Saturday, April 22, 2017

REVIEW 486: NOOR


Release date:
April 21, 2017
Director:
Sunhil Sippy
Cast:


Language:
Sonakshi Sinha, Kanan Gill, Shibani Dandekar, Purab Kohli, Smita Tambe, M.K. Raina, Suchitra Pillai, Manish Chaudhari
Hindi


Noor Roy Chaudhary is a young mediaperson in Mumbai, keen to practice journalism with meaning, journalism that makes a difference to humanity and is aimed at the larger good. The chasm separating what she wants to do (unearth corruption, for instance) and what she is allowed to by her video news agency (interview Sunny Leone, cover Ripley’s-Believe-It-Or-Not kind of drama) seems unbridgeable, and so she spends her life cribbing about...well...her life.

Then one day Noor catches a newsbreak that she is convinced will make her. In mishandling that report though, she ends up ruining people who matter to her and almost finishing herself.

Director Sunhil Sippy’s Noor is about her reparation and how she gets her world back on track. It is based on the book Karachi: You’re Killing Me by Saba Imtiaz. The screenplay is by Althea Delmas-Kaushal, Shikhaa Sharma and Sippy himself, with dialogues by Ishita Moitra Udhwani.

Before going into a deeper analysis of this film it is important to get this out of the way: the past year has seen a steady flow of self-consciously ‘women-centric’ films in theatres. Most have been hollow, with zero story and zero understanding of or commitment to women. Their sole goal appears to have been to cash in on what the industry sees as a “trend” of women-centric films – like the best Vidya Balan starrers – making big money at the box office. Yes, the makers of such films see women as a “trend”, not people (like men) with lives that are big-screen-worthy for all seasons. The result: they have ended up delivering self-defeating emptiness with thin screenplays and poorly developed female leads, the worst of them being the Sonakshi Sinha-starrer Akira last year. Noor, which too features Sinha in the lead, is thankfully about a story and a woman with a story worth telling, not about Akira-style fake ‘woman-centricity’.

This is what makes Noor watchable despite its flaws, of which there are many. Sippy’s 28-year-old heroine is a believable creature for the most part, often utterly stupid but also credible. She is more than the cutesy froth with which she is introduced to us – messy, always in a hurry, always late, cocksure, tying her hair with the first thing she can find even if that thing happens to be a sock, anxious to have a boyfriend, anxious about her weight, serious in the hours beyond her hard-partying social life. She is more than all the above because Noor has clearly thought out, clearly articulated feelings, goals and dreams, and the screenplay enables us to truly get to know this crazy woman in all her crazy, mixed-up glory.

Just when you think Noor is headed in the direction of being yet another Bridget Jones (meaning: a character written with a veneer of liberalism but no real pre-occupation beyond worrying about her next boyfriend and her next lay), the writing team thankfully goes elsewhere.

Noor speaks lines mirroring the language of a real youngster from her background in Mumbai – for the most part. I repeat “for the most part” here too, because her “tu”, “tumhara” and casual impertinence towards her fatherly editor-owner is pretentious wannabe coolth authored by someone who seems to have a rather irritating stereotypical notion of how news offices function. It is a major flaw in a film that is otherwise not overtly trying to impress.

Noor’s botched-up big break provokes us to think of the ephemeral impact of news coverage not backed by commitment and follow-ups. What happens when the cameras go away and real human beings are left to their own devices, at the mercy of the powers that be just as they were before the spotlight fell on them? This is the overriding takeaway from the film, which makes even its failings forgivable.

Sonakshi Sinha pulls off her character without appearing to try too hard. Her natural performance as Noor once again raises the question: why does she waste herself primarily on Akshay Kumar starrers and the like that demean women and relegate her to being no more than a pout and large eyes and an attractive profile?

The supporting cast is interesting. Kanan Gill and Shibani Dandekar both have attractive personalities and it would be nice to see if they can pull off larger roles. M.K. Raina as Noor’s Dad is a sweetheart. In fact, the film might have benefited from exploring his character further. Manish Chaudhari brings depth to his performance as Noor’s boss, even if the treatment of her relationship with him leaves much to be desired.

The pick of the cast though is the wonderful Smita Tambe playing a poor woman caught between a corrupt system and irresponsible journalism.

The film’s pluses do not eclipse its minuses though. Its news office milieu is poorly sketched, and while showing Noor re-reporting a news story that was treated cursorily at first, it does not bother to explain what “research” she added to it beyond saying that she did. Such superficiality takes away from the film’s good intentions.

Towards the end, when it seems like Noor is about to lose her way again, this time to become a conformist, a senior tells her: Having found yourself with such difficulty, are you already forgetting that self? It is an excellent line perfectly placed in the film. Unfortunately, it can equally be applied to Sippy’s approach to this work. Just as he has convinced us that Noor is a person of substance who is complete unto herself, he quickly slaps a romance on to his storyline, as if to hurriedly satisfy conventional Hindi film viewers who may consider a romantic interest an essential part of any film and more conservative viewers who consider a woman incomplete without a man. Worse, he then wraps up his film with an ‘item’ song in which Noor dances in a little dress and is pushed around by a man, as women tend to be in formulaic Hindi films.

C’mon, Mr Sippy, why not go all the way? Why be apologetic about the point you make?

That said, I would still like very much to see the director’s next film. This is his return as a helmsman after a gap of 17 years (I confess I have not managed to find his first film, Snip!, released in 2000). Here is hoping that Film No. 3 is more confident of itself and we do not have to wait another 17 years for it.

Ditto for Sonakshi Sinha. Four years have flown between the remarkable Lootera and Noor which, despite its follies, serves as a good showcase for her talent. Here is hoping we do not have to wait another four years for a film that does not treat her like a prop.

Rating (out of five stars): **1/2

CBFC Rating (India):
UA
Running time:
116 minutes 24 seconds 

This review has also been published on Firstpost:




Wednesday, April 19, 2017

REVIEW 485: SAKHAVU


Release date:
April 14, 2017
Director:
Sidhartha Siva
Cast:



Language:
Nivin Pauly, Althaf, Aishwarya Rajesh, Binu Pappu, Gayathri Suresh, Aparna Gopinath, Sreenivasan, Musthafa, Tony Luke Kocherry, Santhosh Keezhattoor      
Malayalam


A month after Tom Emmatty’s Oru Mexican Aparatha saluted Communism with a tale of the violent rivalry between student political organisations in Kerala, Sidhartha Siva’s Sakhavu (Comrade) comes to theatres to tell us what makes a true comrade. This one stars Nivin Pauly in a double role – as Krishna Kumar a.k.a. Kichchu, whose membership of the student outfit SFK is solely driven by his ambitions for himself; and as the younger version of a veteran Communist leader called Krishnan, willing to give up his life for workers’ rights. 

If you are not disposed to watch films opposed to your views, be warned: Sakhavu’s heart beats for Communism and it does not pretend otherwise. What works in its favour is that it does not allow its affection for Kerala’s old-time Marxists to turn into propaganda and falsehoods. It helps too that Pauly gets truckloads of screen time from start to finish.

The leading man’s charm dominates the first half of Sakhavu, which is devoted to Krishna Kumar’s shamelessly selfish plans that he has no qualms sharing with his friend and associate Mahesh played by Althaf. The interactions between these two are a hoot, not the least because there is no exaggeration here: their comedy mocks our bizarre and troubling reality, we have all been stung by hypocrites in politics who pretend to serve the people while serving themselves instead.

Siva’s smooth writing of these passages is bolstered by Pauly and Althaf’s spanking on-screen chemistry and comic timing. Althaf in particular is ROFLMAO-worthy (yes, that is a word) each time he opens his mouth to speak.

Sadly though, he virtually disappears in the second half, which goes back in time to the younger Krishnan’s battles on behalf of workers. This part is often thoughtful and thought-provoking, yet loses its way for various reasons. First, it stretches itself especially with the needless insertion of full-length songs in a narrative that could have done without them (the problem is not with Prashant Pillai’s numbers but that they have been used in their entirety).

Besides, the tone and politics of the second half contrast too sharply with the preceding portion.

Krishna Kumar’s story works because it takes a critical view of politics per se and Communist politicians in particular. Krishnan’s saga, however, is uncritical and one-dimensional, inhabiting a world divided simplistically between good workers and horrible bosses. The former are all unequivocally saintly folk whose actions must never be questioned, the latter are tarred with one stroke of the writers’ brush as exploitative, evil and cruel.

The film also reveals a prejudice evident in many Malayalam films where the outsider, especially the north Indian outsider, is viewed through a lens of othering if not outright suspicion. The one significant north Indian character in Sakhavu, a tea plantation and factory manager played by the attractive Tony Luke Kocherry, is a nasty piece of goods with no redeeming qualities. (Aside: the factory signboard bears the surname “Mehta” but the spelling “Mehatha” is used on a document the owner is shown signing – if this was not an instance of casualness and there is a deeper meaning here instead, I confess it was lost on me.)

These are issues particularly worth raising in a film that wears its conscience on its sleeve.

Still, there is no question that Sakhavu is well intentioned and serves its purpose with the mirror it holds up to politicians and young political aspirants, showing us in Sakhavu Krishnan and Krishna Kumar the contrast between the rare idealist and the insincere wannabe.

(Spoiler alert) One of the highlights of Sakhavu is Pauly, who slips into two characters and three distinct looks with such ease that after watching the film I went looking for the name of a third actor on the Internet, only to be reminded of the magic that can be worked when a talented actor and skilled make-up artist team up. (Spoiler alert ends)

Pauly is surrounded in this film by a strong supporting cast, including many familiar faces in tiny roles. Aishwarya Rajesh reminds us of her innate charisma in her performance as Sakhavu Krishnan’s wife Sakhavu Janaki, although she is poorly served by the make-up team in her senior avatar. The old Janaki’s youthful skin is a surprising let-down in a film where another young actor has been rendered almost unrecognisable by intelligent ageing make-up.

It is tempting to look past the follies of Sakhavu because so much of what it says resonates in the troubling, divisive times we live in, far beyond a discussion about the loss of Communist ideals. I watched the film in a packed west Delhi hall where the cheering audience’s love for Pauly seemed to rival their love for comrade-ery. They clapped loudly and repeatedly through Sakhavu Krishnan’s dialoguebaazi. To be honest, I too was tempted to let out a whoop of delight when Krishnan refused to reveal his surname to a wealthy landowner, saying that instead of being known by his caste and religion, he wished to be known by what his chosen first name – “Sakhavu” – indicated about him.

Sakhavu does not have the natural ease of Sidhartha Siva’s National Award-winning Ain from 2014 nor is it as thoroughly consistent as his sweet little Kochavva Paulo Ayyappa Coelho from last year, but it has its merits. Siva seems to have his heart in the right place, and he does, after all, make the point he sets out to make here, aided by one of the most interesting male stars of the present generation.
  
Rating (out of five stars): **1/2

CBFC Rating (India):
U
Running time:
164 minutes

This review has also been published on Firstpost: