mother! is yet another example of Darren Aronofsky’s evil genius/mad scientist status in the film industry.

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The buzz surrounding Aronofsky’s latest has been, lets be nice, interesting, if anything. A film that doesn’t really fall under a specific genre, a poster that forces you to question what he thinks a mother is and a very harrowing comment by the star regarding a torn diaphragm. Hmm, interesting. (That last one is literally the only form of press I let myself look into.)

Yet despite all this I took myself down to my local multiplex, along with an unsuspecting cousin who is not too into films of this caliber, and proceeded to watch mother! The viewing experience itself was questionable….it was absolutely bizarre to say the least, the weirdest chain of events I’ve ever watched. I don’t think I have ever wanted to yell at houseguests in my life as much as I wanted to here…and it wasn’t even real.

*Coughs * get off the freakin sink!

And then everything became messy. That’s the adjective I’m going for, a very messy chain of crazy and disturbing events, but I’m going to be honest, I was waiting eagerly for it, and as soon as it did, my eyes were fixated on the screen. The last 30 mins or so, the films magnificently chaotic carnage of an ending sealed the deal for me and I left the movie raving about Aronofsky’s sheer genius.

Bardem’s character is the husband to Lawrence’s wife, a timid, yet toxic relationship the latter tries desperately to nurture, so much so that she re-built her loves home from nothing after a dreadful fire. When strangers, Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer, infiltrate their personal paradise, albeit for shelter, the inevitable cracks, both emotionally and physically – manifested by the house of their dreams – are revealed slowly, yet aggressively. Strange creaks, constant disappearances and an intrusive female polar opposite of Lawrence’s character all become the undoing of the small, quiet life they built for themselves away from civilization and void of reality.

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At first it seems the intrusive couple are just a representation of everything Bardem and Lawrence are not: intimate – both emotionally and physically – domineering, flamboyant, loving and here’s the kicker…parents. They are the epitome of the human cycle, the image of Adam and Eve; they communicate, they love, they consummate, they reproduce, But for what good? And that is where the horror reveals itself. Behind their image of a ‘normal couple’ are the destructive forces of their warring sons, selfishness and insecurities overpowering their sound judgment, the most typically damaging concept in families – money, and even bigger than that, entitlement. They are Cain and Abel, their parents Adam and Eve, and what does that make Bardem and Lawrence’s characters – at this point, we have no clue, we are experiencing the story unfolding with just as much confusion as the characters.

From there the story takes it turn towards something of substance, but only do we realize its significance once we ascertain the message within the walls of that doomed house, that of which is within the fingertip reach of its omnipotent owner. After those few days of intrusion and trauma, Lawrence and Bardem’s relationship jumps back to the plastic ‘happy’ it was at the start – he did as we wished and she insured he could, as comfortably and undisturbed as can be. And alongside a baby on its way…yes, the warm hope of Lawrence’s pregnancy as a result of, for lack of a better phrase, hate sex, changed their lives for about 9 months. She was happy to become a mother, and he to become a father. So they get to be the exact same as the ‘normal couple’, or so she thought.

A big, yet subtly referenced, part of the film and detail of Bardem’s character is his writing career. Suffering severely from a bout of writers block, Lawrence’s character leaves him to his own devices, and with the many intrusions, his rage is unlocked. But when the moment comes that he finally jots something down that can propel his career into stardom, he takes it and he triumphs. All the happiness in the world is at their doorstep, and that is the moment the film begins its hugely harrowing climax with the lightbulb moment that details why this film is sheer genius. About to enjoy a beautiful dinner, a heavily pregnant Lawrence become second fiddle to the many adoring fans of her husbands, admirers he cant seem to turn away even when they increase and increase to that of a manic, cult-like following, infiltrating and destroying their perfect paradise. It is happening all over again, Lawrence is left to deal with these strange people and their lack of care for her world as her husband revels in his need to be at the center of creation and adoration – figured it out yet?

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Lawrence goes into a traumatic labor and gives birth to a son, the son of her husband, the husband who believes he is the leader of these people, the one true creator. The undertones of Bardem’s omnipotence overshadows any recollection of his love and loyalty to his wife, and his narcissistic actions cause Lawrence’s mother to finally burst, and that is when death literally becomes her. At the end, her loving husband allows an onslaught of harrowing violence befall her and her newborn son, to the point of the audience wanting to look away but can’t, for their eyes are wide in shock and fixated in intrigue. The visual presentation of violence is so potent you feel yourself being pulled limb from limb alongside Lawrence – an immersive irreality of sorts. She and the house lost the will to live, her face battered and bruised, and the latter ready to crumble; Lawrence beat her husband’s vicious revelers to the punch and ended the massacre for them all.

Bardem’s character is the Dorian gray of them all – predicated on the self-narcissism of his work and his ‘fans’, he saw his world come to an end, he drove the woman who loved him and only him to her demise, and all for nothing. He is the true creator, the one and only Him, and his loving companion, mother to his Son, and mother to the surrounding nature and world became embroiled in his endless cycle of death and life, love and self-love and destruction and reconstruction.

This film speaks to the mind and shakes it awake to the multitude of problems our world is facing or has faced in its vivid & clever subliminal messages. The images on the surface may be traumatizing to watch but they show a scenario of lucid stability this world we live in is unfortunately becoming accustomed, in the face of many dangers and even the dangers they themselves harbor. It’s a cautionary tale aimed at each and every one of us and we don’t even realize it.

What a film!

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Margarita with a Straw: Indie Gem of Pure Content and Character with an Empowering Social Message

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A lot of Indian films don’t stretch to address the wide scope that diversity stands for. Yes we have characters of different backgrounds and heritages, and yes we have stories pertaining to them, but it is very rarely seen for issues like disability and sexuality to be in the forefront. Margarita with a Straw brings it to the forefront, showcases it in its entirety and doesn’t sugar-coat the important aspects, it doesn’t brush it off with a comic interlude, it deals with it, in all the negative and positive reactions it would receive within a working class Indian nuclear family. And that is just one half of the film and story, the primary showcasing of disability and sexuality is boiled down to how the main character, Laila, holds herself and discovers who she is as a girl in a wheelchair who may or may not be bisexual. The film is a social commentary on the beauty of relationships and self-discovery; it is a voice for the marginalised and stigmatised, and taboo communities in a country yet to reach the highest point of a representative, progressive social and cultural order.

Laila, played by Kalki Keochlin, is a girl with cerebral palsy living in New Delhi, India, with her primary caregiver and mother, father and younger brother. They are a close-knit family with nothing but love and acceptance for Laila and her condition, something that is rare and or difficult to do in most families across the world. Her family as a whole exudes an image of cultural progression as her parents hail from differing background; her mother from South India and her father from the north. They are supportive in her desires to live as normally as she wants to, for instance her interest in music, her role in a college band and her choice to move to New York for studies. The only exception that her mother feels strongly about is the notion of love, to which she attributes being in love with boys, something she wants for her child someday but knows that it will be a hard path.

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Feeling the pain of her first heartbreak over a boy in her class, Laila decides to transfer her studies to America, where she meets Khanum, played by Sayani Gupta, a blind girl from Pakistan, with whom she falls in love and thus believes she is a lesbian. She goes through the tumultuous stages of her youth life like any other young girl would, and one prevalent part of that is sexual discovery. Her realisation of her bisexuality, after becoming intimate with a classmate, called Jared, Laila enters that realm of ones youth where confusion settles and overtakes ones moral code. She doesn’t know how to deal with her feelings for boys and girls, she doesn’t know how to tell Khanum what she did, or even her family about who she is. The film beautifully picks up on these rites of passage moments all the while taking our focus away from her disability, sending the message to its viewers that her cerebral palsy does not stop her from living and discovering sexuality, love, relationships and ultimately her identity.

This is just one part of the film, where she immerses herself into the ups and downs of youth. The other parts demonstrate the relationships she has with her family and then the subsequent affects of her life in New York upon her family. The bond Laila shares with her mother, Shubhangini, played by Revathi, is one of two best friends more than a caregiver and patient, or mother and daughter. The attachment and love between them is so strong and warm that it becomes something of a curse when troubles knock on their door. Laila plucks up the courage to come out to her mother and is met with disapproval, but it is not about Shubhangini’s acceptance for her daughter’s sexuality, it is about Laila’s revelation. Whether or not you are accepted, you should reveal your true self because if not, it becomes a hindrance when trying to live your life happily, thus her coming out represents one step in her journey to taking control of her life and completely opening herself up to her loved ones. She doesn’t come out to her father or brother, just Shubhangini, and that bears a significant message in itself as she is the one person that understands her most, she is her right hand and the woman that has stood with her since birth. Later, Shubhangini falls ill and Laila discovers that she has relapsed from fourth stage colon cancer, of which she had no knowledge. From there Laila realises that there will be a time in her life, in the near future, that she will have to take control, lead her own life and become accustomed to being by herself, and she does just that. After her mother’s death, Laila understands and embraces the next chapter in her life, and with whom does she choose to celebrate? Herself. And how does she celebrate? With a margarita and a straw.

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The film is a humanist approach to enduring life in all its good and bad moments, and coming out at the end having found a way to be content with life and all it throws at you. Laila lives without a care for the stigma and taboo connected to her condition, she kisses boys, she has crushes, she curses people who only see her chair and not her, and she feels heartbreak. She is no different, but her condition made her so. Personal freedom was replaced by dependability, but the end scene changed that and you see a young girl just taking off in her new life. The story is so pure and raw that you don’t have to directly relate to Laila, yes you could be LGBT, have a disability, or be Indian, but you don’t have to. You can just be a person trying to find yourself, your identity or your path in life. Escaping into this film for those few hours’ grips you enough to strike a change in yourself, or ignite the urge for change in general.

Lion: An Inspiring Story reflecting on Hidden Hope and Love Embroiled in the Cruel Game of Life

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Lion, based upon the non-fiction autobiography called A Long Way Home, by Saroo Brierley, is a story of finding your identity, an identity that faded away when one was in the system as yet another lost child. Lost hundreds of miles from home, and after months of living in poverty and government shelters, Saroo was adopted by a couple in Australia. When he grew up, he became determined to locate his family in India, to find his way back home, to find his brother, Guddu. But what he really yearned to find was himself. Lion is a truly heart-breaking account of a serious issue that is plaguing India, lost children, and Saroo inspires many with his story and the journey he embarked upon to no longer be a lost child.

 

The film begins in India, a peek into the life of a young Saroo whose childhood was so poverty-stricken that he and his family would have to share the smallest pot of milk and be denied seconds. Played by Sunny Pawar, a little kid who has stolen everyone’s hearts with his strong performance and happy-go-lucky persona posing on red carpets, Saroo hails from a poor background, the middle of three children abandoned by their father, forced to suffer the unknown fate of each of their days. The malnourished class of rural India suffers a great deal; cramped living conditions, little or no money, limited food and water, and just about no rights at all. Director Garth Davis doesn’t hold back, or trivialise these highly prevalent issues in demonstrating the true story of the lost Saroo, a little boy who cannot remember where he is from and how to get back, and the people or system he relies on to help him are unable to do so. Why is that? Because the system is flawed, his village could not be located, nor his mother and family. These are the negatives surrounding India, and they are not sugarcoated for the benefit of the films international audiences. All countries have their problems, and their setbacks, and Davis displays that clearly in this film, but he doesn’t forget to inhibit the wonder of such a nation in its aesthetics.

You can still see the beauty within the simplicity of Rural India and its culture; there is no grandeur in their homes or richness in their clothes, but the people find majesty in what they have, they find enjoyment in leaves and sand rather than material possessions. The artistry of the film shows this kind of man-made, self-sought out wonder, especially with young Saroo becoming mesmerised by a field of butterflies or when he mimics a man eating soup with a spoon he finds while living on the streets. There is a plain truth to the poor/rich divide, and that comes out in the sweet and innocent persona of a child who has practically nothing, loses it in an instant and suddenly has everything, and that truth is that it only takes one person to move past the corruption and extend some help to those in need. This story is a true showcasing of courage, determination and pure love within a time of isolation and turmoil, and the film does justice to it by running the thread of hope deep within themes and imagery we are saddened and haunted by.

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Dev Patel plays the older Saroo who travels along the Google earth images of India, retracing any steps he can remember, to locate his real family, to find the part of himself he has been lost to all these years. Nominated for all the major awards, including an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, Patel gently drives his character to a point of almost no return after audiences see him in an array of emotions. Happy, sad, hopeful, distraught, angry, Saroo encapsulates all feelings, but remains grounded despite the probable reaction of loathing life and everything it has thrown in his lap. Patel brings a sense of realism to the role with his own background. His inability to speak the Hindi language, something the real-life Saroo forgot as he aged, works into his own grasp of the role and the non-Hindi speaking majority of the international audience are able to watch and experience with the character. Nicole Kidman, also critically acclaimed for her work in the film, embraced the role of the adoptive mother with a warm truth as she too has two children by adoption, correlating to her character. The bond lost between Saroo and his real mother, Fatima, was re-built between Kidman and Patel’s characters, a bond that wasn’t shaken or broken over time, nor was it forgotten after his pursuit of Fatima and his pre-lost child life. Lion does not only portray a bond between a person and his past, but also his present, that being the mother/son relationship, founded from the honourable, loving act of international adoption; giving a disadvantaged child a home.

The entirety of Lion felt like an immersive experience, we ran alongside young Saroo as he became lost, we travelled with him to Australia; we experienced everything as he did. By doing this, Davis allowed for Saroo Brierley’s story to remain hidden in the minds of Pawar and Patel as they enacted their roles as young and older Saroo – the audiences were not considered superior to the characters. Brierley’s A Long Way Home revealed itself page by page, just as a reader would experience and understand it, book in hand. We were watching a film, but we were also reading the story, not being told the story – the difference is key.

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The ending is the pinnacle of the story, the moment Saroo had been waiting for, the discovery of his family’s fate since he became lost. The climatic point of the film is truly a beacon of answers at the end of a character journey darkened by enigma, and while I have been praising the film for its theme of hope and mode of inspiration, you must know how it ends by now. Saroo finds his mother; he reunites with the little village he grew up in, his sister, a country he felt disconnected from. The artistry imbued within the scenes filmed in India returns at the end where Saroo envisions his brother, Guddu, like a guardian angel taking him back home, and fulfilling the promise he couldn’t keep when he lost his little brother. The inspiration and hope behind Saroo Brierley’s story melded with the final moment of tragedy tells the audiences that the movies cannot always be a form of positive escapist art, and films are made to relay an important message to the world.

Lion encapsulates the positive and negative sides to the cruel game of life, where the themes and motifs of journey, identity, hope and inspiration can be used to educate the world on the act of saving a soul, no matter how it is done. The Brierley’s saved young Saroo through adoption, older Saroo saved himself through courage using the apparatus of Google Earth, and Guddu saved Saroo through whatever memories Saroo had left of him.

La La Land: A Stunning Film for the Fools who Dream and their Dreams that can become a Reality…

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This romance musical is a nostalgic homage to Hollywood’s golden era where the likes of Gene Kelly and Humphrey Bogart expressed their truest feelings to Debbie Reynolds and Ingrid Bergman through the art of song and dance. Whiplash fame, Damien Chazelle, recreates the glamour of old Hollywood with his modern envisioning of two people falling in love as they pursue their dreams in Tinseltown. The film poses the age-old question almost all dreamers have to face in their lifetime – love or career? Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling play the hopelessly in love couple with dreams and passions that propel them into the films namesake. The ‘La La Land’ that we find ourselves stuck in, where aspiration and ambition is key, but alas is not truly achievable unless you get your head outta the clouds? Well, Chazelle says otherwise.

Stone plays Mia, an on-studio barista who watches actors play out their aspirations day by day while she only experiences rejection and ridicule, and Gosling is Sebastian, the Jazz purist with the dream of opening his own club to keep the momentum alive, but is striking out against the raging 21st century “Jazz” the cool kids are listening to. They are both envisioning the good and bad side to living in the clouds – the romanticism of their Hollywood-esque relationship against the destruction they face if they don’t strive to fulfil their dreams. La La Land is all about making dreams a reality, and along the way reminding all that you cannot live in a fantasy.

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The film opens as most musicals do, a peppy dance number to put a smile on everyone’s face and transport us to the traditional musical world of film we adore. As the film goes on, we have parallels to past musicals, like Mia and Sebastian’s tap number, ‘A Lovely Night’ resembles Shall We Dance’s ‘Lets Call the Whole Thing off’, Sebastian and street lamp as with Gene Kelly in Singin’ in the Rain, the dance against the starry background in the ‘Epilogue’ is reminiscent of Broadway Melody of 1940’s ‘Begin the Beguine and many others. It is Chazelle’s way of paying homage to what The Hollywood Reporter called an “extinct genre” – he put life back into a style of music most people only use, as Mia said, as background or elevator music. La La Land, and Whiplash have both reignited the power of musical styles that had fallen behind the new and contemporary avenues. To even counteract his own cultural message, Chazelle has made a contemporary version of something beloved by many, yet within the film he has written a character hopeful for the old age of Jazz to return and find its place in this progressive world of music. So what are we meant to take from this choice? Traditionalism is the way to go, or scrap the old age and build something fresh and original. You can do both. Just look at how it ends – some dreams are fulfilled, some are not, but that’s just it, a happy ending isn’t inevitable, but it is possible.

Aside from the music of the film, the love story is another attribute taking center stage. Mia and Sebastian fall in love, as one would dream, slowly, softly and beautifully. Their first meeting was the result of arrogance overtaking the magic, but as time went on, and after a spectacular evening spent looking onto the LA skyline, they became drawn to one another, and then magic took over the journey of their characters’ relationship. Beautifully crafted and filmed scenes at the Griffith Observatory and The Lighthouse Café aided in the development of their romance and the insight into their characters as dreamers in the truest form. Chazelle utilised the montage tool cleverly to show their fleeting journeys as these dreamer and lovers – the first was their initial dating, the second was their pursuit of their dreams while head over heels, and the third was the slow and sad unravelling of the bubble they had made for themselves where they have no time for one another or feel the greatest distance yet from their aspirations. And along this journey we the audiences take with them, we hear and remember the gut-wrenchingly beautiful theme song to their love in various tempo and the individually critically acclaimed song ‘City of Stars.’

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That is what the film, and possible theatre production since its commercial and critical success, teaches all the dreamers out there, the road will not be perfect or without struggle. There are potholes for a reason and it’s the truest test of your dream for you to overcome it all the way to fulfilment. Sebastian forces the downcast Mia to remember that, he urges her to not give up and she doesn’t. What happens next will be a massive spoiler on my part, so watch the movie, it is definitely worth it. The ‘magic of the movies’ vibe La La Land presents to its viewers acts as that much-needed escapism from ones daily life, but it also sends the message to those same people that why escape for one day, when you can make whatever dream you have a reality, whether it is in the arts like Mia and Sebastian or something vastly different. A dream is a dream, and only the person dreaming can fulfil it.

Ae Dil Hai Mushkil: A Different Kind of Bollywood Love Story…

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As always, India and honestly the whole world, eagerly await the next from the man who has etched the SRK/Kajol duo into the Bollywood hall of fame. Each of his films has a common thread, love and family, tradition and honour, identity and freedom. K3G brought us the trials and tribulations of Indian families, SOTY brought us the love triangle of India’s college youth and now Ae Dil Hai Mushkil has delved into the depths of a love story usually locked away in a box of the heart, the story of unrequited love. With his talented star cast, tantalizing dialogue and captivating music, Johar steps out of his typical ‘parivaar and pyaar’ aesthetic to deliver a heartfelt and honest portrayal of relationships.

I think it can be clearly understood from the title that this film is not going to be brimming with ‘happily ever afters’, and contrary to popular belief with Bollywood, it really wasn’t. Ae Dil Hai Mushkil translated is “this heart is difficult”, meaning to love and to be in love is a tough feat. This is something everyone knows to be true if they have experienced it and for those who haven’t yet, they still know from all the angry, crying moments they have had with their friends. So audiences went into this viewing experience with the assumption that there won’t be a lavish wedding ceremony at the end with a peppy dance number, or the two lovers of the story won’t run to each other from a far distance to express their undying love. Bollywood hasn’t really been like this for a while. Around the same time as this release, Indian cinema saw the releases of Dear Zindagi; a film about loving yourself and your life, Befikre: the 21st century love story of friends with benefits, and Sultan; a story about the conflict between love and career. So love is a common thread in Bollywood, but of the four films mentioned here alone, each of them are not the typical boy-meets-girl story with a few, yet salvageable complications, and simply because of that Bollywood has come a long way to shed the stereotype attached to its name. Alas that is a different subject for another day.

Johar’s previous works showcase that to love is to be in the most beautiful, yet complicated position in life. He aims to present love as free and individual, something all should accept, understand and embrace, and that these values should be experienced by everyone in their lives. But for his main character, life wasn’t so fair. He sets his story in the modern day, void of parental hovering, cultural traditions and hometown expectations spread over two time frames. First we meet the timid and lonesome present day Ayan Senger, played by Ranbir Kapoor, a famous singer known for the heartbreak of his lyrics, who takes us on his recounting of his muse(s), beginning with ‘the one that got away’ Alizeh, played by Anushka Sharma. Jumping to the past, their story begins in London’s party scene where they have a riotous first meeting consisting of an awkward hook-up where Alizeh criticizes his kissing style. Johar sets Ayan up to always be one step behind Alizeh, whether that is to do with his limp kisses or his lack of emotion in his singing, which she later reveals to him ever so crudely. From that assumption we can already ascertain the ‘mushkilness’ of his heart will always be tethered to that one girl. From that point, their random make-out session becomes a crazily entertaining, yet intimately close friendship. We travel with them as their journey takes them anywhere and everywhere, from discovering their respective partners cheating on them with each other in a stylish porta potty of a London club, to re-enacting classic Bollywood scenes in the hills of Vienna where they had to Google ‘how to tie a sari’ (trying NOT to be desi, yet still ending up too desi for their own good.)

Though the moment, for Ayan, that their friendship became love, was the same moment when Alizeh bumped into her own unrequited love, Ali, played by Fawad Khan. After cursing him for breaking her heart and destroying her esteem, she falls back into his arms by way of his sweet words. Johar twisted the power balance of his duo at this point by eliminating Alizeh’s ability to hold onto her own heart, and by doing so, Ayan’s love fell to the ground in a stinging moment of bitterness and hatred. The girl he so admired had forsaken all her principles for a guy, and in his eyes, the wrong guy. Some would say the story only began at that point where the underlying emotional dysfunction revealed itself and characters broke down to identify themselves as something other than sickly happy by going on a pointless bender. To take a different viewpoint, I enjoyed the manner in which Johar demonstrated Ayan and Alizeh’s toxically confusing relationship with the pretentious double dates, ‘saas-bahu’ mockery, bar-hopping, ‘Baby Doll-ing’, and spontaneous, and very expensive continental gallivanting – it was plastered with Lisa’s ‘vatavaran’ and you have to admit it was highly entertaining. When all of this was pulled from under their feet and they became blinded by unreciprocated emotion, we finally realized we were watching a film so far from our Kuch Kuch Hota Hai mindset. Instead we became embroiled in a story latched onto the deprivation of love as a way of life.

 

By introducing his main characters without family ties, Johar rejects the culture of the extended family – eats together/stays together norm – to ignite western values of independence and riding the rollercoaster that is life. Despite leaving their personal troubles back in India, new ones form in the face of the Ayan’s painstaking, unreciprocated love for Alizeh. Johar created a beautifully wretched cycle of one-sided love, setting the story in motion and thus preparing the audiences for that stumbling moment where Ayan’s love is tragically thrown to the dogs, championed by the incomparable voice of Arijit Singh; the “Chana Mereya” song and scene. From the start to that heart-wrenching point, the film presented a unique friendship getting ahead of itself, dueling with only one heart, breaking and bruising emotions and egos leading to the post-intermission character transformation of a bitter, resentful and alone Ayan Senger.

The second half of the film is where Johar’s intricate characterizations falter, with the introduction of Saba, the walking enigma with a sultry voice and incomprehensible beauty, played by Aishwarya Rai Bachchan. She exudes the mystery one would, sitting alone in an airport lounge with a book of poetry and a stern raise of the brow at an intoxicated heartbroken boy stumbling over. At that moment, you feel her character developing into one of a hidden agenda, or closeted emotions, but Johar quickly destabilizes that possibility. He presents her as a flirtatious seductress after anything but love and by giving Ayan her number; her character is immediately read as the rebound girl with whom Ayan will realize Alizeh is still the one for him. Some months after recuperating himself, Ayan walks into Saba’s life looking for some ego rejuvenation, and she bites, because she too wants the same. And so begins their torrid love affair, starting at a one-night stand in Vienna to very un-Bollywood animalistic ‘jumping each others bones’ scenario, which finally results in an intensely passionate rock love ballad, “Bulleya” confirming her love for him, but his memory of Alizeh. At the risk of sounding cheesy, this heart really is difficult!

The appropriate word that can be used to describe the love relations of these four characters is toxic – not one couple at this point in the film truly loved one another, and not one listened to their heart and did the right thing. Or maybe they did, but to know that and to understand how and why this film ends without a happy ending, you will have to watch. Only Johar himself can reveal the big finish to his epic love stories, my spilling of the beans will not do it justice. But I can say one thing; Ayan finished the re-telling of his one-sided love story with a song…

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them – Magic re-set & revisited…

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As a major Potterhead, I have been anxiously awaiting the next great from J.K Rowling and she did not fail to amaze. Despite alluding to the world in which the great wizard Harry Potter was born, Fantastic Beasts is not a prequel to those films. It stands on its own ground with the wizardry of London travelling across the Atlantic to another metropolis that is New York City. And better yet, its set in 1926, the prohibition era which means for some dazzling Gatsby-esque historical context that addresses, not only a different domain of magic, but into the unknown wonders of the past. This new insight into the wizarding world Rowling so lovingly bestowed upon us mere muggles is all but one strand of the appeal audiences have for this film. We have new magical lingo, fresh character perspectives and a very grown-up tone. So a word of advice to those kids who grew up with the students of Hogwarts, myself included, buckle up, its time to understand the mature shade of witchcraft and wizardry.

There is always the issue of subconscious repetition when you read an authors next novel or watch a directors next film. I went in with this packed in the back of my head hoping to encounter Newt Scamander’s journey with a fresh perspective and honest curiosity. Rowling didn’t disappoint in terms of imagination for a story forever tethered to another magical world. Although the story beats partially fell flat in my eyes as missing the – for lack of a better, more befitting word for Rowling – magic it so deserved. I had the same feeling after watching Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the story is the same but the people different. A man/pseudo-hero arrives, encounters a problem, tries to fix it but finds another, deep-seeded, relevant to the whole world kind of problem which may or may not be resolved and thus paves the way for the second film. So do we bite, or do we shun it, as ‘been there done that?’ I believe it would be the former, as this generation of filmgoer’s just loves a teasing story about the battle against evil, which ends up forging a film series they can commit to. Having said that, the first film in a franchise almost always is labeled as contextual – we need to familiarise ourselves with a new magical setting and characters need to be introduced, but not wholly developed, so we can begin the journey with them, as well as start to form our own perceptions of them. So, is Rowling just toying with our emotions and deliberately keeping us in the dark about the question marks attached to this story? Like they say, you don’t reveal your game plan in one hit, you have to ease your audience in to then make the shot that will leave them wanting more. And in all honesty, I want more…

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Moving on to the way she writes, rather than what, Rowling has a certain knack for creating a character the audience understands and embraces wholeheartedly. And just when we are besotted or repulsed by them, and pine for more, she takes her pen (*coughs* quill) puts it back into the pot and leaves the tale for another day, or year. We meet Newt the magic zoologist, a walking enigma, in all his beast-keeping glory and are delighted by his character right off the bat. He is an awkwardly sweet introvert, who would rather spend his time with animals instead of humans, one being Pickett, a Bowtruckle with whom he has a strong attachment, so much so that giving him away was a tear-jerking moment in the film. (Don’t worry, they were reunited.) His love for the freedom of these creatures and the affection he holds to their companionship is a beautiful and eye-opening lesson of morality in a world, both fictional and real, where they are quickly ceasing to exist. Newt leaves us with a possible revisit to the Big Apple but not without throwing down a few enigmas about his time at Hogwarts, his Lestrange love affair and his future role in the Grindelwald era of dark magic. Is he our new wizarding hero?

Rowling opens the door into Newts heart just a tad with the spark between him and the American witch Porpentina ‘Tina’ Goldstein, a character matching Newt’s moral alignment and heartfelt duties. Although beneath the surface, she is a solemn character forced into the basement level department of the Magical Congress because she simply fought for the marginalised. She is a hero in her own right, it just needs to be recognised, rather than spurned. Along with Newt and Tina, the sweet but short-lived – one aspect of magic we hope loses its vigour – relationship between Queenie Goldstein and No-Mag Jacob Kowalski. Theirs is a budding love story ripped away so cruelly by the Magical Congress that we hope will resurface in the remainder of the franchise. Jacob’s memory of the miraculous adventure he embarked upon with his new wizard and witch buddies had to be retracted in the obliviating rain as Queenie left him with a warm goodbye kiss. The building of character relationships in this film springs the story into action, as no good versus evil story is complete without a group of people bound by the love of friendship and/or companionship. And together this awesome foursome will continue to catapult us into the escapist world of magic and all its journeys and transformations.

The creatures themselves were as captivating and entertaining as the human characters, and rightly so for the title is dedicated to the magnificence and mischief spilling out from Newt’s case. They are the purpose of this film, the title says so, and they assist the journey the characters take for the story to reach its peak, and thus continue to until the franchises end. We start with the inherently naughty Niffler who just cannot stop peeking out the case in search of money, jewels and pretty much anything he can stow away in his body. The list is as long as it is mesmerising; Occamy, Murtlap, Billywig, Thunderbird, Swooping Evil and Graphorn are just some featured in this first installment. Though, I have to say the fantastic beast I swayed towards was the Demiguise, the cute, fuzzy-haired, sloth-eyed, and invisible, seeing eye into the future who was having a little shop in Macy’s where Newt et al arrived to retrieve the Occamy. And without the Erumpent, we would not have been graced with the wonderful thing that was Eddie Redmayne performing a mating dance in the middle of Central Park.

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Now, we know Fantastic Beasts is not a prequel to those films. And neither is it remotely about Harry and his friends, but rather it revolves around a much greater force to be reckoned with. Mr. Newt Scamander, everyone’s favourite magic zoologist, is key to this five-film deal, but as you see in the epic stand-off of the climax, a beloved character and his long-standing feud is to become the primary focal point of this narrative. In most simple phrasing, Scamander presents himself as the subtle helping hand in the background of two great wizards and the contextual uncovering of what is to come in the next few years. Is it the case, or are we going to see much more from Newt in the coming films? Will he be our new hero to save the world from a dark lord, or will he remain the introverted underdog on the sidelines? We will have to wait and see, all we know is that four more films are in the works and we will most certainly be getting answers about the film’s contextual build up, both overt and covert. But how do you say? A young Dumbledore will be gracing us with his presence soon enough…

Piku: An Indie of India

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This is not the usual stuff of Bollywood films. Then again I would not even class it as within the ‘Bollywood’ industry. It is too real. You see blockbuster comedies and action flicks with terrible jokes and theatrical fight scenes, way too much for your eyes to take especially within 3 hours of screen time. Piku took a different turn, a crazy turn for Indian film.

Directed by Shoojit Sircar, it looks at the strained yet loving relationship between a dying father (Amitabh Bachchan) and his daughter (Deepika Padukone) who cares for him, with Irrfan Khan’s go-between character keeping the latter sane. As per old (I cant emphasize it enough) Indian tradition, the daughter should have been married off in her twenties, pure and obedient, but Padukone’s titular character is in her thirties, openly sexually active and argues and orders her father around. She is the feisty strong independent woman of India; an identity all should strive to be in a society still cornering women into a domesticated lifestyle, despite much change. Yes she cares for her father but not because she is a girl, but because she loves him and there is nobody else. Would she leave him in the lurch, to die alone? I would hope not, because then she lacks humanity, and would cinemagoers and film lovers root for a character that is inhumane? Yes she can be mean and destructive in the way she handles her father and everyone around her, pushing away friendship, isolating herself to work in the office AND at home, but does she not represent the life of a young woman with a lot on her plate? If you were a budding architect/full time carer for your sick parent and got a message in the middle of a meeting about your father’s daily bowel flow, would you not become sick of such behaviour? The very incorporation of that scene portrayed her fed up attitude with the crossover of her two lives and the comic lightening of a situation most people will go through themselves in life, whether they are the carer or the ‘caree.’

The film has many examples like this that give it a bittersweet comic element, like the chair (professionally named a commode) her father uses to go ‘potty’ as they call it. Bachchan plays the role brilliantly, any less would be out of character for him. He is a legend after all. (No bias here.) He fits into the role of a bratty old man, sick to the end, who is treated like a small child, fed by his daughter and forbidden from strenuous exercise like sitting down. It is ironic because in real life he is probably the fittest one can be at that age despite his many health scares and operations. He sounds like the typical elderly person who hates doctors and hospitals and refuses to accept he is ill, but in actual fact he calls the doctor over every day, has researched his health extensively and even educates others about what is wrong with him and even themselves. But he does it so they do not have to endure the pangs of old age so drastically as he is. As blunt and irritating his character can be, it comes from a place of love and care. And a sense of want shadows his bratty nature for he merely wants to see the world as he wants to before he bids it goodbye, which he finally gets when he cycled all around his hometown in Kolkata and passed peacefully in his sleep.

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This film is filled with subverted stereotypes and they work well within a society and film industry obsessed with tradition and ritual. Another thing about Piku is its lack of monetary investment, yes in the production sense, but also in the reception of the film. In Bollywood it has been known for the box office to be very important, if not the most, so for an independent/ semi-independent film to come out of the industry with blockbuster actors like Padukone and Bachchan, it’s always a pleasant surprise. Then again when Irrfan Khan is starring in the film, you immediately get the indie, or unbollywood feel. His career choices have moved more towards the unconventional and appreciated, with the likes of The Lunchbox, Qissa and Talvar, all three of which have been screened at prestigious international film festivals, like Cannes and Toronto. However, I still wouldn’t class it as an independent film for the considerable amount of financial backing it probably had from the film’s notoriously ‘rich in resource’ production company MSM Motion Pictures (part of Sony Pictures Networks India) and distributor, Yash Raj Films.

Overall a breath of fresh air from the usual ‘bollywoodness’ and I would place it with the like factor of Imtiaz Ali’s road movie Highway and Bombay Talkies, a compilation of shorts commemorating 100 years of Indian Cinema.