works with Anandan despite his initial reservations, due to her resemblance to his first wife.  It’s an impressive performance from Aishwarya who is feisty and assured in complete contrast to her role as Pushpa.  She also looks gorgeous and the songs featuring her and Mohanlal are some of the highpoints in the film.  Kalpana is apparently based on Jayalitha, although seemingly only on her acting career,since the character doesn’t have any political aspirations in the film, and has an early and off-screen exit.

Iruvar seems to deal lightly with Anandan, using Tamilchelvan more as a contrast with the actor, although both men are treated fairly without any particular bias for one side over the other.  It’s a very human look at politics and the realities of power as these men, with their great ideals and desires to change the fate of the common man, still end up with similar policies to the previous party. Despite their eventual opposition in the political arena, Anandan and Tamilchelvan seem to be able to maintain their respect for each other, even as they battle to keep power.  Their relationship is complex and often threatened by the actions and opinions of others but both characters keep true to their basic personality, which ensures the friendship appears realistic. Mohanlal is superb as Anandan using his facial expressions to wring every possible emotion out of every scene.  He is often understated and conveys his emotions very simply but with great effect.  Prakash Raj is just as good as Tamilchelvam and his evolution from passionate young activist to elder statesman is perfectly portrayed.  The two combine together to make every moment they are on screen absolute gold. Santosh Sivan’s excellent cinematography also helps the film stand out with good use of camera angles to capture the large party rally’s contrasted with the more intimate scenes.

IruvarIruvar

I read that there was opposition to the film’s release (as might be expected given the reputations of both MGR and Karunanidhi) and certainly Iruvar has suffered at the hands of the censors.  A number of apparently stirring political speeches are muted partway through by loud music, and judging by the sudden jumps in the screenplay, a few seem to have been cut altogether.  But the relationship between the two men still comes across clearly and Mani Ratnam has drawn every possible nuance of their association in exquisite detail.  The censorship is interesting given that at one point Anandan makes a film which apparently portrays Tamilchelvam’s party in a negative light.  Tamilchelvam’s response is one that I’m sure all film-makers and reasoning adults would like to hear from more governments, particularly considering the recent issues surrounding Vishwaroopam.

Iruvar

The music and songs by A.R. Rahman are of a high quality and vary in style to illustrate the different cinematic eras encompassed by the film, although the time frame is never explicitly stated.  These range from the jazzy and more upbeat songs pictured on Kalpana to the more traditional and classically driven song Narumugayie.  Farah Khan was the choreographer which is probably another reason why the songs all work so well with all the dancers in sync.  This is probably one of my favourites as Aishwarya sparkles on the screen while Anandan and Ramani watch in the cinema. Anandan’s face as he realises Kalpana’s resemblance to his dead wife is a study in shock, horror and sheer disbelief while his wife is totally oblivious to his reaction.

Iruvar is a fascinating story about two very influential men, made even more absorbing by its basis on real people.  Although the censorship cuts do make some of the underlying details more difficult to follow, especially for those (like myself) who don’t know the true story, that doesn’t detract from the compelling nature of the relationship between these two giants of Tamil film and political history. Entertainment and education all in one – perfect! 4 ½ stars.

Kandukondain Kandukondain

Kandukondain Kandukondain is an adaptation of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility and one of the first Tamil films I saw. It’s still one of my favourites, largely due to the good performances and the strong screenplay. Tabu and Aishwarya Rai play the sisters – sensible, thoughtful Sowmya, and the mercurial Meenakshi. Rajiv Menon retains some of the novel’s ambiguity about whose way is ultimately better, and he and dialogue writer Sujatha focus on the characters and how they develop.

The heroines’ characters required little adaptation. Regency heroines and filmi ones tend to spend a lot of time waiting for the right man or angling for a suitable husband so it probably wasn’t much of a challenge. The suitably ladylike occupations of music and teaching are retained which happily allows for more songs than one might expect from Jane Austen. The female characters in the film are memorable, distinct and very appealing. And I do like the image of big burly film directors reading Austen or Georgette Heyer for their inspiration!

Tabu has a lovely gravity that makes Sowmya very sympathetic. There are small things that make her seem so real – in scenes talking to her ailing grandfather Tabu’s face was sweet and serene, but the sudden slight tension in her throat gave away her real feelings. Tabu’s performance was wonderful, and I totally believed it when Sowmya decided to open her heart to a persistent suitor only to find that she may have been mistaken.

True Love rarely runs smoothly and there are obstacles, real and imagined, that try Sowmya’s patience and resilience, challenging her apparent acceptance of her lot in life. Her confusion and disappointment over Manohar was palpable.

Sowmya thinks that her bad luck has relegated her to a life of service and domesticity in the family home. Her journey towards accepting that she has a right to her own love and happiness is one of the elements of the novel that I enjoyed. She avoids being a stereotypical Regency novel spinster – she is intelligent, personable and has a sense of fun. Sowmya also has a decent job and shows determination in pursuing a career and financial independence.

This is one of the films that made me decide Aishwarya is a capable actor but needs a director who can coach her. She has a lively spark that suited this version of Marianne Dashwood, and Meenu’s feisty streak was always in evidence. The opening song shows off Meenakshi’s extrovert nature, features some excellent dancers and lets Aish show off her animal impressions including a valiant attempt at tiger face.

Aish and Tabu had great rapport and details like the way they leaned in to speak to each other, or would catch each others hand as they talked were really charming. But Meenakshi wasn’t all sweetness.

When she was angry she let fly, and Aish was excellent in those high energy dramatic scenes. Meenu confronted her mother over a family secret, and threw Bala’s love back in his face with no compunction. But she wasn’t malicious so much as impulsive and emotional, and I think the script and the performance combined to show this clearly.

Meenu grows to realise that love encompasses respect and friendship, not just passionate attraction to a dream hero. She doesn’t exactly become her sensible sister but she decides what she needs from her life partner and chooses to look beyond the obvious. When Srikanth makes an offer he thinks she won’t refuse, things become crystal clear to Meenu. She sets about getting her way with all the vigour she had previously put into avoiding Bala.

Mammootty is excellent as the embittered drunk with a loosely fitted prosthetic leg, Bala (based on Colonel Brandon). Living with his war injuries and a sense of disillusionment he seems intent on pissing his life away. He is drawn to Meenakshi’s beauty but I think it is her fiery temper and cheeky disrespect that really captures him. Mammootty transforms from angry man to shy boy and then seems to regain his love of life and enjoyment of people, resuming a full and happy life with no booze and less anger.

Unlike Colonel Brandon, he has loyal sidekick Sivagnanam (the excellent Manivannan) to provide strategic advice and moral support. The ‘talk to the hand’ scene was sweet and very funny. Bala had the maturity and patience to deal with Meenu, and the intelligence to realise that she would come round or not but he couldn’t force it.

He helps the family from decency, not to buy Meenu’s favour. His thoughtfulness and generosity made Bala a hero. And of course he does save her life.

When it looks like Bala might see his dreams come true, Mammootty shows the underlying vulnerability gradually give way to joy. It’s such a well judged performance and he supports Aish beautifully.

Ajith is hampered by the least successful storyline. In the novel Edward Ferrars is gentry with strong principles and a secret engagement he is unable to break, torn by his love for Elinor and his duty. Making Manohar an ambitious film director didn’t carry the same limitations and so he came across as more selfish and whiny than noble.

Manohar made the decision to leave Sowmya until he had made his first film. There was no need to make such a choice and it was silly. I struggled to see him as the right man for smart sensible Sowmya. The supposed ‘other woman’, the top actress and action hero Nandini Verma (Pooja Batra) was lots of fun but again her occupation and personality didn’t match the dynamic from the novel and it fizzled. Instead of being worried about being forced to marry an unsuitable woman and lose the one he loved, Manohar often looked quite content with his situation.

Well, until the day he decided he was finally ready to claim Sowmya. Ajith was adequate in the role but the lack of credible tension in his story left me unconvinced.

Srikanth (Abbas) was perfect for the film’s Mr Willoughby. I don’t think he is at all attractive but his entrepreneurial character and silly floppy hair fit the style of the society man on the make. And talk about making an entrance…

The wet shirt scene was completely unnecessary and did him no favours in the inevitable comparison. Srikanth was self centred, self satisfied and avoided responsibility. His relationship with Meenu was based on his surface appeal and her dreamy silly notions and very pretty face.  Srikanth was devoid of substance and sense, and seemed genuinely shocked when things fell apart.

The supporting cast are all very good. Shamili as little sister Kamala, Srividya as the mother who wanted the best for her girls and Manivannan as Bala’s friend were all great. Rajiv Menon and dialogue writer Sujatha gave the support actors lots to do which helped reinforce the domestic feel. Bala’s mother (I think) is obsessed with weddings, and long suffering Sivagnanam even gets the family cats married to keep her quiet. Thankfully the comedy is centred on necessary characters and incidents.

The soundtrack is lovely but the song picturisations are a mixed bag. Some look amazing and others are like something from a high school rock eisteddfod. Some have a bit of both!

Cinematographer Ravi K Chandran made the most of the lovely rural locations, and also captured the more enclosed and subdued lighting of the city. He certainly made his leading ladies look stunning.

It’s a beautiful film, with a quality AR Rahman soundtrack and some excellent performances. And it’s one of the more successful adaptations of a novel I know well and am very fond of.  4 stars!

Heather says: I’m generally not a fan of adaptations of Jane Austin. I fell in love with her books as a child, in fact Sense and Sensibility was the first I read, and so far nothing on either the big or small screen has lived up to my expectations. Kandukondain Kandukondain is no exception, although I do think it is one of the best adaptations I have seen.  Despite that, I failed to connect with the characters and although the whole film looks beautiful and has some lovely songs in the soundtrack, it’s not a film I really enjoyed.

Kandukondain Kandukondain is shot to make the best use of scenery and to accentuate colour in the landscapes as might be expected from someone with Rajiv Menon’s background.  The indoor scenes look just as good and I like the way the colour and light of the first half gives way to duller lighting when they move to Chennai and the family have to fend for themselves. In fact this is the best part of the film for me as I enjoyed Sowmya’s search for work which felt very realistic. Meenakshi’s singing and her career problems were also well depicted and I loved the way that Mahalakshmi was also secretly working. At this point I was able to forget any Jane Austin links and the characters started to come alive. But then the film went back to the respective love stories and I lost interest  again. I didn’t feel that the original characters from the book were well adapted into modern-day romances. While I thought the lives of the sisters were modernised and well written into an Indian setting, the men, (with the exception of Major Bala) seemed to be poor copies of the Jane Austin characters and I didn’t like them at all. Ajith was fine as the film director but like Temple I had problems with his decision not to marry until he had made his first film. Or rather not so much the reluctance to marry until he was established, which did have some legitimacy, but rather the long separation without any contact which just seemed ridiculous. Abbas looked too much like Tony Hadley from Spandau Ballet for me to be able to see him without grinning. Especially when he donned a cloak in one of the songs! His character isn’t supposed to be likeable but I couldn’t even find him charming here, and Meenakshi’s devotion to him was only based on his ability to recite poetry. Again this follows the book to some extent but there is so much more to the whole romance than that and for me it wasn’t well brought out in the film. Aishwarya was absolutely stunning as Meenakshi, but I thought there was too much beauty and not enough depth in her portrayal. However I think this is more the fault of the character she played rather than a problem with her performance, which was actually quite natural and one of her best. Despite the changes in the story, I wasn’t able to forget that Meenakshi was basically Marianne from the book and in that context she wasn’t my mental view of that character. Although Sowmya was a more individual character and I thought that Tabu gave a good performance, I couldn’t connect with her at all. By the end I really didn’t care if she managed to get married or not despite having originally felt some sympathy for her. I wanted her to get on with her life on her own terms and not be so reliant on a rather weak man. But then, that’s often a problem with both film and regency romance heroines. The one character that I really enjoyed watching was Major Bala. Mammootty was fantastic and I did empathise with his situation and his attempts to win Meenakshi. His performance was the definite stand out and his interactions with his friend Sivagnanam were some of my favourite moments in the film.

There is nothing really wrong with Kandukondain Kandukondain and I’m sure I would have enjoyed it more if I’d been able to just forget about Sense and Sensibility. But I would much rather read the original book again rather than watch the film.   It still gets 3 stars from me but they are nearly all for Mammootty and a beautiful soundtrack.