Saturday, 18 April 2015

All Systems Down My Review Court

Director  Chaitanya Tamhane

Starring  Vira Sathidar, Vivek Gomber, Geetanjali Kulkarni, Pradeep Joshi, Usha Bane, Shirish Pawar

Language  Marathi *English Subtitles 

I am not going to build up to it. Court is a film that hit me in my gut. It was not only because it is a debut film of a director, who is all of 27 years old, that belies his age and life experience, and that it has gathered so many award internationally, but because as the film says through a song.. Don’t insult us by calling us artists… Art is just a way of hiding the truth… a bold statement indeed, when people discuss art vs life and the creative liberties that an artist must have. But does the artist become bigger than the truth? This film is a courtroom drama, but so much more than it and aims and presenting truth and nothing but the truth. And yes, it succeeds in great measures.

A film that is so layered, so full of symbolism, and mind you not of the kind which only the director will understand (wink). The characters are so minutely etched, it is a pleasure to know them.

The story, ah, that being the masterstroke, is of a folk singer/activist who is arrested under the charges of abetting the suicide of a gutter cleaner. Why? Because he performed in the locality where the gutter cleaner lived and two days later committed suicide, found in the same gutters he has spent most of his life cleaning. Even though the charge sounds highly ludicrous, the court takes it seriously. After all justice is serious business.

And thus unfolds the tale.. pitching so many worlds together, against each other… yet with each other, as you see the story progress.

Chaitanya Tamhane, the director uses each scene, almost every shot, to say something. He has managed to comment on a lot of things… and unlike some films, has managed to do it successfully.

The biggest achievement of the film for me was that it made me feel I am fighting the case, I was rooting so much for Narayan Kamble, that I wanted to scream out loud at the way our systems run. Stock witnesses to archaic laws, the apathy of the police, the dozing advocates and the Judge who keeps shifting from black to white to gray.

The detailing in the film is such a pleasure. Not showing off, but just being.. true. From the Public prosecutor who discusses olive oil prices in the local train, cooks  dinner every night, and then finds time to go through her case, her routine life is without a spark, barring an occasional lunch at a Maharashtra thali joint, with her husband and two kids. She is the Mumbai Middle class, which works hard and still doesn’t make enough money. You know she has studied hard to be where she is, and with limited exposure, she relies on the tomes of law, reading her arguments verbatim. “But law is law, no” You want to bang your head when she drones on and on, and yet to see her, I mean really “see” her.

The defence lawyer… belonging to a rich Gujarati family, shops in Natures Basket, loves wine, Jazz and hanging out in swanky lounges. Yes, he is modern and privileged. Yet he fights for the have-nots. His refined self is in steep contrast to the drab courts, yet his largesse is what makes him more human and empathetic to his clients.

Within the scope of the story, Tamhane manages to address issues ranging from the caste divide to the lack of safety equipment for people in hazardous professions, where a cockroach is their saviour, to the UP Maharashtra divide, to the trend of outraging against anything and everything by the various preservers of communities. The steep poverty and the helplessness of the people who do not have resources to fight and can be picked up for anything deemed unlawful by the police, who is clueless to say the least.

The film is not from one cut to another, it breathes organically, as life is… you can leave the room, but the room is still brewing, he stays on scenes even when the characters have left and it works beautifully. The actors are par excellence, each one doing such a great job.

Nothing seems to be changing as centuries go by,  we live in sad times, but there is also hope, there is also the need to raise our voice… and yes, as the climax again underlines… Justice meanwhile takes a leisurely nap.

I cried and clapped various times in the film, laughed at the inanities of our justice system but the feeling that was topmost was that of frustration and finally building to one of “I wish I could be of some consequence in this society we live in, be of help, coz this system is dead Jim”

My Verdict 4/5

Monday, 6 April 2015

Of Truth, Calcutta and the Heady drag My Review Detective Byomkesh Bakshy!

Director  Dibakar Banerjee

Starring   Sushant Singh Rajput, Neeraj Kabi, Anand Tiwari, Swastika Mukherjee, Divya Menon,                       Meiyang Chang

*May contain spoilers

Detective Bomkesh Bakshi, a character that has endured for more than 8 decades… Oh and he hated being called a “detective”. So let’s call him the way he likes it, Satyanweshi, the seeker of truth.
Many adaptations have been made and savoured of  Saradindu Bandyopadhyay’s  famous Satyanweshi.  The closest to the mass memory is the one played  famously by Rajit Kapur on Doordarshan. 

Dibakar Banerjee’s Byomkesh Bakshy! (yes, the Ys used twice itself indicate that this is the director’s take on the literary detective ) is set in the early 1940s, a World War II strafed Calcutta, where nothing is what it seems. The turf war between the Chinese drug gangs, the Japanese Army and the British has laid Calcutta wide open.  Danger, deceit and mayhem… this is the world a young Bakshy enters unknowingly.  Approached one day in the college by Ajit Banerjee,  asking for Byomkesh’s help in finding his father Bhuvan Banerjee, a chemical scientist, who has disappeared without a trace two months ago.  A case that seems so simple to Byomkesh that he says in the very first instance that Ajit’s father is dead, his body hidden somewhere! What he doesn’t know that he is going to get embroiled in a mystery so warped, it will be tough to get out alive.

But seek the truth he must, so he finds lodging in a Men’s Only guest house , run by Dr. Anukul Guha, who treats patients for free.  From here the search begins, that leads him through twists and turns, to mysterious yet alluring creatures like the Mata Hariesque Anguri Devi, the strong willed Satyawati and Deputy Commissioner Wilkie, committed to busting the drug scene in Calcutta.

As my current favourite police Detective on TV Blackstrom would say, I am Dibakar, I want to make a larger than life film on the favourite literary detective, what would I do to make it big, make it different, make it real, yet do it in my own unique style, give it the noir hues, create a world that is real in detailing yet magnificently cinematic at the same time.

Well, he manages to do all that and more.  From the first adrenaline pumped scene to the last frame, each scene has been treated like a stand-alone tableau.  The Calcutta that has been painstakingly re-created seems so real that you feel you could step inside and board the tram to Bada Bazaar.  The camerawork is one of the main strengths of the film, by Nikos Andritsakis, who has teamed with Dibakar in LSD and Shanghai.  His camerawork makes simple movements like a pan deliver sheer beauty. He captures perfect frames, at times slow and languorous, at times manic.  Always giving something striking.  As a motif, shadows play a large role in crucial sequences.

The case itself is the first case in the published series,  titled “Satyanweshi”. This was the birth of the detective. But the character of Dibakar’s Bakshy is different from the Bomkesh we all knew in the past. He is young, impulsive, edgy. His razor sharp brain doesn’t miss much, and he while finding the truth also finds time to plant a long kiss on the femme fatale’s scarlet lips.

Now to come to the casting. It was unique and risky to say the least. Will Sushant Singh Rajput even come close to the genius and gravitas of Rajit Kapur was my question. But he doesn’t have to. Dibakar has created Byomkesh which lets Sushant breath in his own skin. The first thing to go was the requirement of a Bengali accent. Dibakar clearly knew it was a risk worth taking.  Sushant has largely succeeded in his effort to play the legendary detective.  Neeraj kabi, again a brilliant actor plays the deceptive  Dr. Anukul with great relish, but in the last few sequences, he ends up messing up… larger than life villain yes, but the hamming came as a shock.  Swastika Mukherjee as Anguri Devi  for me didn’t work initially, but yes.. she grew on me… smoky eyes and pouty lips.  Satyawati played by Divya Menon was believable, fit in perfectly.  Anand Tiwari is brilliant as Ajit Banerjee. Really nuanced performance. Meiyang Chang plays  Kanai  well.

The music of the film is grungy new-age rock. It is used well in most places, and is another spin which propels the director’s vision of the film further.

Dibakar is one of the most gifted directors of our times. He has evolved and broadened his vision, challenged his own limits with every film… DBB is a labour of love and the man knows what he is doing. As he had said in many pre-release interviews,  his Byomkesh will be hated by Puritans, but I do hope they would be able to see beyond the obvious and enjoy the emergence of DBB as possibly a film franchise! 

The  film is not without its flaws. The simple original story has been changed and tweaked, obviously for  the requirement of a full length feature, but it gets laden with just way too many plots and red herrings. The Chinese gang, the Japanese Army, the attack on Calcutta… it becomes a bit of a mish mash at some point.  And then the climax sees a long sequence of  Byomkesh explaining each and everything. The film doesn’t end there… though visually brilliant the last few minutes of the film look like a part of some other movie,  they are so over the top. But as a pay-off it does leave with the promise of a sequel.

But the film has so much going for it, it takes you through such brilliant moments, the detailing that is god level, you let go of the minor flaws and applaud.

My Verdict  3/5