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|See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 21.Jun.19
Shadows @ LIFF
10th London Indian Film Festival
20-29.June.19, followed by UK tour | Page 1 of 2
Bulbul Can Sing
Review by Rich Cline |
dir-scr-prd Rima Das
with Arnali Das, Manoranjan Das, Bonita Thakuriya, Pakija Begum, Ashwini Das, Ramani Das, Gunjan Das, Deepjyoti Kalita, Lakshiya Sarma, Dheeraj Kumar, Narzi Choudhury, Minu Das
release Ind Oct.18 mff,
US Apr.19 ciff, UK Jun.19 liff
TORONTO FILM FEST
BERLIN FILM FEST
LONDON INDIAN FILM FEST
Every moment in this Indian drama feels authentic, shot and acted in a way that's strikingly offhanded. Filmmaker Rima Das sets the story in her home village in the state of Assam, throwing her three teen protagonists into a situation that's easy for any viewer to identify with. It's about clashing with traditions and struggling to find a path that allows them to grow up and become themselves.
At age 15, Bulbul (Arnali Das) and her best pals Bonny and Sumu (Thakuriya and Manoranjan Das) are trying to work out who they are, straining against the expectations of their village. Bulbul's name means nightingale, as her father wanted her to become a singer. She and Bonny both have boys who are interested in them, while Sumu is mercilessly bullied for not being manly enough. Soon the entire community is discussing Bulbul's and Bonny's transgressive behaviour with their boyfriends, demanding punishment.
Shot in a warm and earthy style, the film has a documentary feel to it that makes the more private moments feel almost voyeuristic. Scenes of this trio playing in trees are visceral and enticing, as is revelling with other kids as they set off fireworks. Indeed, the focus is more on people than narrative, which makes the film quietly drift along without much momentum. But the gurgling conflict within the characters is growing all the time, as they are constricted by harshly contradictory morality that encourages couples to pair off at an early age.
The three leads casually create a lifetime of chemistry in the way they both tease and care deeply for each other. Even if their personalities are somewhat muted, their playful moments are infectious, which adds impact to the dramatic scenes. They seamlessly play the startling contrast between these friends' joyful play times and the darkly intense conflict. Wondering why everyone is so relentlessly cruel to him, Sumu asks, "Am I the only person like this?"
There's a clear message about the dangers of morality enforced by the majority, which makes many segments of society frighteningly vulnerable to abuse. A particularly violent sequence is horrifying even if it is somewhat under-defined, vividly depicting how the disapproving chattering classes can spur each other to inflict all kinds of brutality, which will only escalate unless someone speaks up for the victim. This is a remarkably personal and provocative drama that offers a glimpse of a rarely depicted culture, and it has a lot to say to everyone else as well.
Review by Rich Cline |
dir-scr Ritesh Batra
prd Neil Kopp, Vincent Savino, Anish Savjani, Ritesh Batra, Michael Weber
with Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Sanya Malhotra, Farrukh Jaffar, Geetanjali Kulkarni, Jim Sarbh, Saharsh Kumar Shukla, Akash Sinha, Shreedhar Dubey, Lubna Salim, Sachin Khedekar, Vijay Raaz, Virendra Saxena
release Ind 15.Mar.19,
US 17.May.19, UK 2.Aug.19
SUNDANCE FILM FEST
LONDON INDIAN FILM FEST
There's a gently charming tone to this comical romance that catches the imagination. From India, the film plays around with cinematic traditions, supplying a clever little twist to the rom-com formula. It's also sometimes painfully understated, letting characters speak through glances or skipping around important plot points entirely. In other words, writer-director Ritesh Batra just wants the audience to sit back and take the journey.
In Mumbai, Rafi (Siddiqui) works as a photographer snapping tourists at the Gateway. When he takes a photo of Miloni (Malhotra), she gets away without paying, but something about her strikes a nerve. So when his grandmother Dadi (Jaffar) complains once again that he's unmarried, he sends her Miloni's picture and tells her she's his girlfriend. When Dadi wants to meet her, Rafi manages to track her down and come along for lunch. And they gradually become friends over the coming days.
A rural villager in his 40s, Rafi plans to pay off his father's debts before finding a wife. By contrast, the 20-something Miloni is a middle-class city girl whose parents are lining up eligible men while she finishes her accountancy degree. Both are restless: Rafi wants to get out of the crowded hostel where his friends live on top of each other, while Miloni dreams of escaping the rat race. Batra simply observes them as they come together awkwardly, finding common ground in rare but lively conversations.
Siddiqui and Malhotra are superb as people who are mismatched on several levels, but still notice each other. Their pairing might be far-fetched, but that's the point. And both actors add weight to the internal journeys, so this is much more about their individual experience than a romance. Indeed, the love story is so underplayed that it's almost not on-screen at all, aside from a few telling moments. Meanwhile, Jaffar steals the film with a sassy, witty performance as a formidable matriarch. And Kulkarni is also memorable as the maid Miloni has never quite noticed until now.
These kinds of class-conscious touches elevate the film into something remarkable. Batra sets these scenes beautifully, with sharply telling camerawork and understated acting that hones in on thoughts and feelings rather than plot points. Indeed, the details of the story seem almost irrelevant, simply because the trajectory of these characters is so well-known from other movies. Batra is poking fun at that as well, cleverly giving the audience exactly the ending we want.
Review by Rich Cline | MUST SEE
dir-scr Arjun Dutta
prd Tarun Das
with Arpita Chatterjee, Anubhav Kanjilal, Adil Hussain, Anirban Ghosh, Samontak Dyuti Maitra, Aditya Roychowdhury, Kheya Chattopadhyay, Pinky Banerjee, Lily Chakraborty, Debjani Chatterjee, Shyam Sarkar, Lokkhi Da
release Ind Dec.18 teff,
UK Jun.19 liff
LONDON INDIAN FILM FEST
Sensitive and observant, this Bengal drama recounts a complex relationship between a mother and son. It's beautifully shot, with subtle performances from the cast that quietly bring out much deeper themes without ever pushing them. First-time feature filmmaker Arjun Dutta has a remarkable ability to cut through the constraints of society in a way that's powerfully resonant, reminding us that truth is the only way forward.
It's been five years since his father died, and Indra (Kanjilal) needs to patch up his relationship with his mother Sathi (Arpita Chatterjee). At the urging of his fiancee Aditi (Chattopadhyay), he heads home to Kolkata to see her, sparking memories of life as a boy (played by Maitra and Roychowdhury) bantering with his father Kaushik (Ghosh) and being told off by his mother for playing girls' games. Indra also visits his grandmother (Chakraborty), who still thinks he's a 7-year-old badly beaten by his mother. Indeed, Indra's memories are a mixture of joy and pain.
Amid the story's central themes of love and regret is a strong sense of how the past shapes our identity. Before Dutta explains the story's secrets, he builds a terrific sense of underlying tension, hinting at details about Sathi, Kaushik and his single friend Rudra (Hussain), and a lost relationship with an aunt (Debjani Chatterjee). Flickering flashbacks offer hints into the complexities of the situation, and it becomes increasingly clear why Indra and his mother are so reluctant to revisit their past.
Performances are understated, matching the film's tone and largely relying on quiet glances. Kanjilal is a likeable central figure, clearly troubled by the issues Indra is raising with his mother, struggling with the feelings his memories are stirring. By contrast, Chatterjee is much more prickly and contradictory, struggling against her inner anger in the way she deals with both her husband and son. Her makeup over two decades is far too subtle, which makes her complaints about the ravages of age seem a little comical.
The story is beautifully fleshed out with lively side characters like Rudra, Aditi and the family maid (Banerjee), each of whom has a nice internal life of his or her own. That it takes Dutta's screenplay rather a long time to get to the point might feel somewhat melodramatic to Western audiences, who will have figured out the secret very early on but have probably never explored the theme from this perspective. And the way the characters react gives the film an unexpectedly potent kick of hopefulness.
See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL
© 2019 by Rich Cline, Shadows
on the Wall
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