Dangal (2016)

Most Aamir Khan movies have one thing in common; his own character is a somewhat stoic, heroic and most importantly, a benevolent man who more or less does the morally right thing most of the time and this becomes the godliness in his being. This syndrome of certain male actors as being cast the supreme ‘hero’ of the film is not limited to Aamir Khan alone but seeps in in movies by Shahrukh Khan, Salman Khan, and Akshay Kumar. Movies that come to mind where there are elements of such a phenomenon taking place is Airlift, Taare Zameen Par, Chak De India, 3 idiots, Dabangg, Fan, PK, and Talaash. Dangal was also a movie like that.

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The authenticity of the movie has to be appreciated at the onset itself. The village in Haryana, the language, the life of the Phogats, and the reactions of the villagers when Daya fails to give birth to a son, all set up the film quite well. I especially loved the performance by the two child actors who played Gita and Babita (Zaira Wasim and Suhani Bhatnagar respectively) which made the movie a very enjoyable experience. The music was easy on the ears, complementing the movie quite well.

After Chak De India, this seemed like the next easily digestible movie about gender (after the failure that had been Mary Kom), and it made me excited to be standing in solidarity with women who make it through the patriarchal world of sports. All through the movie, I was thinking about how much courage, perseverance and hard work would it have taken both Gita and Babita Phogat to make it into wrestling, a sport that has more connotations about gender than most other games. Unlike the movie MS Dhoni, this movie was even about the sport; with many wrestling matches being shown almost in its entirety. The moves, the techniques, and the way to play the sport was explicitly explained, which made a person averse to sports (like me) enjoy it quite a bit.

As a feminist, the first half of the film kept my adrenaline high. It was wonderful to see a woman wrestle her way to the top steadily, and I kept rooting for her during her matches against the men of the dangal. However, the fact was that the main character of the movie was definitely Mahavir Phogat, and not Gita or Babita Phogat. They were important characters, definitely, but they were secondary. We see the world through Mahavir’s eyes; we start with his story, his dreams, his aspirations, and his insistence on having his daughters achieve his dream of getting a medal for the country. When Gita is supposed to enter the dangal as a participant, the confrontation about her gender is performed by Mahavir himself. The most that the women are shown to face in terms of what they are choosing to do, is the rampant bullying at school, which they are not able to overcome anyway. It is Mahavir who takes the charge on defying gender roles; by FORCING his daughters to wrestle when they clearly have no interest in it, and maybe not just because they are women. We feel the sadness in the music and the overall mood of the film when Gita leaves the training of his father, and goes to the NSA. It is not an upbeat, cheery moment; but the withdrawal of a father’s influence from his daughter’s life.  It is Mahavir, a looming patriarch, leading the charge on changing how women are perceived in the society. There is nothing inherently wrong with this either; in a patriarchal society, it is important for the dominant gender to take charge to make life better for the rest of the society, and that is exactly what happens in the film. The bigger dream, however, was to win a gold medal for India, and that sense of nationalism is heavier during the latter part of the film (especially with the National Anthem in the middle of the film).

Although, in a way, the film takes a moral high-ground when Gita’s friend tells her that at least their father was treating them as his children, and not marrying them off as soon as they turned 14. It is not like there are only two options a father has when it comes to daughters; either marry them off at 14, or force them to undergo extremely rigorous training to become national wrestlers.

I would also like to draw attention to the double-standards of society in making fun of boys being beat up. When Gita and Babita beat up the two boys for calling them names, it is a comedic moment. When their mother chides them because they got beat up by two girls, most people in the audience laughed. There are several jokes about men not being ‘manly’ enough, which evoked several cringes from me during the movie. The upliftment of women does not necessarily have to bring insults and accusations of ‘femininity’ towards men; that way, there is no battle being won.

Personally, however, I would have loved to see a more focussed picture of what it was like to be Gita Phogat. What was she feeling when she had to step into a dangal for the first time, wrestle with men, being gawked at by men? Was she as confident as she looked in those scenes? This is a dangal where no woman has ever set foot in before. The first woman at a place like that must have something unique to share, an experience that I would have loved to see on screen. If nothing else, it has evoked in me a sense of curiosity about Phogat herself, and her struggles to become a female wrestler, coming from a small village in Haryana. Phogat herself admitted that 99% of the film is truly inspired from her own life and very accurate. However, glimpses into the minds of the women was more expressively done in Chak De India where you see a player’s tiff with her partner, with her parents, her in-laws and society. Maybe it just wasn’t possible with a film like Dangal, but at the end of the film, I was left asking for more.

The pressure that the girls faced in terms of how forceful their father was in training them was only natural. Any sport would require a lot of practice, even when the player themselves was not prepared for it. That is why sportspersons have coaches, to push them harder and to bring them to their full potential. I suppose that would have been the case regardless of the gender of the children of Mahavir Phogat. He is just as tough with Gita and Babita’s cousin, the narrator of the story, if not less, and in that way, Mahavir truly brings his own daughters at an equal standing.

Overall, Dangal is definitely a film that was worth the wait. It is a heart-warming story of how a man and his daughters, defy all expectations of society and set out to do what no one has hoped for (which the commentator during the matches mentions several times, quite rudely, if you ask me). Is it a better movie than Chak De India, a movie that set the standard quite high for all sports and gender related movies? Definitely not.

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My Favourite Horror Films

Horror is a genre that I think is difficult to be likable. It purposely puts the idea of supernatural occurrences or danger in the viewer’s mind, which can be more uncomfortable than what viewers are used to. However, it is the one of the most adrenaline-filled genre, disclosing the worst of human behaviour and a possibility of something that the human species still cannot understand. It doesn’t matter whether one believes in the supernatural or not, but to fully enjoy a horror film, I think, it needs to be watched with an open mind and a spirit such that one would want to be scared. A horror film cannot be watched with a group of friends where a few are more than eager to prove that nothing scares them; it needs to be watched with as few numbers as possible and with the lights turned off (unless you are alone, in which case, all the rooms of your entire house need to be lit up during or after the movie). My definition of a horror film, in fact, is very loose. I would consider a chilling science fiction movie also a horror film because it evokes emotions in us which we expect a horror movie to evoke. Here is a list of my favourite horror films, not in any particular order.

Pan’s Labyrinth

This movie cannot be directly characterised as horror. It is, instead, a dark fantasy war film which will definitely scare you with its imaginative characters and enthralling storyline. The film is pretty much from the perspective of young Ofelia, who has come to live with her stepfather along with her pregnant and ill mother. Ofelia’s imagination, or the reality she belongs to, is wild and unpredictable, putting her in the path of danger many times. She encounters monstrous creatures in the process of acquiring immortality, which was predicted by a fairy tale.

Pan's Labyrinth

This is one of favourite fantasy films, especially so because it does not pander to a childish audience in terms of horror. Even though the protagonist is a little girl, Guillermo del Toro, the Spanish director and writer, has not stopped from throwing violent and disturbing images her way, or the audience’s way. It isn’t a sweet and coy film because a child is involved, and it captures the sentiment of war (in which it is set) metaphorically, and yet, very naturally. I have only seen one other of his movies, Crimson Peak. While also a good movie with an enticing story, that movie falls flat when it comes to the horror parts, which seem to be too reliant on special effects, making it almost comedic. Guillermo del Toro has also been involved in the making of Mama which shares more of its characteristics with Crimson Peak in which it also relies heavily on special effects, instead of the subtle but horrifying monsters in Pan’s Labyrinth.

The Loved Ones

This film, in particular, relies on gory dread instead of subtle supernatural events. It also doesn’t have an active supernatural element in it. I would not recommend it to someone who is wary of bloodshed in films, because this movie has many moments which will make you more than just cringe and clutch your own body parts in fear. The characters are uncomplicated and includes a dysfunctional family where a spoilt daughter is obsessed with a boy from her school. Her father enables her psychotic behaviour until Brent is on the brink of death. The events occur in a span of a few days, and the story moves forward rapidly, quickly turning into a gorish nightmare that one wouldn’t even dream on their worst enemy. The best kind of horror films are those without a supernatural element; movies which show that humanity is capable of more terror than ghosts are, especially when put under the right circumstances. The film just increasingly becomes cruel and awful, until a major reveal almost at the end of the film.

Coherence

Coherence is a science fiction thriller that released in 2013, which begins with a group of friends having dinner at one of their homes. I am a huge fan of the shaky camera technique in scary movies, as it makes the story of film seem real and absorbing for the viewer. Blair Witch Project was one of the first films I saw which used this technique, and I am a big fan of the movie, considering the fact that similar storylines were adopted by the Paranormal Activity franchise, and ruined the technique and the idea for me. The entire notion of a shaky camera is to ensure that none of the the major supernatural or scary events are captured on it too obviously, keeping the element of surprise and mystery alive, something which Paranormal Activity goes overboard with.

This film, however, doesn’t.

There isn’t much I can write about the story here without giving away the key elements of the story which are best enjoyed as the film progresses, but the movie does not involve a lot of cheap scares that has become a trope in horror films. If a movie has to make sudden movements in order to scare its viewers, in my opinion, the dread of the movie is kept on trembling grounds.

It follows

The concept and the supernatural entity in the film is the best part about it. The entity is out to kill the protagonist Jaime, since she had a sexual encounter with a person she had been on a date with. Only she could see this entity, and it kept following her with the intention to kill her. The entity is kept mysterious and elusive (like Death in the Final Destination franchise, without the overly dramatic descriptions about it), and we know only what the characters know about it, which is that it is like an infection that you cannot get rid of, and need to pass to be able to get away from its view, and even then, it is only a delay. The entity takes on some abhorrent forms which are definitely terrifying and add to the awfulness of the entity.

However, the story does not dwindle into a cheesy explanation about what this entity is. In my opinion, the best horror films are those that leave enough out to make you wonder what it was that haunted the characters so deceptively. This is also the case with Blair Witch Project (which is one of my favourite films also, considering the fact that it was one of the first films to use the shaky camera technique).

The Others

The lesser you know about the film, the more of a surprise it will be. This movie is unlike the others films that Nicole Kidman has starred in, and it was lovely seeing her in the role of an overprotective and paranoid mother, who will go any lengths to protect her children, especially since her husband never came from war. There is a wonderful twist ending to the movie which you might not see coming, which is why I would recommend watching this movie without reading up about it or even checking it out on IMDb.

Session 9

The Stanford Prison Experiment is a great example of what humans are capable of inflicting upon each other when put under pressure. Session 9 explores this concept under the backdrop of a scary shutdown mental hospital where a group of men arrive for a process of asbestos removal. Each of the men have some evils plaguing them – lack of sleep, heartbreak, and even drugs. In an atmosphere that is strangely eerie (not surprisingly), one of them finds tapes that were stored at the mental hospital regarding a girl with dissociative personality disorder. Clearly, that should be enough to catch your attention. The men spiral out of control, getting paranoid about each other quicker than you can say ‘paranoid’, and even without a possible supernatural force, the movie carries the horror very well.


My definition of a good horror film is one without cheap scares, since I think that it is fairly easy to scare someone when someone on screen appears suddenly and without notice. This is the reason why The Conjuring and The Conjuring 2 would not make my list of the best horror films I’ve seen. What also bothers me about these films is the heavy reliance on religion to solve the issue at hand. However, the films listed above barely rely on cliches in filmmaking and in story-telling, which is why they are few of the best horror films I have seen.

 

Kajarya (2013)

I first saw the trailer for this movie in a little television between elevators in my apartment building. It was barely playing any sound, but the scenes looked energetic enough for me to be interested. The trailer was dramatic and loud, and a little too preachy for my taste. The subtitle of the movie is “Let the truth prevail”. It was still interesting because it was obvious the theme was relevant to our country, and because of the fact that its cast had Sumeet Vyas (Mikesh from Permanent Roommates). I wanted to see what kind of an actor he was outside of his comedic scenes. The trailer was definitely misleading.

Kajarya

The movie turned out to be quite calm. It is characterised by its documentary-drama like filming technique, which makes it even more powerful because I didn’t know which parts not to believe. The move talks about a sensitive issue, one that our country has struggled with for a long time – female infanticide. Hence, it is a given that the film will be serious and trying very hard to get a point across.

Kajarya was bold with this message, showing the contrast between the journalist Meera and a woman believed to be possessed by Kali, Kajarya. Meera is shown throughout the movie as a multi-dimensional character, with a persistent belief in justice, and yet she reacts with weakness when the justice is questioned. Kajarya, on the other hand, is dealing with harsher chemicals. Her transformation from a person hooked to opium, to someone who is behind bars but drug-free, is intense to notice. Both actresses have done a fine job of portraying their own characters well, but Ridhima Sud as Kajarya herself was extremely convincing. Her story in the film is riveting, and extremely sad.

The story keeps us in the city of Delhi, and also takes us to a remote village in Haryana where the villages participate in a cruel practice with a cosmological belief. The scenes with the villagers, and not the actors, were a few of the best scenes in the film. One that I especially liked was when Meera goes to the women of the village near their water pump, and the women refuse to trust her again. We also see Meera dealing with her life in Delhi – the parties, her boyfriend (played by Sumeet Vyas) and his family, and his job as a junior reporter where she does not believe she is taken seriously enough.

The cruelty associated with female infanticide is generally not a major point of concern for most who hear about it because it has been talked about so often. However, Kajarya does so in an manner that will give you goosebumps. It is difficult to judge which parts of it were accurate and which were not, because some were so shocking, it was difficult to digest. It is still true that 3 millions girls go ‘missing’ in our country. However, some scenes in the film are too dramatic and not vocal enough about the theme for it to have too much lasting impact.

The music of the film has been composed by Richard Horowitz who is an Academy Award nominee. There is a decent cover of “Mohabbat ki jhoothi kahani” in the film which made me hear the song in a very similar light to the original in Mughal-e-Azam. It is suitably placed in the film, and while there is not much else music, this song particular is enough in the narrative as it was being told.

There was some amount of antagonisation of men in the film, and it is difficult for me to tell whether it was an objective narration or a subjective transformation of the truth in order to tell a story. Kajarya’s fate was certain, however, even in that kind of fate, she seems cleaner, purer and dignified in spite of the fact that she did commit the crimes, someone who is too idealistic a character in comparison to a real human being. This is more so done with female characters. While male characters in films are glorified to the point of unrealism, women’s characters are made extremely likable and ideal, as both the genders are perceived as. On the other hand, the men were made to be the villains, even Meera’s boyfriend who is played by Sumeet Vyas. It feels like his character is so antagonised that you are left wondering why he was her boyfriend in the first place; there are no progressions in the movie that seem to denote anything about their relationship other than the fact that he is not a likable character. Meera, on the other hand, is redeemed again and again with some quality that she is not otherwise seen to possess. Whether this is character progress, or a mistake made due to not enough work going into the storyline, is for you to decide.

Certain scenes in the film were too dramatic and sensational, especially some parts that were shot in the village. It becomes difficult to take a documentary-drama seriously when parts of it are weak and unrealistic, especially when it pertains to a serious issue like female infanticide, something that has been discussed in a variety of different ways.

For it’s depiction of a very real issue in our country, Kajarya is a helpful and poignant commentary. However, in terms of filmmaking and in-depth characterisation, it falters slightly, and in spite of this, the movie is definitely worth one watch.

 

The Lobster (2015)

The Lobster, released in 2015, marked the debut of the Greek filmmaker – Yorgos Lanthimos into English films; he directed, co-wrote and co-produced it. This absurd comedy is dystopian and could be characterised by its continuous lack of emotions portrayed in the film. It is the description of a world where being single is a criminal act – and people are sent to a hotel where they are supposed to find another mate in 45 days, or they would be turned into an animal of their choice. The protagonist David (Colin Farrell) has been left by his wife for another man, and is hence escorted to the hotel to find a suitable partner for himself. He is an aging man, with average looks, and in that sense, he represents a perspective that could be extended to anyone watching the film. He is shown to have little to no self-awareness initially, and that is the feel of the entire film.

The movie is slow-paced but interesting, ominous yet funny at certain points, and reminded me in some ways of Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind (a better movie, in my opinion). Dystopian stories are always interesting to the effect that they portray a deeper sense of fear of society in a way that can only be understood if we focus on the current world we live in. While Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind is deals with a more personal desire, a desire to get rid of all memories that are painful (and the fear that that concept is flawed and painful by itself), The Lobster deals with a more ordinary fear – a fear of being alone. The movie has an absurd plot, and the importance of being a couple is greatly exaggerated in this dystopian movie. And why not? In our current society, a lot of importance is placed on the existence of romantic love and how to find it. This may be in the form of advertisements, films, music and any other media that is consumed by the masses. The industry around Valentine’s day is pegged to be around Rs. 15 billion in India alone, keeping in account the six days leading up to it. Indian films are not exempt from this obsession of happy endings in terms of romantic love. The need to belong to a couple is recreated by advertisements everyday – take the example of Closeup toothpaste advertising. Not only this, an app like Tinder is generating huge amounts of traffic, with close to 800 million swaps in a day and more than 1,00,000 subscribers around the world, and this is just Tinder; there are a variety of other similar apps that people use. The notion of needing to find a romantic interest, in whatever form, is heavy and undeniably strong.

In this scenario, The Lobster does not seem as outlandish an idea. People in the film are supposed to find one matching quality between each other which will then be approved by authorities to be appropriate. Since none of the people in the film (other than David) are given names, I will use the characteristics that we know about them, that eventually become their defining characteristics. The man with the limp hits his face hard against a surface to be able to get frequent nosebleeds so that he could match with another woman who seemingly got nosebleeds for no reason. This characteristic of getting nose bleeds randomly is seen to be an acceptable criteria of match-making in the film. Other such characteristics include heartlessness, short-sightedness, having a limp, and possibly even liking butter cookies. These shallow ways of looking at people becomes the heart of the film, drawing inspiration from the world we actually live in.

In such a world, the conversations between people with the intention of finding a suitable partner are absurd and vexatious in nature. There is no real discussion, and the characters are reduced to being robotic when it comes to dealing with other people. This hostile scenario has also led to the beginning of a group of people who are all single, and live outside of the law, in a jungle. This is the part of the film that was relatively weaker in my opinion, and I yearned to see more of the inside of the hotel and how people behaved there. However, amidst the people who were single, being a couple was forbidden. Any kind of flirting was punishable. David is then thrown into a scenario where not being able to find a couple results in death, and finding a perfect partner for himself is impossible, even after he meets the woman who is short sighted (Rachel Weisz), who had been narrating the story the whole time. Her narration is flaccid and unappealing, completely in harmony with the rest of the film. The way the actors speak, as well, made me feel like they were reading from a script directly without emoting it all, which adds to the feeling of how robotic they had become.

So what is the real fear the movie is trying to portray? Is it the fear of being alone? It seems like the movie’s ultimate discomfort lies in the fact that choosing romance and love has become too automated and shallow, that it is difficult to judge why exactly a partner is required at all. If falling in love and getting married is only so to the purpose of having company while growing old, someone to save you when you are drowning or choking, or even getting raped, love becomes a futile concept. This futility is described in the film in full detail, with love being a process for both the protagonists. Is this futility a symbol of our world today, where the process of finding love or even sex becomes a matter of quick judgment and superficial thinking? If you believe this to be a crucial way in looking at romance and sex, then this movie is a wonderful commentary about what we should be fearing if we keep heading towards this path.

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Miyazaki and his food

There is not much about Hayao Miyazaki I can write that hasn’t been written already, and his sense of animation that is simply exemplary. It is detailed, very real looking in spite of the heavy use of watercolors and animation, and most of the times, aesthetically beautiful – in terms of views and in terms of food. For example, consider this frame-still from From Up The Poppy Hill, one of my favourite Miyazaki films.

From up the poppy hill

The characters in his films are well-rounded and interesting. The treatment of his female characters is not like most other film-makers. They are given importance whilst also being fair to the male characters, and treating gender as a coincidence. It is fresh to watch a movie like that. But one of the things in his films that is captivating endlessly is how he weaves food into his stories. The movies that I have watched that Miyazaki has made (wrote for, directed, produced and/or animated) have been peppered with beautiful references related to cooking and food. Food is a comfort numerous times in his films – as safety, as guarantees, as familiarity and even as nostalgia. Cooking is an act performed out of a sense of love and duty, and not just to satisfy a hunger.

In From Up The Poppy Hill, Umi cooks food for the entire household, and is quite good at it – making her own lunches to take to school, and quite elaborate ones. Even something as simple as spooning rice out of a container is not devoid of the steam that the rice is producing. A simple mish-mash breakfast with ham, eggs, and vegetables reminds one of communal eating that Umi was responsible for, since her mother was away studying in America. We see her dream of her mother in the kitchen and cooking, showing her fear and her need for her mother, and that in the act of cooking was where her mother’s love was being missed. The people of the household depended on her for delicious food, and she yearned for the dependence on her mother, especially during times of distress.

However, she is regular with her cooking everyday at her home, and is sometimes the only person to be doing to cooking. In fact, it is noted that her interest in her school magazine and working for it, was a hindrance to this daily duty, and in spite of that, Umi is determined and strong-willed. Accomplishing both everyday, even though she is in a rush while tending to both the things, Umi’s character instantly becomes likable and strong. This similar theme of a hard-working young woman is seen in a lot of Miyazaki films, even in Ponyo, in the form of Lisa, Sosuke’s mother.

lunch
Lunch made by Umi for school

 

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The communal eating is extremely emphasised several times, as we also see this when the household sits down to eat. This is also a nostalgic theme that is brought to life by animated food. Eating together is of significant importance in many different cultures, including the Japanese culture. It shows camaraderie of a deeper notion – one of familial ties. It is quite commonly known that families who eat together, stay together. However, in this film, Umi lives in a boarding home, and in spite of no familial ties with each other, the women living here are amazing friends, and tend to have their meals together. The appreciation of diversity of women living in this boarding home is apparent in the short film which does not fail to give them highly dimensional characters.

from_up

As a vegetarian, the feelings of hunger that Miyazaki films evoke in me are confusing. The clip below of Umi frying fish is deliciously distracting in terms of what real food is like. Fish need not be something I actually like in real life, for me to enjoy looking at it being cooked in thick, bubbling oil, the sound of sizzle making it a very realistic expression of food.

from_up_the_poppy_hill2

In fact, in Ponyo too, food is comfort. After surviving a major flood around their town, Ponyo (a goldfish who has turned into a human child), Sosuke (a young boy of 5) and Lisa (Sosuke’s mother) come home, there is no electricity and they are dripping wet. In such a condition, all they can make is noodles and hot chocolate with honey. It is similar to the notion of craving pakoras, or Maggi (both served hot) when it’s raining and cold. This is the first time Ponyo has ever had honey or real food (other than a little ham Sosuke feeds her when she is still a fish), and her excitement for the food is infectious. Little motherly affection is showered on her, as shown in the film, while she is still a fish. Someone cooking food and feeding you is something she has never experienced, especially such appetizing meals after a difficult day. Lisa is generous and loving towards her, wiping her with a towel after coming back home. Even with a disaster lurking outside, food makes the inside of their home warm and gratifying.

ponyo

Here is also a little clip from Howl’s Moving Castle with some exceptional-looking bacon and eggs.

hows_moving_castle

On the other hand, Spirited away shows food in a slightly contrarian tone. Chihiro’s parents would never have transformed into pigs, had they listened to her about not knowing how to pay for the big spread of a feast. The feast was supposed to be tempting and Chihiro’s parents gave into the temptation, and here, it is almost gluttony that Miyazaki is antagonising.

Parents eating like pigs

The change of her parents into pigs because of the food reminded me of Animal Farm by George Orwell.

In Spirited Away, however, food is in excess, and yet Chihiro lives in fear and confusion, trying to save her parents somehow. The majestic spreads of food are not at all tempting for her now that she feels she has lost her parents forever and might never find them. No amount of lavish food could make her feel better, and there is a lot of food. Even from the perspective of the viewer, the Spirit World is scary and uncomfortable, and the food is definitely not trustworthy (it was probably what turned her parents into pigs). This distrust of food is unique and surprising, but in tone with the overall importance of using food to express discomfort or comfort, both – something Miyazaki is very skilled at doing.Comfort food is called comfort food for a reason, and not everything is that. This relationship between humans and food has been a long one, and a lot of cultural factors shape what is or is not comfort food. Homely meals, generally, are comfort foods. Why that is so, is quite obvious. A feeling of homelessness and identity crisis is primarily depicted in our lives in the form of food. The different variety of tastes and ways of cooking have been instilled into our minds, and newer tastes might not be as welcome. A heavy, scrumptious meal every time one eats is exhausting and boring. Comfort food is not fancy – it is simple and everyday – rice, some meat, eggs, and such for the Japanese culture. Similarly, as I mentioned above, Maggi and pakoras are comfort food because they evoke a certain sense of nostalgia of being cooked for at home, or communally deciding to eat a particular item. These are not foods best enjoyed alone.

sprited_away_sponge_cake

On the other hand, in The Grave Of The Fireflies, even a small tin can of candy or a jar of pickled plums holds value for the comfort of both Seita and Setsuko. It is the only thing left of their home and their previously beautiful lives, and they hold on to to (along with their mother’s linen) and their dwindling state in the war-torn Japan only gets worse as they lose their familiar belongings.

Candy in the Grave of the Fireflies

It is rare to see what filmmakers do with food in their films. It is undeniably one of the most important aspects of people’s lives. A lot of the audiences are people who eat three times a day, and food is the sustenance that is a part of every celebration or sadness. The lack of food brings sadness and gloom, and the excess of it seems wasteful and extravagant – giving filmmakers a great tool to describe the world they are recreating.

Fortunately for Miyazaki, he has already figured it out.

I. D. (2012)

There has been a surge of paid online movie watching services, and with the hard beating down on piracy, they have gained a traction that is highly appreciable. It is nice to know that HotStar provides Game of thrones on a paid basis as the same time as it is telecast in the US, and that the makers of such a show are getting paid a lot of money to maintain the exceedingly amazing production value of the show (that has garnered a lot of popularity in India). Netflix is another welcome addition, albeit the lack of certain films and television shows. This is not to say that I am complaining because it still offers a wide variety of films and shows to watch, once you pay for a decently priced subscription. It brings audiences to the correct films, I feel, just the way it brought this movie in my notice.

id

I.D. is a movie that was released in 2012, directed by Kamal K. M. with Geetanjali Thapa (who eventually went on to win the National Film Award for Best Film Actress in 2013, unsurprisingly so) as the protagonist. The film starts with a simple yet engaging premise, one that impressed me greatly. A worker comes to Charu’s (Geetanjali Thapa) residences that she shares with her friends, having newly moved to the city of Mumbai, for an odd paint job. Here, he collapses as he is working, and she has to, for lack of choice, take him to the hospital. The rest of the movie just revolves around how she tries to find the identity of this man, whose name is unknown to her – which is rightly addressed in the film, “Aisa kaun puchhta hai?” (Translation: “Who asks such a thing?”).

The movie outline looks simple enough on the Netflix page (and I am trying to make it a point not to IMDb the movie before watching it these days), and has a poor rating. However, the film has a taken a very simple storyline and very subtly shown to us the different sides of Mumbai – the culture of apathy from a particular group of people thriving on drama and mischief, or the culture of concern or indifference by another group when Charu is out looking for the identity of this man – who had no identity proof on him (a point I think the film was trying to make). There is one particular scene that I really thought was tastefully done – when Charu returns home to a party after ensuring the man was safe at the hospital, and the ebbing apathy of her friends and flatmates about the life of a man. The movie makes one think; it was an incident that could happen to anyone of us living on our own, meeting people in a cursory manner that we don’t even bother to know their name. The reaction of the people around Charu, and herself included, make one uncomfortable and thoughtful – what would one have done in such a situation as this? What would you have done? How long would you have taken responsibility for a man you had had nothing to do with, but whose family was probably waiting for him?

The movie drops several different commentaries whilst taking us through the slums of Rafeeq Nagar – about someone seeing the man Charu is looking for probably fall from a train (which would even explain why he collapsed while working at her place), about a shopkeeper responding rudely to Charu showing the man’s photograph around with the explanation that the slum-dwellers felt that media persons had abandoned the story of BMC demolishing hutments in Rafeeq Nagar and were angered due to it, and even a very slight glimpse into the life of transgendered persons in the slum area. This gave the film a feel of documentary-style showcasing of real-life events done with an exquisite amount of a research and a brilliant performance by Geetanjali Thapa. It is obvious why she won the best actress awards at the Los Angeles Film Festival and the Madrid Film Festival for this very movie. At this point, I have to point out the great job she did in the movie, and that I cannot wait to watch Liar’s Dice, for which she won the National Film Award.

The value of life has been very cheap since ages, and this film portrayed that very fact in a very succinct and meaningful manner. The story is simple yet well-executed – with great scenes inside a Mumbai apartment, but also in the murky slums of Bombay. I would definitely recommend this movie to anyone and everyone – whether it is a deep commentary of city-life you are looking for, or just an interesting and intriguing storyline to keep you engaged.

Pan’s Labyrinth

Pan’s Labyrinth (Spanish: El laberinto del fauno, “The Labyrinth of the faun”) was a 2006 Spanish release with a fantasy, but adult oriented theme which opened to critical acclaim and won several awards, including three Academy Awards (Best Achievement in Art Direction, Best Direction in Cinematography, and Best Achievement in make up) and was also nominated for the Academy Award for the Best Foreign Language film.

Let me begin to advise everyone to watch this film by informing the reader that the movie is an adult film. There are some grave, scary elements to the movie, and it can even get quite disturbing. So do not expect it to be a feel-good film with heavy usage of CGI and Animatronics. There are enough special effects in the film to make it real and interesting to watch, but this film will leave you exhausted albeit satisfied. The story revolves around a young, dreamy girl, Ofelia, and her involvement and interest in fairy tales folklore. It is set in the early times of Fascist Spain, and war is an important part of the movie. Ofelia finds solace in the labyrinth that will take her to her kingdom and as a friendly, but curious faun helps her to achieve this goal, we can see her adoptive father’s hold on the Spanish guerillas loosen and Ofelia’s mother get increasingly sick.

It wouldn’t be wrong to say that the movie captures the war and its ominousness whilst keeping the creativity it takes to write a fantasy film intact. The soundtrack is one of the well-compiled soundtracks I have had the benefit of listening to and there are several parts in the movie that will evoke very strong, passionate emotions in anyone watching the film, and a lot of that has to do with the eloquently calm music. The movie, in many ways, is close to being ideal; it offers what it promises to offer. It is a brilliant fairytale, a sad war-movie and a glimpse into a child’s life. But what I loved most about the film was how each of the characters, even the ones with very little screen time, were tied up so wholly, that I couldn’t help but feel that all writers have something to learn from this tact and talent. In spite of being only 118 minutes long, it brings all the characters to a complete close and leaves you thoroughly fulfilled about how each character’s fate is decided. As someone who didn’t know it was not a children’s movie, I only wished for a better ending.

One thing is for sure, there is not the least bit of surprise that during the Cannes film festival premiere release, the film received a 22 min long standing ovation.