It’s a phase I go through. I have devoured five movies in last as many days. I wrote about ‘Amu’ on Sunday. In this one, I am going to talk about the other four.
I started with ‘Murder 2’ in the neighbourhood multiplex on Friday. It had released on that day and the late night show I went for was packed.
I watched 'Murder' in a Mumbai multiplex many years ago and liked the film. Most people are under the impression the film is plagiarised from the 2002 Adrian Lyne directed Hollywood film ‘Unfaithful.’ Few are aware Unfaithful is also adapted from the 1965 French film ‘The Unfaithful Wife’ directed by Claude Chabrol. So it’s kind of difficult to pinpoint the exact source of reference for the first film in the Vishesh franchise. But that minor quibble aside, my reasons for being fond of the film are many. I like a couple of songs from the movie very much. I thought Mallika Sherawat and Emraan Hashmi did a very good job of playing the clandestine lovers. Even Ashmit Patel was passable as the third angle. It’s a pity that Mallika Sherawat lost out on the director Anurag Basu thanks to her spat with the Bhatts. If she had done a few more films with Basu, she would have had something more to carry with her to the Hollywood casting agents apart from her stupid costumes. Basu had done an excellent job of making the scenes of physical intimacy between the lead players sexy and erotic rather than sleazy.
Murder 2 is sleazy and unimaginably bad. It has no connection with the earlier film unless you factor in the sex scenes in the film. I am deliberately referring to them as sex scenes in the sequel as opposed to scenes of physical intimacy that I used for the source film. In Murder, having the bedroom romps was essential as it is about a neglected housewife embarking on a tortuous extra marital affair with an ex-lover that gives her physical gratification but leaves her with guilt and regret. In the sequel the sex scenes are gratuitous. Worse Hashmi, the only actor retained from the original has zero chemistry with Jacqueline Fernandez, the female lead in the film. Fernandez is very tall and looks like a beautiful transvestite. Hashmi is considerably shorter than her. But since we are all along aware that Fernandez is a woman and not a man dressed up as a woman the film cannot even be clubbed homo erotic. And if you think I am being misogynist, please watch the film. It’s shockingly anti women and what completely depressed me was whenever the serial killer villain who’s castrated himself mouths offensive anti women statements, some men in the audience chuckled.
What’s wrong with the Bhatt clan? There are plenty of scenes to indicate the film has been inspired by ‘Silence of the Lambs.’ But in that one, Jodie Foster played the detective tracking the killer and when she won the Oscar for it, she described her character as a strong feminist hero. Here it is Hashmi who sets out to nab the killer while Fernandez gets sloshed and searches for Hashmi in that inebriated state in order to grovel in front of him and plead that he make a respectable woman out of her. There is a bit towards the end where Hashmi and Fernandez exchange their sad family history that should win an award for the most unintentionally funny scene in the history of Indian cinema.
I dozed off for a bit and when I woke up Fernandez was doing the drunken act and in that confused zone between sleep and being fully awake, I thought for a moment she was Amitabh Bachchan from one of those movies in the 80s when he used to pull off those drag acts with aplomb. Like I said the film is totally depressing and left me with a splitting headache. But from what I understand it is a huge success. We are really a depraved nation.
‘The War Zone,’ that I watched on DVD the next day also depressed me but for entirely different reasons. It is directed by the accomplished British actor Tim Roth who’s been in many of the Quentin Tarantino films including ‘Reservoir Dogs’ and ‘Pulp Fiction.’ The other director who favours Roth as an actor is Woody Allen. What can be a better testimony to Roth’s range as an actor?
The film is based on Alexander Stuart’s novel of the same name who also wrote the screenplay for Roth’s directorial debut. The novel came in for a fair bit of controversy when it was awarded the prestigious Whitbread prize which was later taken away due to the objections of three judges in the panel. It’s easy to understand the objections to the book, based as it is on parental abuse and incest. In the film, there is a graphic scene of a father raping his daughter that was so painful to watch that I fast forwarded the whole thing. The film has stunning performances by two first time actors and there’s the ever reliable Tilda Swinton as the mother. The father, the villain of the piece, is essayed by Ray Winstone.
A number of Indian film critics are going gaga over Prashant Narayanan’s hammy performance in Murder 2. They should watch Winstone in The War Zone to understand what real menace is all about. It’s the kind of film that leaves you sick in the stomach for days on end. Especially relevant today because we have all those shameful stories of daughters accusing their fathers of rape and forcing them into prostitution, tumbling out in Kerala. But the film is unrelentingly depressing and the powerful denouement where the villain is exposed and meets his comeuppance does little to relieve the aftertaste of disgust and anger it leaves you with.
‘A Prophet’ the French film directed by Jacques Audiard, the next one I caught on DVD is also dark but not depressing. It’s about a nineteen year old French young man of African Muslim descent who is imprisoned for six years for attacking a police officer. The young prisoner must learn to survive in the brutal context and when a Corsican gang lord who is also incarcerated in the same prison forces his patronage on the young man after making him murder another Muslim, it paves the way for a complex labyrinthine of revenge and redemption.
Audiard is a genius. Given the violent background of prison life, his greatest achievement is that he manages to give his work a lyrical flavour. Much of the film is about how the Corsican played by Niels Arestrup makes the young recruit (Tahar Rahim) run criminal errands for him on the days Rahim is allowed to go out of the prison after serving half his sentence. There is an extremely poignant scene where the young man gives up an offer of sex on such an outing to walk on the beach and feel the waves. It helps that both Arestrup and Rahim are on top of their form and deliver such nuanced performances that A Prophet is worth watching just for them.
It must have been the stress caused by the Bombay terror attacks last evening. I started laughing even before ‘Dehi Belly’ started. They showed that antiquated Vicco Vajradanti ad that goes ‘Vicco turmeric, nahin cosmetic’ with models who were young in the 80s but are likely to be grandmothers now, dancing to the ditty. That started the chuckles for me. I was imagining how flattering it must be for them that this ad that’s likely to have been shot more than two decades ago is still being shown in cinemas.
I wasn’t disappointed by Delhi Belly. Yes, it did gross me out and the wimp that I am I shut my eyes in all the toilet scenes rather than puke my dinner out. That saved the film for me. It’s not a film that we are meant to take seriously and yet it does make a point about the emancipation of women. It’s unusual for a superstar in waiting to perform cunnilingus on his nagging girlfriend and also for the woman he eventually settles for in the climax, talking about doing girls once in a while. Kunal Roy Kapoor who directed another laugh riot ‘The President is coming’ some years back is excellent and so is the stand up comedian Vir Das. And the feisty Poorna Jaganathan is a treat to watch. Imran Khan tries to match these performers but fails, showing all too clearly what the difference between actors who know their craft and a star banking on family charisma is. And the last song by Aamir Khan was totally unnecessary. Like an uncle trying to fit into a party meant for youngsters. All in all Delhi Belly is good fun and the purists who hated the film can take a walk.
On the way back from the cinema last night, I grew pensive thinking about all those who lost their lives in the terror attacks and their families in Mumbai. Before Arnab Goswami gets into the Pakistan bashing mode on his channel, we may do well to remember it’s far more important to hang the politicians and policemen who continue to fraternise with Dawood Ibrahim.
But it’s useless to bank on a weak Prime Minister and an equally weak Home minister to do anything to facilitate this.