Monday, January 4, 2016

Filmi year 2015.

This year was one in a long while where I actually failed to get a true sense of the film industry and its trends. Usually even as I miss out on most films and only catch the major releases there is an understanding of where things might be headed in the coming year. This time I struggle to take the pulse.

But who cares, right? I watched some films, now let's talk about them!

Favourite Film of The Year: Piku

This is a tough one, because I fear it may still be lurking among the films I've yet to see from 2015. There is so much I just have not yet gotten to, from the bizarre Shankar flick I to the Randeep Hooda (still! fave!) starrer Main aur Charles.

But as it stands now I think my favourite is Piku, the lively little road trip drama about a fantastic woman and her eccentric father. All performances simply impressed and while not a film I will endlessly rewatch it was nothing if not enjoyable.

Meh of the Year: Shamitabh

There were a lot of disappointments this year, as it seemed like the more hyped up I was for an upcoming the less it delivered the goods. But I think I was most apathetic towards the R. Balki directed Shamitabh, which was (very) partially shot in my beautiful home city of Helsinki. The film started off with promise but seemed to continue as an unbearable slog towards an unknown and quite uninteresting ending. It's a story of stardom, rise and fall, friendship, love, and all of these themes that just don't quite come together. The gimmick surrounding the plot was probably based completely in modern science but I didn't really fully buy into it anyway. Dhanush and Amitabh both do fine, but it just doesn't become as moving a film as it desperately wants to be.

The only bright spot of the film is the new heroine, Akshara Haasan, who was an absolute delight. Which brings us to...

Favourite Maybe Sort of Trend: The Year of The Heroine

Bollywood presses will always highlight supposed arguments and bitchiness between successful women, and this year was no exception, but what I also kept noticing in the press were news items about top actresses refusing roles because they weren't substantial enough, despite them being opposite a very successful male lead. It seemed to be pointing towards a trend, where heroines themselves are such guaranteed box office draws that it matters to them what their own role is, and they get a pick of the best, so they also know their worth and demand more, knowing their own box office power. Actresses like Deepika Padukone and Kangana Raut are leveraging their success for more substantial roles and this is fantastic for everybody.

I may be accused of over-optimism here, and I'm sure things will be slow to change, but it is a very positive change, and I look forward to seeing how the industry develops in this regard.

Best Cathartic Revenge Tale: NH10

Another favourite from this year that I'm unlikely to rewatch, but I still have to give a shoutout to this film for an excellent mood, great leading performances and sense of milieu.

What a Year, If Not For the Movies: Varun Dhawan

On paper, Varun Dhawan was set to blow me away in 2015, what with the ABCD sequel and Sriram Raghavan's Badlapur. Sadly both films ended up being on the films I enjoyed the least, Badlapur for its pointless, sickening violence that rendered a character arc uninteresting to me, and ABCD2 for the sheer hackiness of the script, which was more stupid that it had earned the right to be with the lovely dance numbers. Varun was not bad at all in either film but the fact I disliked both lead to this being a rather underwhelming year for a guy who I still like a lot and hope to see in films I like better next year. 

The Embarrassingly Long List of Films I Will Probably Watch: Shaandaar, I, Main aur Charles, Tanu Weds Manu Returns, Dum Laga ke Haisha, Bajirao Mastani (maybe?).

You can keep your old man Khan movies, from Phantom to PRDP to Dilwale, I'm sorry to say. 

Questions I Have for 2016

Will any of the newer heroes step up to the plate and become a must-see favourite of mine? Do I need to continue to tamper expectations so as to not be as disappointed as I was in many films this year? Is Shahrukh Khan headed for an interesting turn with his two new movies or will it be same old same old? Will somebody bloody put out Tamil movies with English subtitles? And finally, looking at the 2016 line-up, are biopics going to become as omnipresent in Bollywood as superhero/comic book films are in Hollywood these days?

And One Little Promise

Gosh, I love Indian films so much and I have such an annoying habit of abandoning them and this blog every now and then. I should be able to manage one post a month and at least one film a month (new, old, Hindi, Tamil, whatever it may be), even if it's a shorter review. I may never get to the days of 100 posts per year but 12 should be manageable. 

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Baahubali: The Beginning.

At times a worthwhile talking point precedes the reputation of a film so much that while it doesn't quite color my viewing, it does hamper me with preconceptions. This was the case with Baahubali, the first part of the big budget Tamil/Telugu two-parter fantasy action film, and its alleged sexism. Yet, there are a lot of other facets that deserve discussing, too. In a year where I barely watched Indian films (and also neglected this poor blog of mine) it makes sense to begin the new year by breaking down the biggest blockbuster of the previous year.

Shiva (Prabhas) grows up below a magnificent waterfall, above which he knows there is a land he must get to, even as his mother forbids him not to climb it. But climb he does, to discover the warrior Ananthika (Tamannah) who he has been besotted with ever since he found her mask on the bottom of the waterfall. Ananthika's mission in life is to free the queen Devaseva (Anushka Shetty) from the clutches of the evil king Ballavadeva (Rana Daggubati), and Shiva joins her in this mission, unaware it is all his destiny.

In terms of the good, the look of the film is spectacular. The bombastic Southie masala style has always fit the fantasy-history stories, and it does here as well. The story never stops moving, and is so vast it can't be contained in this single film. I absolutely loved Rana Daggubati's horrendous villain and thought all female leads did fantastic. Prabhas is an actor I've never quite become a fan of, but he continues to be just fine in my books.

I liked how well incorporated the visual effects were, though not flawless, particularly in the massive crowd sequences. These scenes owe a lot both in terms of technology and inspiration to the scenes in Jackson's Return of The King, and while the inspiration is cringeworthy, it feels okay to place such a scene in a new, Indian fantasy concept. The racism in depicting the enemy as human but distinctly dark-skinned savages who seem to speak a language aping an African language is so offputting it turns comical.

Then there is the sexism, which has inspired criticism better written than mine, as well as counter-criticisms. It is gross and objectionable but it is also just so tired. The reduction of Tamannah's Ananthika from a woman with a mission, a skillset and if not a fully fleshed out characterisation then at the very least potential for one, into just a pretty young thing would be annoying in and of itself but it goes further. This change is brought on by the hero, sneakily, because his infatuation with her looks renders all other facets of her unimportant.

I suppose there are more forgiving interpretations of this that one could conjure up, but the film is pretty content in this laziness. It's strange how I've never been that annoyed with the overblown masculinity of Southie heroes, or even the casual sidelining of the heroines that comes with it. It is only these extreme cases that truly get under my skin.

The next installment in the Bahubali series promises more backstory on Anushka Shetty's character, which I am cautiously optimistic about because she is among my favorites in the Southern industries. Naturally the sequel could be as bad as the first film in the exact same ways, but I'm hopeful. As it stands, Bahubali: The Beginning is a decent spectacle elevated by its visuals and success, but not the story or its characters.